Global water scarcity points to value of wind and solar energy

Water scarcity could drive push towards wind and solar REneweconomy By Giles Parkinson   14 November 2012 In 2010, more water – 583 billion cubic metres – than is discharged each year by the mighty Ganges River in India was used to meet the world’s growing energy needs.

It’s an interesting statistic, but why should that matter? Well, if the world continues on its merry way, power capacity – particularly with water-hungry energy technologies such as coal and nuclear – and water-dependent extractive techniques such as coal, shale gas and tar sands, are going to grow quickly, and, according to the International Energy Agency, the world’s demand for water will grow at twice the pace, putting pressure on increasingly scarce water resources.

In countries such as India and China which are already experiencing
water stress, power demands will grow 70 per cent over the next 20
years. Most of their water is reserved for agricultural and municipal
needs. Both countries, like many others in the developing world, are
water stressed, and neither can afford to replicate the US, where
nearly half of the water consumption is reserved for energy use –
biofuels, coal mining, gas extraction, and generation.

The pressure is so great that the IEA has, for the first time,
dedicated a whole chapter of its annual reference work, the World
Energy Outlook, to the issue of water scarcity and energy supply.  It
says water is going to become an “increasingly serious” issue for
unconventional gas development and power generation in parts of China
and the US, and for the growing fleet of water-dependent power plants
in India, and the oil sands production in Canada.

It seems to serve as a warning to those that wish to invest in energy
projects. As a general rule – with the exception of water-hungry
nuclear – the more emissions intensive the energy type, the more water
it needs. The politics of climate change may mean that no limits on
carbon emissions are imposed to restrain the development of these
technologies, but nature may impose its own restraint through the
access to water. And, as the IEA notes, a surging population, a
growing economy and heightening climate change impacts will further
impact on energy reliability and costs…..
“There is no doubt that water is growing in importance as a criterion
for assessing the physical, economic and environmental viability of
energy projects,” the IEA notes.

The Agency says there are several options to address this: one is a greater reliance on renewable energy technologies that have minimal water requirements, such as solar PV and wind; another is to improve the efficiency of plants, and another is to deploy more advanced cooling systems. (The CSIRO is working on one technology that uses minimal amounts of water for solar thermal plants).


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