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CERA and WEF: Water Resources a Growing Challenge for Energy

Increasing Pressure on Freshwater Resources Will Require More Efficient Water Use in the Extraction, Transformation and Delivery of Energy

Water is increasingly moving from an operational issue to one of strategic significance, according to Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century, a new report by the World Economic Forum and Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), an IHS company. The report warns, “Energy’s share of water is likely to be squeezed in the future in many parts of the world.”

Part of an ongoing collaboration between CERA and the World Economic Forum, Thirsty Energy offers a broad perspective on water’s role in energy production, the energy used in water provision, and the new risks and opportunities inherent in the “ancient relationship” between energy and water. The report illustrates water-related challenges and potential solutions with perspectives from distinguished leaders in energy, water provision, engineering, and academia, concluding that local solutions must be found to optimize the use of both of these resources around the world. “Water availability and water stress are local issues, and the possible impact of water scarcity on the energy industry is similarly local,” according to the report.

“Understanding how to best optimize the use of water and energy in a carbon-constrained environment is becoming critical for both business leaders and policymakers,” said CERA Chairman and IHS Executive Vice President Daniel Yergin. “Energy companies will increasingly be called upon to be partners in managing the world’s water resources, along with agriculture and other large users.”

World Economic Forum’s Senior Director and Head of Energy Industry, Christoph Frei, said: “The importance of bringing water into the energy equation now cannot be underestimated as we are heading for a more water-scarce future. Optimizing future energy choices is becoming a ‘trilemma’ as water implications need to be considered alongside energy security and climate change impacts.”

The report states: “When discussing how various parts of the economy use water, distinguishing between the volume of water withdrawn and the volume consumed is very important.” “Water withdrawn” is the total volume removed from a water source. Often a portion of this volume is returned to the source, particularly when water is used for cooling, as in power plants. “Water consumed” is the volume not returned to the source. Both measures are important. “Consumption is a better measure of an activity’s impact on water resources,” but availability of water for withdrawal is often vital for facility operations, even if the water is not consumed.

Agriculture is the world’s largest water user, representing 70 percent of fresh water withdrawn worldwide. The energy sector uses only about 8 percent of world freshwater withdrawals, but this number can be as high as 40 percent in developed countries. By comparison, water consumption for energy in the United States is about 5 percent, compared to 85 percent for agriculture.

Transporting water over long distances is generally not economically feasible; therefore water resource optimization must take place on a local level. For this reason water resources management is very different from greenhouse gas management. The report illustrates that “a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil can offset increasing emissions in China, but the abundance of fresh water in the Brazilian Amazon is not helpful for areas of northern China where water is scarce.”

“The industry’s goal must be to use water resources wisely while taking into account climate change and energy security concerns,” said Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the newly revised The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. “Finding solutions that optimize along all three parameters will be a significant concern for the energy industry for decades to come.”

For a copy of the CERA / World Economic Forum report, Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century, visit
(19 February 2009)
Press release.

Los Angeles nears water rationing

Steve Gorman, Reuters
With a recent flurry of winter storms doing little to dampen California’s latest drought, the nation’s biggest public utility voted on Tuesday to impose water rationing in Los Angeles for the first time in nearly two decades.

Under the plan adopted in principle by the governing board of the L.A. Department of Water and Power, homes and businesses would pay a penalty rate — nearly double normal prices — for any water they use in excess of a reduced monthly allowance.
(17 February 2009)

A World Without Water

Tara Lohan, The Nation
If you’ve read anything about the global water crisis, you’ve likely read a quote from Dr. Peter Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute, and one of the world’s leading water experts. His name has become as ubiquitous as drought itself, which is suddenly making major headlines. A report from the World Economic Forum warned that in only twenty years our civilization may be facing “water bankruptcy”–shortfalls of fresh water so large and pervasive that global food production could crater, meaning that we’d lose the equivalent of the entire grain production of the US and India combined.

… Q: Right now an enormous amount of attention is focused on energy issues. You mentioned at a recent talk in Berkeley that some of the cheapest ways to save energy are actually through water efficiency. Can you explain the interconnection?

Gleick: It takes a lot of water to produce certain kinds of energy–oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear. Thermal plants, in general, all require a lot of water for cooling. And in the US probably the single largest use of water is for power plant cooling. Whereas, solar and wind and other energy systems require very little or no water. If energy is an issue and water is an issue, let’s think about the two together.

But conversely, it also takes a huge amount of energy to collect and treat and move water. There is a big energy cost in our water systems, but it turns out that some of the cheapest remaining energy efficiency options for us are not saving energy per se, but are saving water. So, a simple example is front-loading washing machines, which save water, detergent and energy. And so, that is a no-brainer. We should be seeing more of these kinds of things implemented to save both.

Q: And maybe we’ll start rethinking a lot of the biofuels stuff, too.

Gleick: Biofuels, like ethanol, are a great example of solving one problem and causing another–and in this case, solving one problem and causing a lot more problems.

Q: We hear a lot these days about “peak oil,” but you write about “peak water.” What do you mean by this?

Gleick: Discussion of peak oil got us thinking about the idea of peak water. Rather than run out of water, what we’re going to run out of is the ability of the planet to sustain the amount of water we use and the way we use it. Water is a renewable resource, mostly. After it is used, it just goes somewhere else in the hydrologic cycle, and it comes back. And so we are not literally running out of water, with some exceptions. For example, there are parts of the planet where we use groundwater faster than nature recharges it.
(16 February 2009)
Related story on Peter Gleick from WorldChanging: Water Efficiency Key to Saving Energy, Expert Says.

Australian householders to be charged for each flush of toilet

Perth Now
HOUSEHOLDERS would be charged for each flush under a radical new toilet tax designed to help beat the drought.
The scheme would replace the current system, which sees sewage charges based on a home’s value – not its waste water output.

CSIRO Policy and Economic Research Unit member Jim McColl and Adelaide University Water Management Professor Mike Young plan to promote the move to state and federal politicians and experts across the country.

“It would encourage people to reduce their sewage output by taking shorter showers,recycling washing machine water or connecting rainwater tanks to internal plumbingto reduce their charges,”Professor Young said.

“Some people may go as far as not flushing their toilet as often because the less sewage you produce, the less sewage rate you pay.”

Professor Young said sewer pricing needed to be addressed as part of the response to the water crisis.
(16 November 2009)
Big Gav comments: “I would have thought tiered water pricing would be an easier, simpler and fairer solution.”