EU leaders urged to tackle vast water use in energy production

Heads of state and government must take into account the vast amounts of water being used to cool Europe's power stations when they set a 2030 climate and energy policy, new research suggests.

Carried out by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), the research claims that nuclear, coal and gas plants in Europe use 4.5 billion m³ of water a year, equivalent to that of 82 million EU citizens – the same as the population of Germany.

According to the research, this is equivalent to three Olympic-sized swimming pools being consumed every minute of every day of the year.

The research report, Saving Water with Wind Energy, has been released ahead of a meeting on 20-21 March, where European leaders will discuss a 2030 climate and energy policy.

The EWEA is calling for those at the meeting to take into account that energy production represents 44% of the EU’s total water use, far exceeding agriculture (24%), the public water supply (21%) and industry (11%).

It also urges heads of state to boost wind and renewable energy via an ambitious and binding renewable energy target for 2030, which it says will have major benefits for the environment, as well as promoting green growth and jobs in a leading European industry.

Highlighting wind as an effective alternative, the EWEA says wind energy, which uses no water, avoids the use of 1.2 billion m³ of water per year, representing savings of €2.4 billion.

EWEA’s head of policy analysis Ivan Pineda said: “Increasing our use of wind energy will help preserve this precious resource far more effectively than any ban on watering the garden- while saving us money”.

RenewableUK’s director of external affairs, Jennifer Webber, said: “Water is a very precious resource – water restrictions were imposed in the UK in the summer of 2012 in areas hit by drought. One of the many benefits of wind energy is that it requires hardly any water to keep generating.

“This report is a timely reminder of the environmental impact of other technologies which use vast amounts of water for cooling. When Governments set energy policy, they should take this into account – it’s not just the carbon footprint that matters, but also the water swallowed up by these other thirsty generators,” added Webber.

Last week, research by the Water Footprint Network claimed that managing water and carbon footprints in isolation poses a significant danger, as increasing demand for water places pressure on energy usage.

For more on the relationship between water and energy read ‘Why water must be on par with energy and carbon issues’

Leigh Stringer

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