Science - June 30, 2016

Energy solutions from water problems

Albert Sikkema

Farming organizations are sounding the alarm because of the extreme rain and are calling for measures to tackle the water damage. Those measures were taken long ago, says Alterra researcher Cees Kwakernaak. We now need to come up with smart combinations, for example of water storage and energy generation.

What measures have already been taken?

‘Fifteen years ago, the 21st Century Water Management programme was established to deal with the expected impact of climate change. That includes the effect of damage from water. That programme has been ongoing for some years now. Water storage areas have been constructed for the temporary storage of excess water, and municipalities have disconnected the conduits taking rainwater into the sewer system to prevent it becoming overburdened during downpours.’

Is it not possible to take more measures?

‘If you want to absorb the most extreme rainfall, that would cost a fortune. We have chosen not to do that. One aspect of the current policy is awareness: people need to understand that they will occasionally suffer from extreme rainfall and from drought. We are however looking at what else you can do with a water storage area that holds water for two to five days a year. For example, we are currently experimenting with water storage as an energy buffer. When electricity is cheap, you pump your water from the river into the water storage facility. When energy prices rise, you release the water so that it flows via the turbine and you get your energy back. Of course the water storage facility must not already be full when heavy rainfall is due, but you can anticipate that.’

What should be done now about Limburg?

‘In Limburg, many small streams run into the River Maas. Water problems can arise at those points, which are often built-up areas. You can prevent that by holding water back upstream and having a storage area downstream. Incidentally, climate change means that we can also have long periods of drought and that can be even more of a problem. Then you should consider using the water storage areas as sources of supply during dry periods.’