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Water-Energy Nexus

18 Nov 13

thirsty energy: Making the Energy-Water Nexus work for us

This new global initiative is led jointly by the Water and Energy Units in the World Bank and will officially be launched at the World Future Energy Summit in January 2014. thirsty energy aims to support client countries in addressing the challenges in energy and water resources development, avoid unsustainable scenarios and break disciplinary silos that prevent cross-sectoral planning.

“thirsty energy” will contribute to the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative by evaluating trade-offs and synergies between water and energy planning. It will also identify potential constraints resulting from their interdependency.

In July, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released reports (see U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather and Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World) highlighting the energy sector’s vulnerability to future water constraints. The reports’ findings paint a worrisome picture: currently, 60% of coal power plants in the U.S. are experiencing water stress; hydropower is threatened due to more frequent and severe droughts; and energy infrastructure is endangered by water variability due to climate change.

This blog by Diego Juan Rodriguez and Marcelino Madrigal was first published by the World Bank.

Diego Rodriguez

is currently a Senior Economist at the Water Unit of the Department of Transport, Water and Information and Communication Technology of the Sustainable Development Vice-Presidency of the World Bank. He is the task team leader of the new World Bank initiative on the quantification of the tradeoffs of the energy-water nexus and the Program Manager of the Water Partnership Program. He is also the provided technical support to operational teams on the use of economic analysis in large water infrastructure investments under deep uncertainty. Prior to joining the World Bank he worked at the Danish Hydraulic Institute and the Inter American Development Bank. He has more than 20 years of experience in sectoral, operational, policy and strategy development in water supply, sanitation, and water resources management.

Marcelino Madrigal

is a Senior Energy Specialist at the Energy Anchor Unit, specializing in technical and economic operations of power systems and electricity markets. Prior to joining the Bank in 2008, he worked for the Inter-American Development Bank as a team lead for a number of transmission, distribution, and regional energy integration projects. Prior to this, he worked with the Energy Regulatory Commission in Mexico as deputy general manager for research and regulatory development, and at the Energy Ministry as chief of staff for Electricity were he led efforts towards electricity tariff regulation, investment decision making, and electricity reform. He has extensively published on topics related to operations and planning of power systems and markets, and has delivered training in related fields in different countries. He holds a B.Sc, M.Sc., and Ph.D degrees in electrical engineering.

Water is critical for producing power, and vice versa. Almost all energy generation processes require significant amounts of water, and the treatment and transport of water requires energy, mainly in the form of electricity. Even though the interdependency between water and energy is gaining wider recognition worldwide, water and energy planning often remain distinct. The tradeoffs involved in balancing one need against the other in this “energy-water nexus,” as it is called, are often not clearly identified or taken into account, complicating possible solutions.

Population and economic growth, urbanization, and increasing demand for food and energy place competing pressures on water. According to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012, water consumption for energy generation will increase by 85% over 2010 to 2035, posing a serious challenge to many countries around the world.

In the U.S. several power plants were affected by low water flows or high water temperatures. In India, in February 2013, a thermal power plant with installed capacity of 1130 MW shut down due to a severe water shortage in the Marathwada region. France was forced to reduce or halt production in nuclear power plants in the past, due to high water temperatures threatening cooling processes during heatwaves. Recurring and prolonged droughts are threatening hydropower capacity in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, China and Brazil. These stresses will mount as emerging economies, like China, will double their energy consumption in the next 40 years.

To mitigate the challenges of the nexus, the World Bank Group will launch thirsty energy, a global initiative in partnership with the World Bank’s water and energy departments and supported by the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). Thirsty Energy will contribute to the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative by evaluating trade-offs and synergies between water and energy planning. It will also identify potential constraints resulting from their interdependency, and develop evidence-based operational tools to assist developing countries assess the economic and social implications of water constraints in energy security and power expansion plans. See Thirsty Energy, the first paper in a series of working papers.

