Global capital expenditure on water infrastructure was estimated at US$90B in 2010, rising to US$131B by 2016. This being the case, there is no doubt that the Australasian marketplace will be subject to significant expansion over the next decades.

Looking to the future, three global megatrends are set to impact the regional water sector: scarcity, urbanisation and environmental protection. Added to these, is the acceleration in capital investment in water infrastructure, with China shortly to overtake the US as the largest market in the world in terms of capital expenditure on water projects.

Securing sufficient water and energy sources will demand greater initiative from the market with regard to its approach to energy generation, transmission and distribution. Assuming there are no major shifts in governments’ policies, statistics from the international-energy-agency’s World Energy Outlook indicate that global energy demand is predicted to increase by 40% by 2030.

Energy use and conservation are at the forefront of the sustainability challenge, with renewable energies gaining increasing credibility as markets around the globe begin to invest in viable industries in this space. The challenge is to successfully provide innovative, high value technical and advisory services to harness alternative sources of energy such as hydro, wind and solar.

Regional snapshots

The Australian water market experienced unparalled change and expansion from 2000 to 2009. This was primarily due to a mixture of drought, ageing assets, outsourcing, environmental regulation and population growth. Across the New Zealand water industry, there are challenging issues surrounding water management and seasonal water shortages, as well as quality issues.

In Southeast Asia, demand for improved water quality and security is driving projects such as the US$2.8B water infrastructure programme underway in Vietnam to improve access to clean water for three million people. In Singapore, more water supply infrastructure is being built (approximately US$1B annually) so that the island can become self-sufficient.

International development assistance projects focusing on water in Southeast Asia are typically funded by large donor organisations (such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, etc.). Increasingly, such projects will form a larger portion of the dams and hydro projects that are planned or being delivered across emerging regions and economies across the Southeast Asian zone.

“The challenge is to bring innovative methods to each dam and hydro project to maximise the benefits while managing any adverse environmental or community impacts,” says Peter Blersch, Competency Leader, Bulk Water and Dams at Aurecon.

“In Asia, the planning, design and construction supervision for projects in areas where local infrastructure may be less than ideally desired is an ever-present issue, just as it can be across Africa and the Middle East. Apart from delivering engineering solutions,” he says, “it is also critical to understand the importance of sustainability considerations during the decision making process for each component of the project.”

“Dam and energy projects increasingly require that consultants pay particular attention to carbon emissions, from planning through to operation,” Blersch adds. “Measures such as carbon accounting, carbon sequestration systems and construction timetables tailored to minimise carbon emissions must be a part of each project.

“Typically, we develop sustainability plans for the entire dam lifecycle to ensure that sustainability remains in focus throughout the lifespan of the project. While in the case of potential environmental issues, we are managing these by designing such things as sophisticated outlet structures that mimic natural flow temperatures using height-selective discharge.”

Economic drivers and development projects

Meeting the energy and water demands of countries and communities across the regio is a multi-faceted undertaking.

In the case of one of the largest hydro projects recently delivered in Southeast Asia, the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric project in Laos, the industrial potential was derived from abundant water on the Nakai Plateau in Khammouane Province, central Laos. With a 350m height difference between the Plateau and the Gnommalath Plain below, the power of water available was able to be channelled down a tunnel drilled through the Karst mountain, ultimately generating an average 6000GWh of electricity per year.

The majority of the electricity generated is exported to Thailand, earning the Lao government an average of US$80M per year over the first 25 years of the project’s operation.

This revenue, in addition to the investments made by the Nam Theun 2 project developers, will allow the Lao government to fund poverty reduction efforts not just in Khammouane, but across the whole country.

“On this project, Aurecon’s integrated team of hydraulic specialists, structural and civil designers, geotechnical engineers and geologists worked with geomorphologists and international dam experts to deliver an innovative, effective design for the project,” says Blersch.

Aurecon was engaged to undertake tender, preliminary and detailed design and documentation of the downstream channel works. The works were designed to convey an operating discharge of 315m3/sec and flood discharges of up to 600m3/sec.

Works included the regulating dam outlet and stilling basin, 27km of open channel, an aeration weir, an inverted siphon to convey the full channel discharge, a km long tunnel, a triple-layered viaduct structure and numerous control weirs, irrigation off-takes and road crossings.

“On Nam Theun 2, we applied a programme of numerical modelling (one-dimensional, two-dimensional and computation fluid dynamics), and physical model testing to facilitate the hydraulic design of the channel, rock protection, hydraulic structures and river confluences. The modelling was also used to investigate air entrainment and ensure that water quality criteria would be satisfied,” says Blersch.

Meanwhile, in the world’s newest nation Timor Leste, Aurecon is delivering the Australia-East Timor Community Water Supply and Sanitation Programme (CWSSP).

As part of a long term engagement in the water and sanitation sector by the Australian Government within Timor Leste, the AusAID funded CWSSP aims to improve rural health by increasing access to clean water and sanitation, and through environmental health awareness at grass roots level.

In addition, Aurecon assisted the implementation of the CWSSP in three districts. In total, 59,946 people gained access to safe water supplies and 11,964 to improved sanitation. CWSSP implemented 96 community sub-projects to improve average coverage in these districts by 40% for water supply, and 9% for sanitation.

Looking to the future

Projects such as Nam Theun 2 are representative of the opportunities for future dam and hydro development across the Asian region.

“The geographical concentration of the world’s poor is now in South Asia and Africa. Countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, PNG, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam all present locations where donor funded projects can bring economic and social benefits to developing nations and their people,” says Blersch.

Donors are among the biggest global clients for both governments and technical consultants, particularly in the water and power sectors. By providing water and energy solutions to developing countries across Asia, the resultant economic growth has a ‘trickle down’ effect on growth development and ultimately stability.

Across Asia, issues such as urbanisation, population growth, climate change adaptation, water scarcity, sustainable development, energy supply and demand, mega cities and congestion will all influence the way in which dams and hydro projects are conceived, designed and delivered.

As developing nations come to better understand the nature of the resources at their disposal, particularly around water resource planning, dam and hydro projects will be seen as opportunities to foster economic growth across the region.

John Hardcastle is the Senior Communications Advisor at Aurecon in Australia.

Peter Blersch is Aurecon’s Competency Leader for Bulk Water & Dams. He has 29 years of specialist experience in water resources development, dams and hydraulics, planning, design and construction supervision. He has been accepted by the South African Dam Safety regulator as an Approved Professional Person for the design and construction supervision of Category III embankment dams (dams higher than 30m). Peter has also led several large-scale multi-disciplinary dam and water resource development projects.