Does Clean Energy Come At The Expense Of Water?

Green, clean, renewable – these are all the things we hope for in a future where energy comes from sources that don’t harm the planet, right? What if it did though, by using up our water supplies as we strive for a clean energy utopia? That is an interesting, and very thought provoking, argument being put forward by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in a special report in the latest issue of the IEEE Spectrum magazine.

The IEEE argues in this report that “the struggle to manage the relationship between water and energy—the water energy nexus— is one of the most difficult problems some nations will face in the near future.” A serious of in-depth supporting pieces shore up this train of thought. These include a plan by California to tap a large supply of geothermal energy under the Imperial Valley bedrock that could “demand so much water that California’s winter agricultural heartland would become a dusty wasteland” and the fact that carbon capture “from most coal-fired power plants could nearly double the amount of water they consume per unit of electricity delivered.”

IEEE Water Energy

image via IEEE

Also looked at by the IEEE in its special report on water versus energy include topics like how biofuel crops could drink down as much as 100 times as much water as the gasoline they replace, how plans in Australia to catch rainwater on rooftops requires as much as 10 times the energy needed to pump and treat water from a centrally located city facility and how supporting Indian farmers in Punjab with free electricity to irrigate their fields looks to be leading to “a potential agricultural catastrophe as the groundwater runs dry.”

The most compelling thing to think about in the water versus energy debate? As the IEEE says, “how we plan—or fail—to resolve the competition between water and energy needs will become one of the defining issues of this century.”

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I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.