June 4, 2013

The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges to Meet Growing Demands

Posted by Sam Brockway

Water and energy are linked resources in ever-increasing demand in the United States.  Energy production requires an abundant, reliable, and predictable source of water, a resource that is unfortunately in short supply already throughout large portions of the U.S.  Additionally, developing water supplies can require large amounts of energy to extract, transport, treat, and distribute.  As such, the water-energy nexus presents a significant challenge for our country’s water resource and energy developers and distributers as well as policy makers.  WEN photo

The water-energy nexus goes far beyond the layperson’s image of hydroelectric dams; the water-for-energy side of the nexus.  Hydroelectric dams do use water for energy, but because the water withdrawals are essentially nonconsumptive, it does not put a major stress on water supplies.  And yet, the electricity industry is second only to agriculture as the largest user of water in the U.S.  Electricity production from nuclear energy and fossil fuels requires 190,000 million gallons of water per day, 39% of all freshwater withdrawals in the nation.  Over 70% of that water usage is attributed to fossil-fuel electricity generation alone.¹

As population continues to rise in water-stressed regions, like the southwest U.S., and a changing climate makes arid regions even drier, effectively managing the water-energy nexus becomes even more challenging.  The Water-Energy Nexus session at the AGU Science Policy Conference will bring in experts from across the U.S. to discuss the policy challenges and successes with managing energy production and water usage.  Speakers for this panel discussion include Robin Newmark (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), Thomas Iseman (U.S. Department of the Interior), Robert Jackson (Duke University), and Richard White (California Public Utilities Commission) with Erica Martinson (Politico) moderating the panel. 

This panel discussion promises to shed led on what is an important yet quite confusing science policy topic.  Both water and energy impact nearly every aspect of American livelihood, from transportation to food supply to industry.  As such, identifying possible solutions to this challenging issue is of the essence.

¹U.S. Geological Survey. Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 1995. http://water.usgs.gov/watuse/pdf1995/html/

– Erik Hankin, AGU Public Affairs Coordinator