Sharply reduced catchment inflows across Australia around the end of the 20th century led to a sequence of water restrictions. As the drought persisted these constraints were followed by approximately $10 billion of state government investments in desalination plants over 2009-12 in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Currently there are no comprehensive life-cycle approaches to modelling city water balances that incorporate a grid of water supply opportunities and economic feedbacks, such as the relative costs of new investment in supply options. Modelling potential revenue and relative supply costs – capital and operating – would enable an expanded understanding of investment responses to lower catchment levels in face of rising population and rapidly growing demand for water. Such a model would provide significant and valuable policy information of new desalination options for water planners in the context of increasing water insecurity.
Determine the best way to manage bulk water and retail supply given the facts and fears of uncertain rainfall and generate a 100 year simulation model. Conduct System Dynamics and Monte Carlo style studies to capture the new tensions and trade-offs regarding uncertain climate, rainfall, costs and security of water supply.
Models were developed separately for Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide Brisbane and Sydney using a new systems dynamics approach that augments the usual water utility representation of the physical linkages and water grids. Inter-connected feedback loops in tariff structures, demand levels and financing capacity were also incorporated. In some versions, such as for Brisbane, tariffs are reset in association with drought and the modelling of responses is both in terms of reduced consumption, and increased revenue of the utility, depending on the elasticities of demand responses to higher tariffs, both short and long term.
Desalination costs were not simply compared with other costs from rainfall-dependent sources; instead a blend of water supplies was used and resulting water security, costs and consequences over the next century were looked at. Population growth more than rainfall variability will eventually lead to more investment in desalination in all mainland states in Australia. In all states, construction of up to four desalination plants was found to be a realistic and economically viable option.
Given reasonable proximity to oceans, desalination across water grids is an integral and scalable part of an efficient economic and environmental strategy for water security for any region facing potential water supply shortages from natural sources. The modularity of desalination investments, and the effectively unlimited supply of recyclable ocean water, makes desalination of seawater relevant to planning decisions for far more than water, but for population settlements and the pattern of economic development.
A fine modelling and conceptual “launch pad” has been developed for ongoing work, enabling exploration of where desalination of seawater fits over times and rainfall cycles in water supply grids of dams, catchments, pipelines, rivers and recycling opportunities.
Total Value: $812,332 (cash and in-kind contributions)
Principal Investigator: Professor Michael Porter
Title: Desalination within Supply Networks: exploring and communicating the bigger picture for water, technology and economic development
Length: 40 months
Personnel: 9 collaborators contributing 1.7 FTE
- 2016. Turner, A., et al. The potential role of desalination in managing flood risks from dam overflows: the case of Sydney, Australia. Journal of Cleaner Production 135:342-355.
- 2016. Sahin, O., et al. Paradigm shift to enhanced water supply planning through augmented grids, scarcity pricing and adaptive factory water: A system dynamics approach. Environmental Modelling & Software 75:348-361.
- 2016. 8th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software. Toulouse, France.
- 2015. International Desalination Association World Congress. San Deigo, USA.
- 2015. 9th World Congress Water Resources Management in Changing World Challenges and Opportunities. Istanbul, Turkey.
- 2015. Sahin, O., et al. Bridging the Water Supply–demand Gap in Australia: Coupling Water Demand Efficiency with Rain-independent Desalination Supply. Water Resources Management 29 (2):253-272.
- 2015. Sahin, O., et al. Water security through scarcity pricing and reverse osmosis: a system dynamics approach. Journal of Cleaner Production 88 (0):160-171.
- 2015. Porter, M. G., et al. Drought and Desalination: Melbourne water supply and development choices in the twenty-first century. Desalination and Water Treatment 55 (9):2278-2295.
- 2015. Scarborough, H., et al. Long-term water supply planning in an Australian coastal city: Dams or desalination? Desalination 358 (0):61-68.
- 2014. International Conference on Desalination for the Environment Clean Water and Energy. Limassol, Cyprus.
- 2013. 8th Conference on Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems. Dubrovnik, Croatia.
- 2013. Desalination and Drought: Issues Summary. Technical Report.
- 2013. Tale of Two Cities: Desalination and Drought in Perth and Melbourne. Technical Report.
- 2013. NCEDA International Desalination Workshop. Melbourne, Australia.
- 2013. 8th International Conference on Water Resources Management in an Interdisciplinary and Changing Context. Porto, Portugal.
- 2012. Water, water everywhere? Research to lay out economic visions for desalination in Australia. Deakin News.
- 2012. Economic visions for desalination in Australia. Sustainability Matters.