The Impacts of Water Withdrawal on Energy Use

Posted by AM Conservation Group on August 6, 2015

There is a crisis in the state of our global freshwater supply.

As population grows, things like large-scale agriculture and urbanization are increasing at exponential rates. As these factors increase, so does the demand on the freshwater table, also known as our freshwater withdrawal.

It is currently projected that our global freshwater withdrawal will exceed freshwater supply by about 40% in just 15 years, by 2030. Aside from the obvious ramifications, such as limited freshwater for drinking or sanitation, such a supply-demand discrepancy will cause extreme imbalances in the Water-Energy Nexus.

What is the Water-Energy Nexus?

The Water-Energy Nexus is the cyclical relationship between freshwater supply and energy production. The Water-Energy Nexus relationship is very intricate: the two resources are entwined completely and dozens of additional factors contribute to its complexity.

However, it can be simplified into a two-stage cycle.

The first stage is the Water for Energy stage. That is, every method of energy production requires freshwater withdrawal. Water is used in mining of coal, drilling for oil, and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Water, in the form of steam, is required in the burning of all fossil fuels. Even wind and solar power user water indirectly in the manufacturing of their components.

The second stage is the Energy for Water stage. As all energy production processes require water, all of our modern water usages require electricity. Source extraction, pumping, transportation, drinking water treatment, and waste water treatment — each of these processes use electricity.

Most estimates indicate that of the 40% supply-demand mismatch forecast for 2030, only 40% can be mitigated. That means that by 2030 we may see as much as 21% of freshwater demand remain unmet.

The impact of unmet demand on this scale could be significant. Drinking and bathing water will be limited or even nonexistent for many people. Even more worrisome, is the affect it will have on industry and agriculture, the two largest freshwater withdrawals in modern society. Without water to create materials, run machinery, or feed crops, the process may grind to a standstill, leading to widespread shortages of commodity goods and food supplies.

What Can be Done?

Though the picture is bleak, there is still plenty that can be done — the supply-demand mismatch is a projection, not a guarantee. And though the problem is global in nature, many of the best solutions can, and must, be implemented by utility providers, electric cooperatives, local governments, and their customers and citizens.

Water-EnergyNexusGrabTo learn more about the Water-Energy Nexus, the projected 2030 supply-demand gap and, most importantly, what you can do to help avoid it, download AM Conservation Group’s newest eBook, “The Complexities of Water and Energy: The Water-Energy Nexus,” for free today.