The current way we use water is unsustainable. Approximately 3.2 billion people worldwide, nearly half of the global population, live in areas experiencing water scarcity and around a third of our largest groundwater systems are under stress. The demands of global economic growth mean that pressure on water resources is predicted to increase in the coming years.
Industry is a big user of water, accounting for between 15-20% of annual freshwater withdrawals. This includes water consumed to provide energy such as gas and electricity to homes and businesses. Energy consumption is currently six times what it was in 1950 and is by up to 55% by 2030 due to population growth and industrial development. This will hugely increase the demands on freshwater supplies worldwide unless we rethink how we manage and use water.
The relationship between water and power supplies is often referred to as the water-energy nexus. Providing energy uses water and providing water uses energy. Both need to be used sustainably to prevent depletion of resources.
The water footprint of the energy sector is currently around 378 billion cubic meters per year. Electricity is the most water-intensive power to produce, contributing to around 90% of the global energy water footprint. Analysis of future water use has found that the amount of water required for energy production could increase by between 37-66% over the next two decades.
Water has many roles throughout the production of energy supplies, from start to finish. These include:
The production of energy also has implications for water quality. For example, extraction processes can contaminate groundwater which can affect drinking water quality.
There are a number of different types of power plants, all with their own water footprint. These include:
As can be seen in the numbers above, it’s not simply a case of moving to more green forms of power as some are more water-intensive. Geothermal and wind power have a smaller water footprint than fossil fuels, but the footprint of solar energy is not much different and hydropower uses more water (mainly through evaporation from manmade reservoirs).
It’s clear we need to move away from coal and gas but the shift to renewables needs to be done in a ‘water smart’ way. This means incorporating alternative supplies of water into the mix to reduce freshwater withdrawals. In practice, this could be making use of wastewater recycling systems, rainwater harvesting systems (especially in areas with high precipitation), or solar-powered or wind-powered water desalination systems.
Energy suppliers can also look at improving their water management strategies, moving towards less water-intensive methods of extracting, processing and distributing fuels and making use of water-efficient new technologies.
Are you looking to become more water-efficient? Water Experts can provide independent advice, guidance and the latest technology to help you achieve your goal. Our services range from carrying out full water audits on your premises to designing water reuse installations to become circular. BOSAQ supplies premium and affordable drinking water through the Q-Drop off-grid decentralized systems.