Water shortages now hindering energy production

The World Bank has launched an initiative to help countries mitigate the impact of water scarcity on energy security, arguing that water shortages are now slowing down global energy production.

The project, Thirsty Energy, will explore the energy-water nexus by identifying synergies and quantifying trade-offs between energy development plans and water use.

It will also pilot cross-sectoral planning to ensure sustainability of energy and water investments and develop assessment tools and management frameworks to help governments coordinate decision-making.

With the energy sector as an entry point, initial work has already started in South Africa with dialogue initiated in Bangladesh, Morocco, and Brazil where challenges have already manifested and demand exists for an integrated approach.

According to the World Bank, failure to anticipate water constraints in energy investments can increase risks and costs for energy projects – this is reflected in the fact that majority of energy and utility companies consider water a substantive risk and report water-related business impacts.

Only last year water shortages shut down thermal power plants in India, decreased energy production in power plants in the US and threatened hydropower generation in many countries, including Sri Lanka, China and Brazil.

The problem is expected only to get worse. By 2035, the world’s energy consumption will increase by 35%, which in turn will increase water consumption by 85%, according to the International Energy Agency.

World Bank group VP & special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte said that global energy goals related to increasing access, efficiency and renewables could not be met unless water issues were urgently addressed.

“The water energy interrelationship is critical to build resilient as well as efficient, clean energy systems. The time to act is now,” she said.

Part of the challenge for the energy sector is the competing demand for water. This demand will grow as the world’s population reaches 9 billion, requiring a 50% increase in agricultural production and a 15% increase in already-strained water withdrawals.

Possible solutions include technological development and adoption, improved operations to reduce water use and impacts in water quality, and robust integrated planning.

Maxine Perella

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