Strategic Intelligence | World Economic ForumGLOBAL ISSUEWater: Energy and WaterCuration: Circle of BlueBetter management of water use can resul...Strategic Intelligence | World Economic Forum
Water: Energy and Water
Curation: Circle of Blue
Better management of water use can result in more efficient and environmentally-beneficial energy use
Energy production based on fossil fuels and nuclear power requires large volumes of water - and the heating, transportation, purification, and use of water consumes vast amounts of energy. Policies that successfully account for both energy and water use can have multiple benefits. For example, an urban water conservation mandate implemented during one drought in California resulted in electricity savings 11% greater than what was achieved by electric utility efficiency programs during the same period - while cutting greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 111,000 cars on the road for a full year. The fossil fuel economy is water-intensive and dirty; waste products from burning coal send toxic heavy metals into groundwater and rivers. Water demand for fracking in the US has soared - by as much as 770% per well between 2011 and 2016 in the Permian Basin - potentially undermining local freshwater availability. Thermal power plants account for more water withdrawals (which are used for cooling) than any other sector in the US, though much of it is returned (at a warmer temperature) to rivers and lakes.
However, these thermal power plants rely on consistent river flows and temperatures, so extreme variations can be disruptive. Severe droughts in France and in the southern US have resulted in power plant deratings or shutdowns as river temperatures became too hot, for example. Some alternative energy options have related drawbacks; ethanol-based biofuels require land, water, and fertilizer to grow corn and other feedstocks. The reservoirs for hydropower dams in arid regions are depleted by evaporation, while dams in tropical areas generate methane emissions. The shrinking of Lake Powell in the US due to drought and over-extraction could eliminate local hydropower generation, for example. Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia an estimated 10% of domestic oil consumption is dedicated to desalinating water, while in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates desalination accounts for roughly 30% of electricity use. Wind turbines and solar panels, by contrast, require little to no water to produce electricity. Energy choices can have serious consequences for water availability and must be tailored to specific regions. Even policies designed to mitigate climate change, such as carbon capture, can potentially exacerbate water scarcity - due to the extra energy required to operate and cool machinery.