Green Energy May Drain Our Water Supplies

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Many of our green energy plans require lots of water, and a lot of potential solutions to water scarcity have steep energy costs.

Water vs Energy

IEEE Spectrum Water vs Energy Special Report

Capturing carbon from most coal-fired power plants could nearly double the amount of water they consume per unit of electricity delivered

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This June award winning publication, IEEE Spectrum features how water is key to making energy, and energy is critical to treating and moving water. According to a new special report in IEEE Spectrum magazine, the flagship monthly publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 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. As populations grow and move, attempts to alleviate water scarcity and move away from carbon dioxide-intensive energy are having surprising consequences:

California wants to extract a treasure trove of clean geothermal energy from the bedrock under the Imperial Valley. But doing so would demand so much water that California’s winter agricultural heartland would become a dusty wasteland, according to an article in the report.

In Australia, a seemingly green scheme 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, an IEEE Spectrum reporter found.

Supplying farmers in India’s breadbasket state of Punjab with free electricity to irrigate their fields might seem like a good thing, but it’s leading to a potential agricultural catastrophe as the groundwater runs dry, according to an article in the report.

Capturing carbon from most coal-fired power plants could nearly double the amount of water they consume per unit of electricity delivered, according to U.S. Energy Department research explained in the report.

And filling up on today’s biofuels crops—corn ethanol or soy biodiesel—could drink down as much as 100 times as much water as the gasoline they replace, an IEEE Spectrum reporter explains.
Even the Gulf of Mexico oil spill shows how important water is to energy. An IEEE Spectrum reporter uncovers the potential vulnerability of coastal power plants to the spreading oil slick in an online story that accompanies the report.

How we plan—or fail—to resolve the competition between water and energy needs will become one of the defining issues of this century, say the editors of IEEE Spectrum magazine. For much more about the special Water vs. Energy issue, go to IEEE Spectrum Online.

ABOUT IEEE Spectrum magazine is the flagship publication of the IEEE, the world’s largest professional technology association. It is a monthly publication for technology innovators, business leaders, and the intellectually curious. Spectrum explores future technology trends and the impact of those trends on society and business.

Spectrum is read by over 385,000 technology professionals and senior executives worldwide in the high-tech sectors of industry, government, and academia. Subscribers include engineering managers and corporate and financial executives. Deans and provosts at every major engineering university and college throughout the world are also Spectrum readers.

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Ruchika Anand

Samuel K. Moore
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