Almost all of our everyday needs and acts are somehow related to or are conditional on the availability of energy, whether in the form of electricity, gas, or even sunlight. Few people recognize the crucial role water plays in our daily energy use. This relationship is important since the problems of water scarcity and energy scarcity are intertwined. Scarcer water creates challenges for energy supply seeing as oil, coal and natural gas require massive amounts of freshwater for all phases of energy production. On the other hand, energy use is vital for a range of water processes, including water distribution, wastewater treatment and desalination. Given that both water and energy needs are only set to increase with the growing population, there is an urgency to examine this linkage further and to implement strong international policies that focus on both preventing the exacerbation of the issue as well as anticipating future stresses.
We are experiencing the effects of water scarcity on energy right here in many parts of the United States and California. In recent years, water levels in Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River, have reached historic lows. This threatens the enormous amount of electricity generated by the Hoover Dam. California has also faced one of the most severe droughts in its history and, while the worst of the drought has passed in much of the state, its water troubles certainly aren’t over, as indicated by the current trends in climate change and its severe groundwater deficit. The drought in California impacted hydro dams which play a crucial role in maintaining energy security and stability in the state. With the growing tensions between water and energy, integrating U.S policymaking and innovative technologies is of utmost importance. The Pacific Council has the opportunity to vouch for California’s leadership in green technology and renewable energy and hone in on how these assets can be used to instrument changes in international policy and alleviate the effects water scarcity is having on energy. Now more than ever, there is a need for a strong voice in California, like the Pacific Council, to facilitate changes in the U.S approach to the water-energy crisis and prompt effective solutions that incorporate methods to conserve both these valuable resources.
Through a wider lens, water scarcity presents itself as a global issue, with devastating consequences in many countries. In the recent years water scarcity has 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. China is on the brink of a serious water crisis that is aggravated by heavy pollution and the fact that 93% of power generation in China is water-reliant. It is important to note that even though China’s energy use is already shifting away from coal and hydropower to less water intensive sources like wind and solar, the magnitude of China’s power expansion still leaves +1.2TW of water-reliant power, equivalent to four times the total installed capacity of Japan.
Two major solutions to water scarcity include shipping in water over long distances or cleaning nearby but dirty or salty supplies, both of which require large amounts of energy, which is soaring in price. In the United States, the thermal power plants—those that consume coal, oil, natural gas or uranium—generate more than 90 percent of U.S. electricity and are one of the biggest water hogs. In order to avert an imminent water crisis and the ensuing harm to human health, economic productivity, and infrastructure, governments should prioritize advanced energy – a broad category that includes renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, which tend to be less water-intensive than fossil fuel like coal. In this time of challenge, California has the capacity to be a national and global leader in advocating for water efficiency in energy production, and more specifically renewable energy production. California already leads in renewable energy and green technology across a number of metrics – residential solar capacity, energy savings, clean energy jobs, renewable electricity target, corporate renewable ease & carbon reduction. California has also ventured into collaborating with countries such as Israel. The Israel-California GreenTech Partnership showcases the advantages of private and public sector initiatives in the water industry. International partnerships like this can be potential models for other Country-CA collaborations. Canada, a hydropower rich country is another option for collaboration for hydroelectric outsourcing which can free more resources for developing additional renewables. These global partnerships could pave the way for California’s leadership in this arena.
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