06 May 2010

Guest Post: ''Water and Energy – Inseparable Issues'' by Dr. A. Hoffman, U.S. Dept. of Energy

This article is reprinted with permission of the original author from the May 2010 e-newsletter of the Clean Water America Alliance. It relates to the interconnected dynamics of water and energy resources in the U.S. and worldwide. The industrial and commercial entities that comprise the CWAA, including water and electric utilities, are slowly coming around to realize this ''nexus'' between water and energy.

Editor's Note: I selected, and asked specifically for permission to reprint in its entirety, this article by Dr. Hoffman because I felt that it provided a concise overview of the issues most prevalent in the complex water - energy nexus and would be a gentle introduction to my own series on the subject. Dr. Hoffman has also graciously provided permission for me to reprint an earlier, more detailed article on water - energy connections that I will post soon.

Water and Energy – Inseparable Issues
by Dr. Allan Hoffman, Senior Analyst, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Clean Water America Alliance
May 2010 e-newsletter

Water is mankind’s most precious resource. There are no substitutes and the struggle to control water resources has shaped human history. ''The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite to the realization of all other human rights.'' (UN, 2002)

Water security is a growing global crisis. Many parts of the developing world already face significant water shortages, with serious implications for health and poverty reduction, and in coming years the problem will become more widespread.

Complicating this crisis is the linkage between water and energy. Energy is needed to lift water from underground aquifers, transport water through canals and pipes, manage and treat impaired water for reuse, and desalinate brackish and sea water to provide new fresh water supplies. In addition, many forms of energy production depend on the availability of water — hydroelectricity, cooling of thermal power plants, processing of crude oil, tar sands and oil shales, growing of biomass, coal slurries, carbon capture and sequestration, and water as a source of hydrogen in a hydrogen economy.

Indirect linkages include the contamination of surface and underground water supplies associated with energy production and use, impacts on precipitation patterns of global climate change associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, and if competing water uses limit use of waterways for transport of goods, rail and truck will require more energy to move those goods.

Water and energy are linked in yet another way. Neither water nor energy, in absolute terms, are in short supply in the world. What is in short supply is water and energy that people can afford to buy.

Energy policy and water policy can also be expressed in similar terms. If one recognizes that energy is a means to an end and not an end in itself – i.e., energy is important only as it allows us to provide the services that are important to human welfare (heating, cooling, illumination, communication, etc.) - it follows that energy security rests on using the least amount of energy to provide a given service as well as access to technologies providing a diverse supply of reliable, affordable and environmentally benign energy sources. The first priority of energy policy must then be the wise, efficient use of whatever energy supplies are available. Exactly the same is true of water. Only after ensuring the wise, efficient use of existing resources must we focus on harvesting new energy and water supplies that meet sustainability requirements.

The bottom line is that water and energy issues are inextricably linked. No longer can U.S. and global water security be guaranteed without careful attention to related energy issues, and no longer can energy security be guaranteed without attention to related water issues. The linkage between the two is clear and must be explicitly recognized and acted upon.

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