Water for energy, energy for water


Water is the most precious resource on earth. And because of demographic growth and climate change, it will become increasingly important in the future. One of the industries that relies most heavily on water is electricity generation; numerous research projects are attempting to find ways to reduce water consumption by optimising efficiency.

Foremost amongst these projects is Matching (Materials & Technologies for Performance Improvement of Cooling Systems performance in Power Plants), which focuses specifically on innovative solutions for thermoelectric and geothermal plants, using laser techniques, nanotechnologies and new materials to manage and treat water. 

Financed by the European Union as part of the Horizon 2020 programme, the project is managed by a consortium of 16 partners and 12 stakeholders from six EU nations (Italy, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Denmark): energy companies, research institutes, and technologies and services providers.

The Enel Group, which coordinates the project through its Global Thermal Generation division, is represented by three partners (Enel Produzione, EGP and Endesa) and manages two of the seven demo plants: the Nuova San Martino geothermal plant (in Italy) and the Torrevaldaliga Nord thermoelectric power station (in Italy).

In order to provide an outline of the situation and to promote the Matching project, Enel organised a workshop in Rome on 2 and 3 October. The event was attended by representatives of the partners involved in the project as well as other external players active in the water management sector.

Enel welcomes all input regardless of where it comes from: that is the spirit behind our Open Power philosophy as Enel Global Thermal Generation Head of Innovation Nicola Rossi explained at the opening of the workshop. For Rossi, the Matching project fits in perfectly with the broader range of Enel projects in which innovation is focused on sustainability; innovation and sustainability being the core values we have brought together in our innovability concept. Rossi went on to describe the two drivers of innovation in water resource management at thermoelectric power plants: on the one hand, reducing consumption to balance demand and supply, and on the other, the evolution of environmental regulations. The environmental aspect is also flanked by economics, of course: improved efficiency also results in improved competitiveness.

Cristiana La Marca, Head of Environment, HSEQ Enel, focused on the environment in particular, reminding those present of Enel’s clear commitment to use water resources efficiently, especially in areas prone to shortages or emergencies. She reiterated the dual connection between energy and water: energy, most particularly electricity generation, requires water, but managing water in turn requires energy. Referring to that connection, La Marca highlighted the importance of ensuring that usage is compatible with the available resources in order to safeguard biodiversity and circularity, another mainstay of our strategy: recovering or reusing water is a tool that can be used for development and to protect both the environment and the communities in which we operate. 

Too much water is being wasted in the world, including in the most developed nations. This fact was confirmed by Loic Charpentier, Office and Policy Assistant at the Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform (WssTP). The main goals of the European research and development-focused platform also encompass Matching’s more specific objective: to ensure by 2030 that the risk of a water crisis is significantly reduced. Charpentier then explained the need for a constantly evolving vision, not merely to deal with ever-evolving challenges such as climate change, but also to fully exploit the opportunities that technology brings.

Tom Alley, Head of the Generation division at the US-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), emphasised the technological and economic sides of the issue: the goal is not merely to save water but also to do so in an economically sustainable way, particularly in a phase when thermoelectric generation stations are under huge pressure. Alley also reminded his audience that water management is a global question and thus needs to be addressed on an international level. Or as he put it in his pithy new slogan: “collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.” 

The Matching project itself was actually inspired by international collaboration. This was especially true of the Rome event, which wound up with a group discussion. The round table was moderated by Enel’s Matching Programme Manager Daniela Galla and participants included representatives of the Enel Group (EGP and Endesa), project partners (the Italian National Research Council CNR, the Belgian research body Vito, the Danish Institute of Technology, DTI) and other companies involved in the project (Engie of France). The whole energy world coming together for water: a superb example of Open Power for Innovability.