About 5 years ago we embarked on a global initiative titled “Thirsty Energy” to respond to water-energy nexus challenges around the world. The initiative, a joint effort of the Water and the Energy Global Practices at the World Bank, has finally come to an end. We wanted to reflect on the lessons learnt along the way, as our team has developed a fantastic set of material and methodologies to move the needle forward on this issue. We hope that the global community takes advantage of this to ignite change.
This blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post as part of a series, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals."
As a sector in world affairs, water is reaching a tipping point. Over the next two decades, the global push for food and energy security and for sustaining urbanization will place unprecedented demands on water.
Ours is a "thirsty" world, in which agriculture and energy compete with the needs of cities. At the same time, climate change may worsen the situation by increasing water stress and extreme-weather events. Hence, the water and climate nexus can no longer be a side event at global-climate talks. All of this is happening while the important push for universal access to water and sanitation services -- despite the impressive gains over the past several decades -- remains an unfinished agenda.
- What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals
- sustainable development goals
- World Water Week 2015
- water and energy nexus
- water and climate nexus
- thirsty agriculture
- thirsty energy
- Energy Security
- food security
- water security
- Urban Development
- Climate Change
- Agriculture and Rural Development
The theme of this year’s #worldwaterday focuses on water and energy. And for good reasons.
For the last six years, a power plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico has bought water from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to use in its cooling towers (instead of using freshwater). This operation, Project Tenorio, a public-private partnership, continues today and has already resulted in the reduction of groundwater extraction of at least 48 million cubic meters (equivalent to 19,000 Olympic size pools) and increased aquifer sustainability.
This is a good example of the water and energy nexus in practice: the wastewater treatment plant covers almost all of its operating costs from this additional revenue stream and the power plant gets a more reliable water source that is also 33% cheaper than groundwater in that area.
Treated wastewater has been used to reduce the water requirements of power plants in several other countries as well, as water supply becomes more variable or disappears. In the US, for example, around 50 power plants are using treated wastewater for cooling in order to adapt to water shortages. However, innovative integrated approaches like these are still more of an exception than the norm.
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released reports (see U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather and Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World) highlighting the energy sector’s vulnerability to future water constraints. The reports’ findings paint a worrisome picture: currently, 60% of coal power plants in the U.S. are experiencing water stress; hydropower is threatened due to more frequent and severe droughts; and energy infrastructure is endangered by water variability due to climate change.
Water is critical for producing power, and vice versa. Almost all energy generation processes require significant amounts of water, and the treatment and transport of water requires energy, mainly in the form of electricity. Even though the interdependency between water and energy is gaining wider recognition worldwide, water and energy planning often remain distinct. The tradeoffs involved in balancing one need against the other in this “energy-water nexus,” as it is called, are often not clearly identified or taken into account, complicating possible solutions.