Water and energy production have always been inextricably linked, but the amount of water needed to power our lives is increasing, according to the latest forecast from the International Energy Agency.
The role of water in energy, often referred to as the water-energy nexus, is getting more attention than ever before, and last month’s report from the IEA was the first time that the report has given water issues related to energy production its own section.
Energy production sucks up about 15 percent of the world’s total water withdrawal, which could increase by about 20 percent between 2010 and 2035. Much of the increase will be driven by higher-efficiency power plants and expanding biofuels production, according to the report.
“In an increasingly water-constrained world, the vulnerability of the energy sector to constraints in water availability can be expected to increase, as can issues around how the quality of water is affected by energy operations,” the IEA’s report stated.
The water-energy nexus will be a central focus at the inaugural International Water Summit, which is to be held during the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January and hosted by Masdar. For the companies that provide energy infrastructure and the governments that regulate that infrastructure, now is the time to take an increasingly holistic approach wherein water and energy are seen not just as intersecting, but rather are recognized as two equal parts of the same whole.
A holistic approach means looking at every aspect of water use in energy. Sometimes, energy efficiency requires higher energy use, such as with some high efficiency power plant technologies, according to the International Energy Agency. In the U.S., water continues to be the second biggest concern of utilities.
But there are technologies that can vastly reduce carbon emissions and water at the same time. A new coal plant in South Africa, the Kusile project, will use 5 percent of the volume of water compared to a conventional new coal-fired power plant (thanks to dry cooling), according to Dean Oskvig, CEO of the energy division at Black & Veatch, a consultant and project manager for the Kusile power station.
2013: Year of the Water-Energy Nexus? : Greentech Media