Partners

The Nexus Platform is enabled by

Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung
giz
This project is co-funded by the European Union
close

(C) unsplash / Witch Kiki

News  |   1 Nov 2017

It’s time to rely on water-smart power // If we don’t talk about water, are we really talking about resiliency?

By Kate Zerrenner. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is trying to prop up coal and nuclear companies under the guise of enhanced “resiliency.” The Department of Energy’s (DOE) proposal does not define resiliency, nor does it even make clear what resiliency means in the context of the electric grid.

Resiliency in the energy sector generally, however, depends on water. The majority of the electricity that powers our world runs on century-old technology, guzzling down our most precious resource: water. Depending on the type of technology, generating just one megawatt-hour of electricity could use anywhere from 500 to 50,000 gallons. Solar and wind, on the other hand, use negligible amounts of water, and energy efficiency uses none.

Yet neither the DOE’s proposal nor its recent study on grid reliability touches on climate and water. Specifically, there is no mention of how climate change affects water availability or what that means for electric reliability. If Secretary Perry is really concerned about resiliency, water should be a key focus. And as a former governor from a drought-stricken state, he should know better.

Thirsty energy and a changing climate

Eighty-five percent of U.S. electricity is generated by incredibly thirsty resources: fossil fuel and nuclear power plants. As a result, the country’s power sector withdraws more water than any other sector of the economy. In 2010 (the most recent data year), the power sector withdrew 161 billion gallons of water per day, accounting for about half of all freshwater withdrawals in the country (“withdrawal” is the amount of water taken from the water source, whereas consumption is the portion of that water used and not returned to the original source for reuse).

That’s why if we’re talking about reliability, water availability has to be part of the conversation.

Secretary Perry, of all people, should understand this. He was the Governor of Texas for 14 years, during which time the state suffered through one of the worst droughts in its history. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the electricity of nearly 90 percent of the state, frequently ran into reliability issues related to heat and drought during the driest years. Curtailment – or restricting power – and brownouts were regular topics of conversation.

Why? When it’s hot and dry, people turn their air conditioners up, which increases overall electric demand. When demand increases, more power is needed, tapping into more and more of the decreasing supplies of water. It’s a vicious cycle, and water is at the heart of it.

Add in climate predictions, and we’re looking at hotter and drier as the new norm for much of the country. The effects won’t just be in places like Texas and the West – recently, New England and the Southeast suffered unprecedented droughts.

Although most places have been able to avoid power shutdowns so far, recent years have seen curtailment and stress, especially on nuclear power (the second thirstiest energy source after coal) in Illinois, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Demanding a water-conscious future

To meet future energy demands and ensure reliable electricity, low-carbon and water-smart energy choices need to be at the forefront of electricity decision-making. Renewable energy is a win-win solution to water scarcity on a warming planet, and a future focused on renewables will cut carbon pollution, while easing the stress climate change puts on water availability.

If the Department of Energy wants resiliency, Secretary Perry should prioritize innovation and research and development – not seek to prop up the thirsty coal and nuclear industries.

› back


News  |  , MENA  |  12 Dec 2017

Water-Energy Nexus // "Make Water not War"

By Stefan Stahlberg. How Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan could find together through water-energy cooperation: the region can only meet the serious lack of water and increasing energy demand together.› more

News  |  , Jobs  |   4 Dec 2017

Vacancy // PostDoc Researcher in Innovation, Networking and Learning in the Water Industry at Trinity College Dublin

Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin invites applications for a Researcher, part-funded under the ERDF INTERREG Ireland-Wales programme 2014-2020. In this multi-disciplinary research, the Business School is...› more

News  |   1 Dec 2017

Call for Nominations // Steering Committee members for Knowledge-Action Network on Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Future Earth is seeking nominations for members to join the Steering Committee of this research collaboration. Terms will begin in February 2018, and the deadline for nominations is 20 January 2018.› more