Is the shale gas revolution a brake on progress towards faster adoption of renewable energy? Many argue that it is, but there is also persuasive evidence that it could also boost integration of renewable energy into power grids, by providing a complement to intermittent sources of electricity.
“Kaatiyabaaz” is a compelling documentary film that highlights the power crisis in Kanpur, a city of three million people in north India.
It has all the elements of a steamy Hindi movie: 45-degree Celsius heat, power outages that last 12-15 hours, and illegal connections that come up every night and disappear in the morning. The everyday characters are gripping too. There’s a Robin-Hood-like street electrician who “provides power” by hooking to transmission lines. An upright bureaucrat (a woman, imagine that!) trying to get people to pay their bills and prevent theft. A city full of tired, angry citizens fed up with poor service provided. The film underlines how people will do whatever it takes to get some juice in their wires so that they can get lights, fans, water…the basic necessities of 20th century life.
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.
A cup of coffee in Caracas costs almost 200 times a liter of gasoline. Households in Turkey paid 74 times more than their Egyptian counterparts for bottled cooking gas in early 2013. The price differences across countries for gasoline and diesel are even larger, as much as 250-fold for diesel.
If you live on an island in the ocean, energy and climate issues come together in a palpable way. Most small island developing states depend heavily on imported fossil fuels, especially diesel, for their power. For remote islands, in the Pacific for example, the fuel must be shipped over long distances. It’s expensive, the supply is limited and intermittent, and paying for it stretches government budgets. Because of this, low-income families and communities often rely instead on kerosene, and wood or other biomass for lighting and cooking.