Posted by: Li Ling Young | September 30, 2012

Energy and Water

Before I talk about our water conservation efforts it’s important to lay out the connection between water and energy.  Water is what makes life possible on this planet, and for that reason alone we all should do everything we can to use it sparingly and wisely.  However, the world’s dominant way of making electricity also uses water: a lot of it.  So, using grid electricity sparingly is critical to preserve Earth’s lifeblood.

How much fresh water is there?

Only a small fraction on Earth’s water is fresh and life-sustaining for us humans. Of that, only some of it is accessible. Wasting water is a crime against humankind.

On the other side of the coin, processing and transporting clean water uses electricity: a lot of it.  Conserving water makes it more available for fish, farmers and your neighbor, but it also reduces the pollution associated with mining, transporting and burning fuel to make electricity.  If you could have avoided the Deepwater Horizon disaster by letting the yellow mellow, would you have done it?

Since this post is all about perspective, here’s some information about the scale of water and electricity consumption in the energy and water industries.

  1.  The amount of water used in our country’s power plants is four times the amount used for all household purposes.  That’s 400%.  You want to save water?  Use less electricity!
  2. Water shortages have already affected some power plants.  Conflicts between people, agriculture, animals and electricity generation are inevitable.
  3. A lot of the water used in power plants is discharged, but high discharge water temperatures harm wildlife and ecosystems.
  4. Worldwide, water transportation and treatment is 7% of total energy consumption: including transportation and industrial energy!
  5. Some kinds of water treatment and some locations have much higher energy intensity:
    1. In California 19% of all electricity and 30% of all natural gas is used for water “conveyance, storage, treatment, distribution, wastewater collection, treatment, and discharge.”
    2. Desalination, the dominant water treatment method in some parts of the world, and an inevitable part of meeting water needs for population growth uses between 6 MWh and 33 MWh per acre-foot of treated water.  I’m not sure how that compares to other water treatment methods.  If you know, please leave a comment.

I think there is a compelling case to save energy if you care about water resources, and to save water if you care about energy-related pollution.  For me, I just like to avoid waste, so I do what I can to save both water and energy.


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