Enhancing frameworks for utilising Sankey diagrams in modelling the water-energy nexus and circularity

Lutendo D. Rambau, Paul T. Mativenga, Annlizé L. Marnewick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the connection between water supply and energy consumption in a circular economy is crucial for managing the demands of these resources. Sankey diagrams have the potential to enhance the visualisation of resource flows. However, there is a knowledge gap regarding the effective use of Sankey diagrams to capture the water-energy nexus and circularity of water. This study focused on effectively utilizing Sankey diagrams to model the nexus of water and energy flows and to assess the circularity of water. A comprehensive literature review was conducted on major studies on water material flows and modelling. This was supported by a review of approaches for modelling circularity, which have evolved from the material circularity index. The newly developed framework in this paper models water resource flows at all stages of the water supply chain, embedding the nexus as an interaction and considering resource intensity and material circularity index at each node. A city-level case study in South Africa was then used to apply the recommendations, model circularity, and the water-energy nexus using Sankey diagrams. In terms of circularity, the results indicate that water loss in the study area was very high, accounting for up to 40% of the total water supply and the water recycle rate was still very low, ranging from 3% to 7%. In terms of the nexus, the residential sector was found to have the highest energy intensity for water supply, primarily due to energy demand for water heating. Exploring the use of renewable or solar energy for water heating will be of interest and value. The new approach presented in this study allows for the simultaneous consideration of objectives, enabling a more robust analysis of energy-effective water use and water circularity along the water supply chain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number142355
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024


  • Circularity
  • Resource flow
  • Robustness
  • Sankey diagram
  • Water supply chain
  • Water-energy nexus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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