Energy Sector, Planet, To Face Water Crisis, Says WEC

The UN-accredited World Energy Council (WEC) has warned that water shortages, which could reach critical levels as soon as 2030, will have a heavy-handed impact on power plants, many of which rely on large quantities of water to generate electricity.

Water resourcesOf special note in a recently released WEC report are hydroelectric and thermal electric plants. Borrowing from a report in the journal Nature Climate Change, the WEC said that "from 2014 to 3069, reductions in usable water capacity could impact two-thirds of the 24,515 hydro-power plants analysed and more than 80 percent of the 1,427 thermal electric power plants assessed." 

As much as 98 percent of the world's electricity comes from sources heavily dependent on water, including nuclear power plants. And even though nuclear plants recycle the lion's share of the water they use, the lack of sound water governance could well impact availability, and, in turn, expansion of the nuclear power industry. As a background to the report, the WEC notes that the United Nations "has projected there could be a 40 percent shortfall of water availability globally by 2030."

Some experts content that the situation is not as dire as it sounds. Water on a global scale does not leave the planet's environment, even as it migrates from freshwater sources to briny sources and back again through transpiration and rainfall. Still, the WEC calls for improved water efficiency, improved desalination processes and reusing water for massive industrial uses, such as oil extraction. The agency also recommends "the adoption of dry cooling," where possible.

If water weren't scarce enough, there is also the issue of money. The WEC has termed the potential crisis as a risk to the "energy-water-food nexus," calling attention to the relationship between those basic needs. The agency is seeking an "increase in resilience" to face the upcoming shortages. But to do that, the International Energy Agency has estimated it could cost up to $53 trillion in "cumulative global investments" by 2035. Certainly, with water issues tying up that much money, nations will be forced to alter other spending accordingly.

Energy is the second largest freshwater user, after agriculture, the report says. Water for energy production figures into the entire "energy value chain" from extraction to directly powering turbines to cooling. "Ninety-eight percent of the power currently produced needs water," the agency said.

Growing demands for food, water and energy will each affect water supply and use. "Moreover, some of the regions that are currently water stressed are also likely to see significant economic development, population growth and changing consumption patterns," the agency said.

The WEC said "the lack of sound water governance" would put further stress on availability, especially given the sharing of water resources between countries. "Two-hundred-sixty-one international trans-boundary basins cover 45 percent of the earth's land surface, serving 40 percent of the world's population and provide 60 percent of the earth's entire freshwater volume," said the agency.

"This affects the operation of planned and proposed energy infrastructures, and there is a need to ensure that adequate cross-border water management frameworks are in place," the report said.

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