A research agenda for the future of urban water management: exploring the potential of non-grid, small-grid, and hybrid solutions

Sabine Hoffman, Ulrike Feldmann, Peter M. Bach, Christian Binz, Megan Farrelly, Niki Frantzeskaki, Harald Hiessl, Jennifer Inauent, Tove A. Larsent, Judit Lienert, Jörg Londong, Christoph Lüthi, Max Maurer, Cynthia Mitchell, Eberhard Morgenroth, Kara L. Nelson, Lisa Scholten, Bernhard Truffer, Kai M. Udert

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Recent developments in high- and middle-income countries have exhibited a shift from conventional urban water systems to alternative solutions that are more diverse in source separation, decentralization, and modularization. These solutions include nongrid, small-grid, and hybrid systems to address such pressing global challenges as climate change, eutrophication, and rapid urbanization. They close loops, recover valuable resources, and adapt quickly to changing boundary conditions such as population size. Moving to such alternative solutions requires both technical and social innovations to coevolve over time into integrated socio-technical urban water systems. Current implementations of alternative systems in high- and middle-income countries are promising, but they also underline the need for research questions to be addressed from technical, social, and transformative perspectives. Future research should pursue a transdisciplinary research approach to generating evidence through socio-technical "lighthouse" projects that apply alternative urban water systems at scale. Such research should leverage experiences from these projects in diverse socio-economic contexts, identify their potentials and limitations from an integrated perspective, and share their successes and failures across the urban water sector.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5312-5322
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2020


  • urban water management
  • non-grid systems
  • small-grid systems
  • hybrid systems
  • research agenda
  • transdisciplinary integration

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