One of the pilot countries selected for Thirsty Energy is South Africa, a country with important water issues and large energy expansion plans. The Bank is working with partners there to incorporate water allocation quantities by catchment area and marginal costs in energy optimization tools and plans. This enables planners to assess, using economic tools, whether or not, or to what extent, cross-sectoral competition will impact the technology mix in energy generation. Through case studies such as this, the Bank aims to reduce energy projects’ vulnerability to water constraints, and encourage water and energy to be planned in an integrated manner to maximize benefits. Through Thirsty Energy, the Bank and its partners will work to break disciplinary silos that prevent cross-sectoral planning and learning and to ensure the “sustainability” factor in Sustainable Energy for All.

Related Resources

Water Papers

thirsty energy

The tradeoffs between energy and water have been gaining international attention in recent years as demand for both resources mount and governments continue to struggle to ensure reliable supply to meet sectoral needs. As almost all energy generation processes require significant amounts of water, and water requires energy for treatment and transport, these two resources are inextricably linked. This relationship is the energy-water nexus. - Section one of this paper examines the existing models, literature, and management frameworks on the nexus, as it seeks to determine what gaps exist. Section two describes the water demands of power generation in order to identify potential areas of future uncertainty and delineate areas where integrated energy-water management may improve the reliability of operating power plants and the viability of schemes. Finally, section three describes possible solutions that may alleviate challenges resulting from the link between energy and water by improving energy efficiency and integrating water resources management into energy planning.

Policy Brief

thirsty energy: Will Water Constrain Our Energy Future?

The world’s water and energy systems are inextricably linked. Significant amounts of water are needed in almost all energy generation processes, from generating hydropower, to cooling and other purposes in thermal power plants, to extracting and processing fuels. Conversely, the water sector needs energy – mainly in the form of electricity – to extract, treat and transport water. Both energy and water are used in the production of crops including those used to generate energy through biofuels.

Related News

World Water Day 2014

World Water Day highlighted the importance of integrated planning through concerted policies and infrastructure. - By William Rex and Vivien Foster

Launch of “thirsty energy”

The World Bank is launching a new initiative at the World Future Energy Summit and International Water Summit in Abu Dhabi that will help developing countries better plan and manage scaling-up energy capacity to meet rising demand, in tandem with water resource management.

Water-Energy Nexus

In countries around the world, meeting daily energy needs is dependent on water. Finding sufficient water resources to produce the required energy, however, and then appropriately allocating the limited supply, is becoming more difficult.

Related Events

21 Jan 14

Launch at the WFES

thirsty energy is a new global initiative led jointly by the Water and Energy Units in the World Bank and will officially be launched at WFES in January 2014.

Related Media Coverage

07 Feb 14

The Guardian

Water scarcity and poor hydro management can threaten energy production. A World Bank initiative aims to tackle the problem.

Further Reading

31 May 12

The SEI’s work on the water, energy and food security nexus – an interview with Holger Hoff

17 Oct 14

Every food item we eat needs water for its production, but different foods require different amount of water. What do you think consumes more water: a steak, a glass of milk, a piece of bread or a cucumber? The short answer to this question is that the steak is the biggest water consumer. - by Ylva Ran

26 Mar 14

“In the water sector, the food-energy-water nexus is slowly replacing the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management, “ says Jeremy Allouche, member of the IDS Water Justice Programme and the STEPS Centre.

NEXUS in the Media

02 Jun 15

The Express Tribune (Pakistan)

Three US and four Pakistani universities have agreed to collaborate on research on energy, water and agriculture

29 Oct 12

The Straits Times (Singapore)

ENERGY, water and food - three cornerstones of the world - are deeply intertwined, and will be demanded in ever larger quantities in the future. To meet these inter-related demands, businesses can play a key role, working closely with government, said Ms Ruth Cairnie, executive vice-president of strategy and planning at energy giant Royal Dutch Shell.

09 Apr 14


Strengthening cross-border cooperation for water, energy and food security in transboundary basins during a time of climate change lies at the heart of a conference that is being held in Ho Chi Minh City on April 2 and 3.

31 Oct 11

Water Front


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