The amount of fresh water needed to produce energy for the world is set to double within the next 25 years as civilization’s reliance on coal and biofuels increases, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects.
If today’s policies are maintained, the IEA calculates that water consumed for energy production would increase from 17.4 trillion gallons now to 35.6 trillion gallons annually by 2035.
That amount is equivalent to the residential water use of every person in the U.S. over three years and the total volume of water that flows out of the Mississippi River over 90 days, and is nearly four times the size of Lake Mead—the largest reservoir in the U.S.—which sits behind Hoover Dam.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
More than half of that drain would be from coal-fired power plants and 30 percent attributable to biofuel production, in IEA’s view. The agency estimates oil and natural gas production together would account for 10 percent of global energy-related water demand in 2035. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Biofuel.”)
Not everyone agrees with the IEA’s projections. The biofuel industry argues that the Paris-based agency is both overestimating current water use in the ethanol industry, and ignoring the improvements that it is making to reduce water use. But government agencies and academic researchers in recent years also have compiled data that point to increasingly water-intensive energy production. Such a trend is alarming, given the United Nations’ projection that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with severe water scarcity, and that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.
“Energy and water are tightly entwined,” says Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project, and National Geographic’s Freshwater Fellow. “It takes a great deal of energy to supply water, and a great deal of water to supply energy. With water stress spreading and intensifying around the globe, it’s critical that policymakers not promote water-intensive energy options.”
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