Investment in wind and solar energy needed to avoid water crisis, study warns



The world will face a global water shortage by 2040, unless wind and solar energy is used to replace conventional methods of energy generation, a new study has warned.

Most forms of power plants, such as nuclear or coal-fired facilities, use considerable quantities of water to produce electricity. Many require cooling systems that draw in water from the surrounding lakes, rivers or oceans. 

Scientists have, in recent years, expressed growing concern that a rising global population and an expanding middle class will ramp up water demand, while climate change causes increased water scarcity around the globe. 

Two new reports, authored by a team from Aarhus University, the Vermont Law School and CNA Corporation, now warn that the energy sector may further exacerbate the problem.

“It’s a huge problem that the electricity sector do not even realise how much water they actually consume,” said Prof Benjamin Sovacool of Aarhus University.

“And together with the fact that we do not have unlimited water resources, it could lead to a serious crisis if nobody acts on it soon.”

Combining their research with estimates for future populations and climate change, the team says that by 2020, 30-40% of the world will suffer from frequent water scarcity.

One of the reports looks at China, India, France, and the state of Texas in the US as case studies. It claims that by 2040, it will be impossible to meet demand for drinking water while continuing to generate electricity via today’s means in these areas.

Therefore, the researchers call for a rapid improvement in energy efficiency alongside investment in solar, hydropower and wind energy – the only major forms of energy generation that do not consume vast quantities of water.

The report even suggests that fossil fuel plants must cease operation in all water stressed areas.

“If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage,” said Sovacool 

“There will no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today. There’s no time to waste. We need to act now.”

Photo: squeaks2569 via Flickr

Further reading:

New report lays down climate change challenge to energy sector

IRENA: renewables key to delivering cheaper energy

Renewables the solution to UK’s critical fossil fuel shortage – report

A world without water: Financial Times counts the cost of water scarcity

Water scarcity and steep energy costs ‘biggest risk’ to mining industry



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