DEVELOPMENT: Balancing Water And Energy Needs

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Credit: Saudi GazetteBy Bernhard Schell

ABU DHABI (IDN) - Water is critical for producing power and the treatment and transport of water requires energy, mainly in the form of electricity. Even though the interdependency between water and energy is gaining wider recognition worldwide, water and energy planning often remain distinct. The tradeoffs involved in balancing one need against the other in this “energy-water nexus,” as it is called, are often not clearly identified or taken into account, complicating possible solutions, says Diego Rodriguez, a senior World Bank expert.

In 2013 alone, water shortages shut down thermal power plants in India, decreased energy production in power plants in the United States 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 percent, which in turn will increase water consumption by 85 percent, according to the International Energy Agency.

“The world’s energy and water are inextricably linked. With demand rising for both resources and increasing challenges from climate change, water scarcity can threaten the long-term viability of energy projects and hinder development,” says Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change.

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 percent increase in agricultural production and a 15 percent increase in already-strained water withdrawals.

With two-thirds of the world’s population – or 5 billion people – urbanized by 2030, cities in developing countries will be under tremendous pressure to meet the demand for food, energy, and water services. Yet today, some 780 million people lack access to improved water and 2.5 billion, more than one-third of the world's people, do not have basic sanitation.

Against this backdrop, the World Bank has launched a so-called Thirsty Energy Initiative at the World Future Energy Summit and International Water Summit that concluded in Abu Dhabi on January 22. It is a global initiative aimed to help governments prepare for an uncertain future by: identifying synergies and quantifying tradeoffs between energy development plans and water use; piloting cross-sectoral planning to ensure sustainability of energy and water investments; and designing assessment tools and management frameworks to help governments coordinate decision-making.

According to the World Bank, with the energy sector as an entry point, initial work has already started in South Africa and dialogue has been initiated in Bangladesh, Morocco, and Brazil where the challenges have already manifested and thus where demand exists for integrated approaches.

“Failing to anticipate water constraints in energy investments can increase risks and costs for energy projects. In fact, the majority of energy and utility companies consider water a substantive risk and report water-related business impacts,” the World Bank says.

The issue is indeed too large for any partner or sector to tackle alone. “Water constraints on the energy sector can be overcome, but all stakeholders, public and private, must work together to develop innovative tools and use water as a guiding factor for assessing viability of projects,” says Maria van der However, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency. “The absence of integrated planning is unsustainable.”

Solutions exist, but countries must continue to innovate and adapt policies and technology to address the complexity of the landscape. These solutions include technological development and adoption, improved operations to reduce water use and impacts in water quality, and strong integrated planning.

“We cannot meet our global energy goals of extending access to the poor, increasing efficiency and expanding renewables without water. The water energy interrelationship is critical to build resilient as well as efficient, clean energy systems. The time to act is now,” says Kyte.

Doubling renewables share

But there is hope on the horizon. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says in a report titled ‘REmap 2030’ that doubling of the share of renewable energy worldwide is technically feasible, without any additional cost, if all countries and economic sectors speed up their efforts in deploying renewables,

In 2010, renewables accounted for nearly 18 percent of global energy consumption. Nearly half of the renewable energy consumption consisted of traditional, inefficient uses of biomass, such as cooking and heating with fuel wood in open fires. To ensure universal access to modern energy services, traditional uses of biomass would have to become more sustainable, says the study, which maps out a pathway for doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix up to 36 per cent.

“There is a strong economic case for the renewable energy transition. When considering climate change mitigation, health impact and job creation, the transition practically pays for itself,” said IRENA’s Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “More renewables in the energy system provide greater flexibility, increase energy independence, and make the system more resilient,” he explained as the report was released on January 20 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

IRENA is mandated as the global hub for renewable energy cooperation and information exchange by 124 Members (123 States and the European Union). Over 40 additional countries are in the accession process and actively engaged. Formally established in 2011, IRENA is the first global intergovernmental organisation to be headquartered in the Middle East.

The deployment of modern renewables – renewable energy sources that exclude traditional use of biomass – needs to grow more than threefold, the study underlines. A rethinking of energy taxes and subsidies is critical to the economic case for renewable energy. A reduction of fossil fuel subsidies will facilitate the uptake of renewables. Subsidies for renewable energy can disappear altogether, if greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution are reasonably priced.

“Many governments are underestimating the potential of renewables in their planning the for energy transition. To reach the goal of doubling the share of renewable energy by 2030, additional efforts are needed, particularly in the building, industry and transport sectors,” said Dolf Gielen, Director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre in Bonn, Germany.

“We identified five areas of national action: Planning realistic but ambitious transition pathways; creating an enabling business environment; managing knowledge of technology options and their deployment; ensuring smooth integration of renewables into the existing infrastructure; and unleashing innovation,” he added.

REmap 2030 builds on the analysis of the energy supply and demand of 26 countries, including those seen as the largest energy consumers in 2030 and others from different regions that have advanced the deployment of renewables. Together these countries are projected to consume 75% of all final energy by 2030.

IRENA collaborates with member states and research institutions for REmap 2030, which derives its objective from the United Nations Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4ALL), launched in 2012. The UN General Assembly has declared 2014-2024 as the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.

SE4ALL is a global partnership aiming for three aspirational goals by 2030: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 24, 2014]

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