Sustainability CAN’T be sustainable without water

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Yesterday I attended the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center Conference at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City (NYC). While energy storage solutions was certainly a central theme heard from many presenters at the event, it felt like the word “Advanced” was uttered more times than the actual number of daily riders in NYC subway cars (5.4 million per day according to the MTA). From Advanced Buildings to Advanced Transportation, Advanced Lighting, Advanced Manufacturing and Advanced Technologies, improving sustainability is a definitely a discipline that advancing technologies will only develop for a very long time. Surprisingly though, the need to maintain adequate water supplies was not really touched upon at the conference. This omission is very problematic to me considering the role H2O can have in Advanced Energy and Innovation.

Long periods of droughts plagued much of the West/Midwest and various parts of the U.S.in 2012. So if climate change is any indication, this could very well be the new normal when it comes to domestic weather patterns (see U.S. Drought Monitor and AccuWeather forecast for 2013).

Irrigation accounts for roughly 40% of water taken from lakes, aquifers and rivers therefore increased water demand to develop biofuels from plants that gulp water makes water our most precious commodity. The development of biofuels could tack on another 10% of our freshwater supply within 20 years. That brings roughly 50% of water being accounted for and that doesn’t even take into account my bullish view on natural gas or the fact many lakes are drying up around the country. It doesn’t even take into account the development of certain enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technologies which also require water in most cases (see April 22nd note: Enhanced oil recovery could be game-changing for the future of energy).

So shouldn’t focusing on ways to recycle water or develop next generation energy solutions like wind or solar PV, which do not require water use, become more of a priority in coming years thanks to increasing fears there will be a lack of water supply necessary to meet demand? I believe so. In fact, considering millions of gallons of water are required for fracking gas and hundreds of thousands more per MWh for cooling existing power plants (coal, nuclear, biofuel, solar thermal, gas, nuclear) depending on thermal efficiency, water recycling and the tapping as well the purification of saltwater from the ocean should be the real gold rush investors focus on for the long haul when it comes to sustainability. Even electric vehicles (EVs) require water if you really think about it—where do you think the power to charge the battery comes from? Not everyone has solar PV installations and since energy storage solutions are still very much developing, range and time of charging (during the day) would limit driving at present. What is clear to me is that without water conservation the word sustainability will have an “inability” to make real progress when it comes to Advanced Energy.

Below is a chart of water use by plant type from the World Nuclear Association (WNA).

Always Rise Above!

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4 Responses

05.02.13

Thank you, Mr Licata for bringing up the point of water being integral to sustainability. I saw an article on Bloomberg earlier today or yesterday, with the heading that Fracking projects are facing headwinds now due to water shortage — but it appears that the article has since been taken down. The water supply shortage topic does seem to be anathema in the media. I for one think renewable energy sources like wind and solar PV should scale up tremendously to hedge against a water-constrained future, among other things. It’s great that markets are once again showing optimism for Solar PV. Thanks also for your mention of water desalination and recycling as important water investment topics.

05.02.13

Thanks for reading my article and for the comments. I certainly am optimistic regarding the future of wind and solar PV and hope my viewpoints help to bring to light the vast need to pay more attention to water, even from the media.

05.02.13

[...] Blue Phoenix believes an even bigger premium will be given to those advanced energy solutions which do not require water (this makes wind and solar PV attractive from a valuation [...]

05.02.13

[...] you waiting for?), you know I have been pounding the table in recently weeks on the need to explore advanced energy solutions that do not require as much water. Water is finite yet we continue to use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to cool power [...]

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John Licata’s insight on some of the emerging issues for energy supply brought an additional dimension to our panel discussion on the future of energy.
Dr. Jonathan Cobb, World Nuclear Association