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WPI experts – Water shortages will impact renewable energy generation

In a newly-release report, “The Water-Energy Nexus”, the World Policy Institute has warned that limited water availability in some regions of the world will negatively impact on the development of new renewable energy technologies and other growing sources of energy such as shale gas.

The production of biofuels, solar thermal energy and hydraulic fracturing rely on large quantities of water and droughts could therefore, hamper their deployment.

“Water consumption is going up dramatically. We are introducing all kinds of technology to reduce the carbon impact of energy, without doing anything to reduce its impact on water,” Michele Wucker, co-author of the report. Energy uses around 16% of water in the US.

The water intensity of energy depends on the form of energy production. For instance, hydroelectricity requires around 4500 gallons of water to produce 1MWh of electricity. Geothermal energy uses 1400 gallons/MWh. Biofuels consume a much larger amount of water than natural gas and coal results in twice the water expenditure of gas.

But it isn’t only renewable energy sources that can be water-intensive in generating their energy bounty. In the US, drought is forcing energy companies to curtail their plans to use new techniques such as hydraulic fracturing in oil and gas extraction operations. In Texas, the problem appears particularly acute. “The drought and declining water tables are going to have an increasing impact on oil and gas production in Texas,” energy consultant Diana Glassman said. To open up a single well in the Eagle Ford shale region in the south of the state, around 13m gallons of water are required. However, southern Texas suffers water shortages and as a result, shale gas production is expected to be limited.

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