Could you describe your professional and/or personal experience relating to water?
Where does your interest in water come from?
The interest I have in water is closely related to my family and education background. My family owns a farm and irrigation is an important practice in the farm. I always joke that I am currently 36 years old with more than 30 years experience in irrigation. I originally wanted to become a medical doctor, but later switched to study environmental engineering with a focus on fluid dynamics, hydrology, and water resources management. I started to focus on renewable energies at the end of my bachelor’s studies and continued during my master’s studies. When I saw the opportunity for a PhD focused on solar photovoltaic irrigation, I told myself this is what I wanted to do. Thus, I got the opportunity to pursuit a PhD degree at Mälardalen University, working on solar irrigation systems for halting grassland and farmland desertification in China. Most of my work focused on system optimization including solar energy conversion, water resources availability and exploitation, and crop yield response to water, water-food-energy nexus.
I love water because such molecule and its cycle hold the meaning of life. The sooner you get close to the concept of nexus, the sooner you realize the importance of water. We cannot have access to energy without water availability, because most of our energy comes from hydropower stations and thermal power plants that require water for cooling. Relatively new clean energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaic and solar concentrating power plants, also require a lot of water. Without water our food production system cannot be sustained, which would be a threat to food security.
Did any event in particular inspire you to work on water issues/management?
Beside what I have mentioned above, there have been a series of events that have inspired and triggered my work on water issues. During the summer before starting my PhD, I found the following inspiring statement which highlights the importance of water in our daily life and the importance to work on water issues:
“…civil engineers of the nineteenth century did more to improve public health than all the doctors and surgeons put together, by designing and building the infrastructure of the modern water supplies…” - Lynn, P. A. (2011).
Whenever we use clean water at home, we should feel extremely lucky and grateful to the engineers who have made this happen. At the beginning of my PhD, I focused on single solar irrigation systems. During this period, I had the opportunity to work at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria for a few months, where I started to study how to integrate solar irrigation systems in China without putting pressure to water resources. At IIASA, I also met my wife who was working on agricultural drought monitoring, and since then we have been collaborating on how to implement irrigation systems to combat drought on a large scale.
After my PhD, I have been working on the water-food-energy nexus without research funding for about 5 years, except for two generous internal funds received by Mälardalen University. During this period, I had the opportunity to meet the curator of two NASA irrigation management services and developed great interest in how large-scale services can significantly reduce water consumption for irrigation. Inspired by the colleague at NASA and motivated by a colleague from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI), I have started to develop an irrigation management system for Sweden (SWEDIMS, SWEDish Irrigation Management System) when a severe drought hit the country in 2018.
What makes you most excited about working on water issues?
I have been working on several research topics in the last years, all of them extremely important, but I am always pushing myself to work on something that can make a difference to people’ lives. Most of the Sustainable Development Goals are closely related to water, and I realized that the water-food-energy nexus is what I want to contribute my efforts to. It is very exciting to develop tools and services that can solve water issues or at least can combat the negative effects of extreme weather events and climate change on our food production and energy systems. I am also very interested in technologies for water supply, Internet-of-Things, and irrigation. Even without research funding, I am planning to develop a small-scale advanced solar irrigation system to increase crop water use efficiency together with my brother.
Could you tell us about your current work, your latest project, or your proudest professional moment?
In 2020, we have been funded by the Swedish Energy Agency to evaluate the first agrivoltaic system in Sweden. An agrivoltaic system is a photovoltaic system that allows the combination of both electricity production and crop production on the same land to increase the land use efficiency. In addition to the technology aspects, we will evaluate the system from a holistic water-food-energy nexus point of view. Most of the work is to build a robust water-food-energy nexus model that takes solar energy conversion, crop yield response to shadings, and shading effects on soil moisture into account. Part of the grant is also to further develop SWEDIMS as a prototype for the management of agrivoltaic systems integrated with irrigation on a larger scale. I have had several proud moments in my career. One of my most proud professional moments was when I got invited to co-chair the community on earth observations for water energy food nexus under the GEO group. A series of other proud moments are those connected to several national prizes with the support of the coordinator of the Blekinge Archipelago Biosphere Reserve. Lately, another super proud moment of my career is that together with colleagues from Uppsala University, SMHI, and NASA we became finalist of the Copernicus Master Challenge 2020.
What do you need to innovate?
As highlighted during the 2008 World Economic Forum, to address the nexus challenges, we need novel technologies and management strategies to save water, produce more food and supply more energy to meet current and future demands. We need more research and development funding. We need gridded data at high spatial and temporal resolutions to solve large-scale water (and in general natural resources) allocation problems to meet current and future challenges associated with climate changes, for instance concerning water or energy consumption of different sectors as well as conversion data from different sectors.
