System Knowledge and Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem Nexus

Land, food, energy, water and ecosystems are linked to each other (the WEFE nexus), and form interconnected socio-metabolisms at different scales. Within Public Design for Water, we work in an area-focused and integrated manner. The region is increasingly the most important scale at which to address the challenges: at the area level, the policies of the national and provincial governments become concrete; and at this scale the stakeholders can make and implement choices. Public Design ensures that these choices are both widely supported and scientifically sound. To realise the sustainability transitions, reliable facts and proven techniques are essential; this is why our experts develop solid system knowledge in this knowledge field.

Methods and projects within System Knowledge and Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem Nexus

For Public Design we need to have an integrated understanding of the underlying interdependencies between water, energy, food and ecosystems. Specialist knowledge about the sub-systems provides an important basis for this. This ‘system knowledge’ allows us to grasp the complexity of the nexus in an area so as to realise integrated solutions. Which measures and techniques are available to change, or to prevent, undesirable conditions, and to realise the targeted conditions? Public Design for Water ensures the input of concrete and area-specific answers to these questions. With methods like water-system analyses, models, simulations, and Sankey diagrams, the potential conflicts and opportunities for synergy between the objectives from the sub-systems are all mapped out. This demands an integrated approach, for example for agriculture and water in measures for climate adaptation, or for water and energy in finding solutions for the energy transition. Specialist knowledge is therefore also necessary for example in microbial and chemical water quality, with a view to realising safe circular solutions.

There is an abundance of theoretical analyses and schematic models of the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem Nexus. Policies on the sustainability transitions (energy transition, agricultural transition, climate adaptation, and the transition to a circular economy) are expressed in terms of abstract values to be pursued. Think for instance of ‘resilience’, ‘circularity’, and ‘quality of the living environment’. There is a broad realization that the values of water and soil must be become guiding values when spatial choices are made to realise sustainable systems, but what exactly to we mean by this? Public Design for Water makes these concepts concrete. Prototypes, pilots, and living labs are crucial in Public Design. The system knowledge is implemented in both integrated technological innovations, like  ‘Power-to-X’ , ‘industrial symbiosis’ or ‘blue-green energy roofs’, and in new governance arrangements like the ‘waterbank’.