Water supply of the future: when every drop counts

energy concepts | innovation | Sustainability and climate protection | Worth knowing | How will our water supply develop in the future? What are the driving trends of these developments? And which technologies could play a vital role in this? To answer these questions, our foresight experts look into an alternative future. The first possible scenario: a society that recycles water and grows its own vegetables.

Frederic and Charlotte have made it. The software developer and fund manager are standing on the terrace of a brand new bungalow on the outskirts of Paris, looking proudly at the flower beds, shrubs and small trees in their little garden. Although the center of Paris with its 15 million inhabitants is just twelve kilometers away, their home almost looks like place in the countryside. Their personal highlight? The pond with valuable Koi carp, which were only delivered this morning.

In our fictitious scenario of the future, only few people can afford such a green garden with a pond. After all, water has become a rare commodity after 2030.In our fictitious scenario of the future, only few people can afford such a green garden with a pond. After all, water has become a rare commodity after 2030.

Water as a status symbol

The two new homeowners are successful young social climbers. And they like to show this with their electric sports car in front of the garage and their red-spotted noble fish in the garden. But much more impressive than the Kois is the large garden pond itself. Because in nowadays, water is an extremely precious commodity.

Because the earth's water supplies must suffice for more and more people in the future, water recycling is not only extremely sensible but even prescribed by politics in our scenario. Nevertheless, the private households, companies and municipalities decide for themselves how it is done.Because the earth’s water supplies must suffice for more and more people in the future, water recycling is not only extremely sensible but even prescribed by politics in our scenario. Nevertheless, the private households, companies and municipalities decide for themselves how it is done.

This development had been in the pipeline for a long time: After the turn of the millennium, the world population continued to rise and have reached nine billion. In order to be able to supply all people and agriculture with sufficient water, the world’s countries had to make great efforts and launch a technological competition for maximum water efficiency.

Closed water circuits for efficient water recycling

Depending on the continent and climatic conditions, very different solutions were created that had to combine sustainability and cost-effectiveness. However, one goal ran like a red thread through all approaches: As much recycling as possible, as little fresh water as necessary. That’s why all Parisian buildings are equipped with a modern water treatment system that cleans every drop of the precious liquid and returns it to the cycle in the building.

This also applies to Frederic and Charlotte’s home. Only yesterday, the large tank truck came to fill the reservoir of their bungalow for the first time. The water comes from the closed circuit of a neighboring industrial plant, which had to store a surplus in its system in recent months due to heavy rainfall. Otherwise, the first filling would have come from the district’s reservoir – the next higher level of hierarchically organized water supply. Because the basic principle of the closed cycle is repeated at every level, experts speak of a fractal system.

In our imagined future, water management will be implemented via closed circuits. The different organizational levels like local authorities have their own water reservoirs such as these.In our imagined future, water management will be implemented via closed circuits. The different organizational levels like local authorities have their own water reservoirs such as these.

Urban farming for water-efficient food

But Frederic and Charlotte don’t want to think about the water supply now. They are looking forward to the guests who will come to the inauguration party soon. “The caterer has just delivered the buffet,” says Charlotte. The fruit and vegetables in all colors and shapes come from urban farming: the food was produced only a few kilometers away in greenhouses – in computer-controlled hydroponics that make optimum use of the precious water.

Food rarely comes from more distant high-tech farms. Since climate change has intensified, only large companies that use renewable energies to filter moisture from the air and use it to irrigate plants are able to maintain the complex facilities.

This could be the future of food supply: Vegetables and fruits such as strawberries are planted in huge greenhouses – sometimes right in the middle of the city. In order to save as much water as possible , these urban farming manufacturers rely on hydroponic systems in which the supply of water and nutrients is automatically monitored and optimized.This could be the future of food supply: Vegetables and fruits such as strawberries are planted in huge greenhouses – sometimes right in the middle of the city. In order to save as much water as possible , these urban farming manufacturers rely on hydroponic systems in which the supply of water and nutrients is automatically monitored and optimized.

Sustainable utopia through green innovations

In the fictitious world of Frederic and Charlotte, people are doing well – the standard of living is higher than ever before. Thanks to globally applicable rules, sustainability is natural, with governments leaving it to people and companies to decide which technologies they use to comply with environmental standards.

The thyssenkrupp experts christened this hopeful vision of the future “Artainable Islands” because it is as artificial as it is sustainable, and the water supply consists of individual islands.

A look into the future of our water supply

Of course, the world after 2030 may look very different than it does in this story, which our futurologists developed as part of the foresight work on water management.

As innovation manager, physicist Dr. Andreas Meschede coordinates the foresight process at thyssenkrupp. Here international experts design possible scenarios for the future, such as the development of mobility, the cities of tomorrow or the changing world of employment. The Group is already preparing today for possible developments in 2030 and beyond.

As coordinator of thyssenkrupp's Foresight Process, Andreas Meschede develops scenarios for future living, working and living, bringing together around 160 colleagues from all business units as well as external experts and lateral thinkers. The diverse topics range from megacities and mobility to agriculture, air, water and energy.As coordinator of thyssenkrupp’s Foresight Process, Andreas Meschede develops scenarios for future living, working and living, bringing together around 160 colleagues from all business units as well as external experts and lateral thinkers. The diverse topics range from megacities and mobility to agriculture, air, water and energy.

Foresight process: the goal of groundbreaking customer solutions

“With Foresight, we first arrange different images of the future in order to expand them into scenarios in a second step,” says Andreas Meschede. “In the end, we have the opportunity to find groundbreaking solutions for our customers.

This also applies to the question of water supply – a topic that will not only become pressing in the future but is already much discussed. “It is a basic requirement for every state to provide its citizens with sufficient water. It is not without reason that many people talk about the human right to water in current debates. As a technology group, and especially with our solutions for sustainable agriculture, this question is of crucial importance for us and our customers.”

Future visions with interdisciplinary expertise

However, the Foresight team does not design its scenarios on the subject of water management as a detached group operating far away from the company. For the foresight scenarios, Andreas Meschede rather brings together the know-how from the entire thyssenkrupp Kosmos: “I do provide the methodology for creating our future scenarios,” explains the innovation and foresight manager. “But the content, the expertise and the gut feeling are contributed by my colleagues from a wide variety of disciplines. Discussing these different perspectives gives us holistic pictures of what our future could look like – and from these derive how we at thyssenkrupp can make a positive contribution to shaping this future.”

The story of Frederic and Charlotte is just one of three possible scenarios – in this case, companies have become creative and people more sustainable. So, they still have enough water. Find out which alternative versions our foresight experts see for the future of water supply in our next two scenarios.

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