Based on my experiences, I have realized that several data in the context of the water-food-energy nexus is missing and more specific datasets should be developed to help foster innovation in the nexus area. Another important part of the puzzle is computing power and storage capacity. Big data comes with storage problems. Moreover, big data connected to simulation and optimization models and artificial intelligence algorithms requires enormous computing power and thus, investments. Universities and governments should provide great support for researchers and help them better handle the challenges of big data.
Could you tell us about the geographic distribution of droughts and changes in dry and wet seasons related to or resulting from climate change? How have the durations of these periods changed? Do you see any patterns as an impact of climate change? What are the main impacts and where can they be observed?
In the last decades, Amazonia, southern South America, Mediterranean region, most of Africa, north-eastern China and, to a lesser extent, central Asia and southern Australia have been drought hotspots. In terms of drought risk, major agriculture producing countries/regions, such as India, East China and Southwest Russia are under severe threat.
If we look at climate change scenarios, especially the more pessimistic ones, the projected temperature increase in those areas will undoubtedly further aggravate the situations. Climate change will lead to more extreme wet and dry seasons, with dry seasons becoming drier and wet seasons getting wetter. This is an important issue that threatens the reliability of the current hydropower stations.
Significant investment should be promoted in the next decades to increase the reservoirs capacity to balance the mismatch between water supply and demand and at the same time limit evaporation losses. For instance, floating solar system is an interesting technology to avoid evaporation losses from hydropower stations. Climate change plays also a key role in exacerbating drought conditions, resulting in more severe, frequent, and longer drought. For instance, higher temperature increases evaporation rates and leads to drier periods, which can reduce vegetation, and this negatively alters the water cycle and decreases the precipitation.
Recent studies show Africa, Eastern Asia, Mediterranean region are more prone to drought with increased frequency, duration, and severity. When teaching students, the concept of water-food-energy nexus, weather induced phenomena and climate changes, we often end up talking about major producing countries, such as China and India. Those countries are the most populated in the world, with an already high pressure on food/electricity production and related water consumption. Severe droughts and climate changes will significantly reduce the water availability, threatening the food and energy security.
As someone who specialized on the Water-Energy-Food Nexus, could you explain which role space technologies play for the WEF-Nexus?
The overall WEF Nexus
From my perspective, space technologies and data generated from space technologies play a key role in determining water budgets. Water budgets and water availability are of fundamental importance for estimating how water should be distributed among different sectors, including the food and the energy sectors.
Which role do you believe space technologies play for Hydro-power?
Hydropower accounts for almost 20% of the electricity generation worldwide and it is a clean, reliable, and flexible source of electricity. Space technologies can have a significant impact on the management of this renewable resource from three different perspectives:
- estimate the water resources availability especially the snow pack in mountain areas,
- improve the management of the reservoirs to avoid over spilling, and
- better estimate the large demands for irrigation by monitoring the crop growth in the basin from remote sensing.
Which role do you believe space technologies and water play for achieving SDG 2 – Zero Hunger?
Data generated by space technologies for supporting irrigation and precision agriculture practices can have a fundamental impact on water resources availability, nutrients applications, water resources quality, and crop yields. This is of particular significance in major crop production countries and in those countries under severe threat of drought and famine.
Can Space Technologies help WFE nexus policies?
WFE nexus policies should be supported by data and models. In this context, space technologies play a key role in producing the data cube that can allow a better understanding of the WFE nexus interrelationships. Space technologies can help us better understand hydrological, agricultural and energy processes that are fundamental for the nexus.
What do you think is poorly understood or unresolved within the area of sustainable water management and research? Why is this so?
I think the biggest barrier for a sustainable water management is a lack of awareness on the interconnections among energy, food, and water resources. Accordingly, this lack of collaboration is threatening the governance and the business sectors. A typical example of how this lack of collaboration is threatening an integrated water management is the concept of water footprint of a product and its components: the blue, green and water footprints. In most of the countries, those footprint components are managed by different entities. It is very difficult to bring the agencies from different aspects of the nexus at the same table. This lack of awareness also limits the collaboration among scientists in different fields.
Another important aspect is the gap between scientists and stakeholders related to our research projects. Recently we have proposed an irrigation management service for all Europe, but we were not able to fully convince all stakeholders of the service’s opportunities. Scientists need to be able to communicate effectively, not only with other scientists but also with affected stakeholders and other involved actors. In my case these would be for example water and energy management agencies. Academia needs to get the message and knowledge across to everyone. The importance of science needs to be made understandable. Furthermore, more reach out to people and agencies who can be affected by our research needs to be done.
How do you believe space technologies add value to sustainable water management?
I believe space technologies, databases, and in particular associated user-friendly visualization platforms can help unlock the power of data for water management and research. I am currently developing a tool that can provide useful information to water, agricultural and energy management agencies at the same time.
What is your favourite aggregate state of water?
Since I was a child, I have always stepped over a puddle whenever I see one. I love fly fishing since the running water help me relax. I have been always been fascinated by hydropower stations and by irrigated fields. I suppose that liquid water is my favourite aggregate state of water.