The deep-rooted relationships between water and energy are the focus of today’s annual United Nations World Water Day (22 March).
We are at a juncture where recognizing the importance of this nexus will help us to face the challenges ahead. By 2030, according to UN predictions, the world’s population will need at least 35 percent more food, 40 percent more water and 50 percent more energy. Already today 768 million people lack access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity.
“Water and energy are among the world’s most pre-eminent challenges. This year’s focus of World Water Day brings these issues to the attention of the world,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization and Chair of UN-Water, which coordinates World Water Day and UN freshwater-related efforts.
“These issues need urgent attention — both now and in the post-2015 development discussions. The situation is unacceptable. It is often the same people who lack access to water and sanitation who also lack access to energy, ” said Mr. Jarraud.
Released today is the UN-Water flagship report — produced and coordinated by the World Water Assessment Programme (hosted and led by UNESCO) — a status report on global freshwater resources highlighting the need for policies and regulatory frameworks that recognize and integrate approaches to water and energy priorities.
The World Water Development Report (WWDR), a triennial report from 2003 to 2012, this year becomes an annual edition, due to the level of interest in the international community. WWDR 2014 underlines how water-related issues and choices impact energy and vice versa. For example: drought diminishes energy production, while lack of access to electricity limits irrigation possibilities. The report notes that roughly 75 percent of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production. Tariffs also illustrate this interdependence: if water is subsidized to sell below cost (as is often the case), energy producers — major water consumers — are less likely to conserve it. Energy subsidies, in turn, drive up water usage.
The report stresses the imperative of coordinating political governance and ensuring that water and energy prices reflect real costs and environmental impacts.
“Energy and water are at the top of the global development agenda,” said the Rector of United Nations University (UNU), David Malone, this year’s coordinator of World Water Day on behalf of UN-Water together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
“Significant policy gaps exist in this nexus at present, and the UN plays an instrumental role in providing evidence and policy-relevant guidance. Through this day, we seek to inform decision-makers, stakeholders and practitioners about the interlinkages, potential synergies and trade-offs, and highlight the need for appropriate responses and regulatory frameworks that account for both water and energy priorities. From UNU’s perspective, it is essential that we stimulate more debate and interactive dialogue around possible solutions to our energy and water challenges.”
UNIDO Director-General LI Yong, emphasized the importance of water and energy for inclusive and sustainable industrial development.
“There is a strong call today for integrating the economic dimension, and the role of industry and manufacturing in particular, into the global post-2015 development priorities. Experience shows that environmentally sound interventions in manufacturing industries can be highly effective and can significantly reduce environmental degradation. I am convinced that inclusive and sustainable industrial development will be a key driver for the successful integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions,” said Mr. LI.
Facts about the water–energy nexus
- 90 percent of power production is water intensive
- The International Energy Agency estimated (2010) global water withdrawals for energy production at 583 billion m3 (representing some 15 percent of the world’s total withdrawals, or roughly 75 percent of industrial water withdrawals), of which 66 billion m3 was consumed.
- By 2035, withdrawals could increase by 20 percent and consumption by 85 percent, driven via a shift towards higher efficiency power plants with more advanced cooling systems (that reduce water withdrawals but increase consumption) and increased production of biofuel. Local and regional impacts of biofuels could be substantial, as their production is among the most water intensive types of fuel production.
- There is an increasing risk of conflict between power generation, other water users and environmental considerations.
- Thermal power generation accounts for roughly 80 percent of global electricity production and is responsible for roughly one half of all water withdrawals in the United States and in several European countries.
- Several factors determine how much cooling water is needed by thermal power plants, including the fuel type, cooling system design and prevailing meteorological conditions. However, efficiency is often the main factor that drives water requirements: the more efficient the power plant, the less heat has to be dissipated, thus less cooling is required.
- Hydroelectricity, which can also require abundant water supplies, accounts for about 15 percent of global electricity production.
- By 2035, global water withdrawals for energy are expected to increase by 20 percent, whereas water consumption for energy is expected to increase by 85 percent.
- Unconventional oil (e.g., oil/tar sands) and gas production (e.g., “fracking”) are generally more water intensive than conventional oil and gas production.
Facts about water
- 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water – although by some estimates, the number of people whose right to water is not satisfied could be as high as 3.5 billion – and 2.5 billion are without sanitation.
- Total freshwater withdrawals are believed to have increased by about 1 percent per year since the late 1980s.
- Water demand in terms of water withdrawals is projected to increase by some 44 percent by 2050 due to growing demands from manufacturing, thermal power generation (mainly from the expansion of coal and gas powered plants), agriculture and domestic use.
- The rate of groundwater abstraction is increasing by 1 percent to 2 percent per year, adding to water stress in several areas. Recent evidence has shown that ground- water supplies are diminishing, with an estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers being over-exploited, and some massively so.
- Desalinated water involves the use of at least 75.2 TWh/year, which is about 0.4 percent of global electricity consumption.
- It is estimated that more than 80 percent of used water worldwide – and up to 90 percent in developing countries – is neither collected nor treated, threatening human and environmental health. percent
Facts about energy
- 1.3 billion people currently live without electricity, and roughly 2.6 billion use solid fuels (mainly biomass) for cooking.
- By 2035, energy demand is projected to grow by more than one-third and demand for electricity is expected to grow by 70 percent by 2035.
- Modern biofuels represent only 0.8 percent of global final energy consumption, but their contribution to energy supply is expected to grow rapidly. If bioenergy feedstock is produced on irrigated lands, then the potential impact of biofuels on water resources is also of major concern.
- Fossil fuel consumption subsidies totalled US$523 billion in 2011 (an increase of almost 30 percent over the total for 2010). Financial support for renewable energy, by comparison, amounted to only $88 billion in 2011, and increased by another 24 percent in 2012.
- With the global energy market estimated at 6 trillion US dollars annually, the energy sector is synonymous with ‘big business’. The energy sector is well funded, highly organized, and attracts greatly more political attention than water in most countries.