The energy-water nexus: future opportunities and challenges

K. Twomey, M. Clayton, C. King, A. Stillwell, M. Webber
University of Texas at Austin, USA


Energy and water are precious, global, and interconnected resources.  Water provides hydroelectric power and plays a growing role for irrigation of energy crops.  At the same time, the thermoelectric sector is the largest user of water in the U.S., withdrawing 200 billion gallons daily for powerplant cooling.  And while the energy sector uses water, the water sector is responsible for about ten percent of national energy consumption for moving, pumping, treating, and heating water.   Given recent trends towards more water-intensive energy and energy-intensive water, the problems might only become worse.  However, despite the close relationship of energy and water, the funding, policymaking, and oversight of these resources are typically performed by different people in separate agencies.  Energy planners often assume they will have the water they need and water planners often assume they will have the energy they need; if one of these assumptions fails, the consequences will be dramatic. But, by bringing scientific and engineering expertise to bear on this vastly understudied problem, this scenario might be avoided. This talk will build on the authors' research to share perspective on the global nexus of energy and water. In particular, this talk will discuss the water impacts of various alternative fuels that might potentially grow in use, including unconventional fossil fuels, electricity, and biofuels, along with some technical and policy options that are available to mitigate the challenges.