Sunday, March 15, 2009

Putting Scarce water resources into the energy equation*; Thirsty Energy

This week I found a news about how the United Nations (UN) is calling for an urgent action to avoid a water crisis . According to article published by Reuters, the world is facing an upcoming water crisis due to increased population, rising in living standards, dieatery changes and more biofuels production. The UN report “Water in a Changing World” states that by 2030, nearly half of the world’s people will be living in areas of acute water shortage. Further on, it points out that the water sector has been undervalued by policy makers and underinvestment. This lack of appreciation towards this valuable commodity has been traduced into hundreds of millions of poor people around the world without water or left behind suffering diseases from contaminated water, environmental degradation,and political instability and conflicts over water.
The articles mentions the important role of the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly “identified water shortage as a major underlying cause of the conflict in Darfur, western Sudan, which began with a rebellion against the central government six years ago . Water is also a major issue between Israel and its Arab neighbors” (Patrick Worsnip- Reuters).
For 2050 the world’s population is forecasted to rise by 2.5 billions, with most of the grow in developing countries where in many cases water is scarce. This could be translated in more water demand and more investment to reach this vital liquid. In cases like North Africa and the Middle East had already reached the limits of their water resources (Patrick Worsnip).
In the energy side, there could be a risk in the Biofuel industry. According to the report, the migratin from the countryside to cities is also increasing water use and demand. In addition, developing countres are getting richer and their citizen are demanding more food, from meat to vegetables they all need water for their production.
The report also questions the efficiency of the biofuels since they the corn and sugar cane to be watered. “Saying about 2,500 liters of water is needed to make 1 liter of biofuel, it said implementing all current national biofuel policies and plans would take 180 cubic kilometers of extra irrigation water and 30 million hectares of cropland: (Patrick Worsnip)

When oil prices peaked at over $140 a barrel last year, "the kneejerk reaction was 'well, we are going to grow our energy - biofuels.' But nobody took account of how much water it was going to require," William Cosgrove, coordinator of the report, told journalists. Government and business leaders needed to act now to boost investment in water infrastructure, it said, adding, "Unsustainable management and inequitable access to water resources cannot continue." (Patrick Worsnip).
According to the Global Education Project.: "More than five million people, most of them children, die every year from illnesses caused by drinking poor quality water." The amount of energy required to extract and get water to this amount of people seems to be a great challenge ahead.

Percentage of population without reasonable access to safe drinking water
Source: The global education project

The map above depicts the percentages of population without reasonable access to safe drinking water by country. This suggests that the amount of energy to build up infrastructure for the poor nations, like in Africa where water is scarce, are big and complex.

In the Shangai Daily, I found an interesting news from the The World Economic Forum’s Energy Community who published their report called “ Thirsty Energy – Water and Energy in the 21st Century”. This report talks about the risks and opportunities between energy and water which, as the news states, has taken on a new urgency as competition for finite freshwater (Shangai Daily).
"The importance of bringing water into the energy equation now cannot be underestimated as we are heading for a more water-scarce future,'' said Christoph Frei, senior director and head of energy industry at the World Economic Forum. ."Optimizing future energy choices is becoming a 'trilemma' as water implications need to be considered alongside energy security and climate change impacts," he added.
"Understanding how to best optimize the use of water and energy in a carbon-constrained environment is becoming critical for both business leaders and policy-makers. The industry's goal must be to use water resources wisely while taking into account climate change and energy security concerns. Finding solutions that optimize along all three parameters will be a challenge for energy companies for decades to come." (Christoph Frei).

Today, the energy sector uses about 8 percent of all freshwater withdrawn worldwide and as much as 40 percent of freshwater withdrawn in developed countries.( Shangai Daily).

Like in the case of the population without access to safe drinking water exposed above, the Energy is also a key input to the water value chain, used to power water movement and treatment. Distinguishing between the volume of water withdrawn and the volume consumed is very important when discussing how various parts of the economy use water. Energy companies will increasingly be called upon to be partners in managing the world's water resources (Shangai Daily)

The Global Education Project:
United Nations:
Alternative-Energy news:
Shangai Daily:

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