Industry chief: Pricing, policies should promote water efficiency

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This article is part of our special report Plastics and PVC.

Having safe drinking water should be a basic human right, but consumers and governments also have a duty to set a price high enough to encourage efficiency, says Hans Telgan, who heads Europe’s plastic pipe industry trade association TEPPFA.

Hans Telgen is president of the European Plastic Pipes and Fittings Association (TEPPFA). He was interviewed at a 10 May at a workshop on water efficiency by EURACTIV’s television affiliate, EUX.TV, and EURACTIV Editor Frédéric Simon.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the area of water efficiency?

Hans Telgen is president of the European Plastic Pipes and Fittings Association (TEPPFA). He was interviewed at a 10 May at a workshop on water efficiency by EURACTIV’s television affiliate, EUX.TV, and EURACTIV Editor Frédéric Simon.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the area of water efficiency?

There are two areas actually. There’s drinking water and drinking water leakage, especially in the leakage of transportation pipes. Every cubic meter of drinking water that can be saved is something that we need definitely in Europe, not just in Europe, but actually in the world. If you look at the pipe systems we are using nowadays, which are very old sometimes using traditional materials. With new materials available, we can reduce the leakage rate dramatically.

What do you think is the role of infrastructure in this whole debate?

The pipelines in themselves are infrastructure so … you create infrastructure by laying these pipelines, new trenches, or renewing pipelines by the [modern] methodologies, so the infrastructure of plastic pipelines is what we are talking about.

Another area of infrastructure is also water elements where rainwater has been collected. I think collecting rain water and reusing that is something that we should do more and more, because rain water falls out of the air, it’s virtually clean, so why not reuse it?

Our industry has many systems to reuse it. It can not be reused in every area, but for sure be reused for flushing toilets, but also making sure that ground water levels are secured because pumping up ground water for drinking water use definitely creates ground water level reduction. So with infiltration you could bring that ground water level up again.

If you could choose one policy to ensure water efficiency, what would that be?

If you look to the policies that the European Commission has already started to implement, but are also developing with respect to energy-neutral buildings, I think our industry is very capable of supplying say [that] not just in terms of water, but also in terms of energy savings.

In Belgium, buildings have been build with big plastic pipes underneath the building itself and air is being circulated, and in summer the heat that is coming from the building itself is being put in the ground and in the wintertime it’s still warm and [with] some heat recovery you could even heat the building. … Public buildings are frequently being renewed, therefore if you could instal this type of energy recovery, that would be great.

But also we had a debate about the shower heads and taps. … There is another thing in this respect. If you take a shower, there’s hot water coming from you. We have [ways] in our industry that take the heat from the water in the sewer itself and it is then being reused again in the house itself. If you look to the internal heat of sewer water, we could recover 10% of that internal heat. Our industry is already developing products to regenerate that energy from the sewer.

So we are developing a lot in the industry. I think maybe the European Commission does not even know that we are doing these types of things. If they are put it in either legislation or directives… so that either member states, municipalities or villages are – I wouldn’t say forced, but are being directed to these types of products – then definitely drinking water, rain water, but also energy can be used in a much more efficient way.

Going back on pricing policies, the water framework directive that was talked about during the debate today, has got this requirement that all costs should be recovered. How does that apply to the pipe sector and what are your arguments for local authorities, or people involved with laying down these networks, about cost recovery issues and cost efficiency?

Well, there are actually two things. Costs associating with drinking water – which of course includes the installation of pipes and of course the production of drinking water is of course being put forward to the consumer. Nowadays there is a lot of subsidy coming from governments to make sure that every single inhabitant has water at a cheap level. If you look to the efficiency question, then if the price for water is low there’s no drive for efficiency.

From one standpoint we should increase the price for drinking water because that drives the need for reducing leakages and making sure that we definitely have the right quality of water. Every single member state at this moment has… not the same specification on drinking water. That means that definitely the price of that water is also varying per country. For me it’s clear that if you are increasing the price, the leakage rate would go down. I think there is a one-on-one relation to that.

We heard some of the speakers during the debate today saying that drinking water is a human right. Is that something that you support?

Definitely. I think that a human being should have the availability of clean water.

How does that fit with the pricing issue? Isn’t there a trade-off?

Well, there’s a few things. If you have the right of having drinking water, and people are not able to afford that, then there should be a support. But that support should also be – I would say – dependent on the amount of leakages that you have. Because the cost of the water that is then being subsidised if you allow for leakages is too high. So there’s always this trade-off I would say.

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