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The energy-water nexus, 2012 edition

Chris Nelder, Smart Planet
A blistering summer this year has brought the energy-water nexus into sharp focus: how much power generation depends on water, and how much our water systems depend on power.

We’ve had the hottest July on record in the continental United States, and so far 2012 ranks as the tenth-warmest year on record globally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The heat forced the shutdown of the Millstone Unit 2 reactor at the Dominion Nuclear Connecticut plant in Waterford, Connecticut last Monday, when the water temperature in Long Island Sound reached a toasty 76.7 degrees, over the 75 degree limit for the plant’s cooling water. (As of this writing more than a week later, the reactor is still offline.) I suspect that heat may have played a role in forcing other nuclear plants to shut down in July, by causing electrical component failures. These shutdowns, along with others forced by faulty equipment, have taken U.S. nuclear generation to its lowest level in a decade, according to New Scientist.

The interdependencies of water, power generation, food, and climate are not news. We’ve had shutdowns of power plants due to summertime heat for the past decade or more. But the problem does seem to be getting worse every year…
(22 August 2012)

Treading water

Dawn Stover, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
In 1954, Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, gave a speech in which he famously predicted that “our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Whether he was talking about fission reactors or a secret fusion project is unclear, but he was wrong in either case. What did turn out to be too cheap to meter, however, was water…

This year’s drought, however, is a painful reminder that water is not an unlimited resource. According to the National Climate Data Center, moderate to exceptional drought currently covers 64 percent of the contiguous United States. A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change predicts that severe and widespread droughts will continue during the coming decades…

It takes water to make energy. Coal, gas, and nuclear power plants generate electricity using steam-driven turbine generators. They withdraw surface water from rivers, lakes, or other bodies and use it to cool the steam. Thermoelectric power production has been the largest category of water use in the United States since 1965, and it is currently the fastest-growing user of freshwater. In fact, thermoelectric production accounted for more than 41 percent of all freshwater withdrawals in 2005, the most recent year for which US Geological Survey data are available. That year, thermoelectric production consumed more than 200 billion gallons of water daily. That was about 675 gallons per person. Every. Single. Day…

It takes energy to make water. Before you can use water in your dishwasher or bathtub, it must be pumped out of the ground or a surface source, treated to make it potable, delivered to your home, and heated. All of that takes energy. Plus, energy is required to treat and dispose of the wastewater that goes down your drain. In places where water is especially scarce, the only option may be desalination — an extremely energy-intensive process. And while thermoelectric power plants pay little or nothing for their water, water utilities get big electricity bills. (Remember, electricity isn’t too cheap to meter.)…
(22 August 2012)

The U.S. Drought and Electricity Generation

John Daly,
Well, its official – the U.S. government has acknowledged that the U.S. is in the worst drought in over 50 years, since December 1956, when about 58 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate to extreme drought. ..

Much business writing on the effects of the drought have focused on its agricultural aspects. To give but one, the hottest, driest summer since 1936 scorching the Midwest have diminished projected corn and soybean crop yields s in the U.S. for a third straight year to their lowest levels in nine years. Accordingly, the price of a bushel of corn has jumped 62 percent since 15 June and soybeans gained 32 percent in the same period.

But as consumers fret about the inevitable rise in food prices to come, the drought is unveiling another, darker threat to the American lifestyle, as it is now threatening U.S. electricity supplies…
(3 September 2012)

US and EU must change biofuel targets to avert food crisis, says Nestlé chief

John Vidal, The Guardian
Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has added its weight to calls by the UN and development groups for the US and EU to change their biofuel targets because of looming food shortages and price rises.

“We say no food for fuel,” said Paul Bulcke, chief executive of Nestlé, at the end of the World Water Week conference in Sweden. “Agricultural food-based biofuel is an aberration. We say that the EU and US should put money behind the right biofuels.”…

“The relationship between food and water is clear,” said Bulcke. “Water should have a value. There is so much much waste in the system. Upstream on farms, industry, food waste, food spoilage. Agriculture is responsible for 70% of all water being used globally, and 90% in some developing countries.” Water is one cause of the food crisis. Governments took their eyes off the ball. For years, research and development investments were very low, at 1.5% annually. We have a crisis in the making. We cannot continue to use water in the same wasteful way as before…
(4 September 2012)