While wind and solar don’t require large amounts of water, the focus on nuclear power and green hydrogen can be problematic. A nuclear power plant with an installed capacity of 1GW requires an average of about 75 million liters of water per day to maintain operation.
This water is drawn from the surrounding landscape: rivers, lakes and, in some cases, the open sea. It is then discharged at temperatures between 30°C and 40°C, posing a threat to nearby natural ecosystems.
Nuclear energy is being used to fill the gap in the net-zero target, and total global capacity will increase over the next two decades. This growth will occur against the backdrop of already degraded natural landscapes, and at a time when water supplies around the world are under severe stress.
Policymakers also have high hopes for green hydrogen to decarbonise the energy sector, especially in difficult sectors such as shipping or steel.
The process is called “green” because it uses renewable electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Producing hydrogen in this way produces zero carbon emissions, but currently requires large amounts of energy and water.
It is estimated that 9,000 liters of purified water are required to produce one ton of hydrogen.
Additional pressure comes from the existing pipeline of green hydrogen projects, which the study found are almost all planned in water-scarce regions such as Spain and Chile.
“This will require growth in the desalination market, requiring more renewable energy to power it, increasing costs for developers,” commented Minh Khoi Le of Rystad Energy, which produced the analysis.
A pas de deux in which energy and water remain constant, each step requiring the other to move forward or backward.
One of the easiest ways to tackle this problem is to raise awareness. By understanding the delicate interplay between our water and energy needs, we can develop stronger policies to understand how they affect each other.
The IEA analysis found that water withdrawals could be reduced by 2030 through an integrated approach that focuses on climate, energy and air pollution. This will be achieved by installing higher levels of wind and solar power and improving energy efficiency.
Better understanding will also lead to improved overall efficiency. This could mean better planning for water storage or improving existing technologies.
For example, in India, where water scarcity is severe in some areas, solar-powered irrigation pumps are being trialled, allowing farmers to manage energy and water use sustainably. Additional electricity is sold to the grid and supplements local revenue.
We can also do a better job of stopping water leaks and increase fines for underperforming businesses. Water infrastructure in many countries is outdated and high levels of long-term investment are required to stop the daily loss of this precious commodity.
Innovation in the way we monitor water loss should become a business norm, with smart sensors that can detect the motion and sound of a water leak signature.
Now is the time to act before water scarcity jeopardizes achieving net zero emissions. Understanding the water needs of emerging clean technologies, such as green hydrogen, is critical before these innovations are integrated into our economy.
A decision to ignore this relationship and only seek quick fixes to energy problems could make Europe’s recent severe drought worse. We’d better take a look at the dusty Danube before taking the next step.
Adam Wentworth is a freelance writer based in London. This article first appeared on Revival and Ecologists Magazine. understand more.