Jan 27, 2014

Water Shortages Slow Energy Production Worldwide

Thirsty Energy initiative will help countries mitigate the impact of water scarcity on energy security

World Bank Group Thirsty Energy Water Shortages Global Energy Production Slows

The World Bank is launching a new initiative at the World Future Energy Summit and International Water Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, that will help developing countries better plan and manage scaling up energy capacity to meet rising demand, in tandem with water resource management.

Producing energy requires a lot of water, yet, the availability of and access to water is negatively impacting energy production around the world.

Last year alone, water shortages shut down thermal power plants in India, decreased energy production in power plants in the U.S. and threatened hydropower generation in many countries, including Sri Lanka, China and Brazil.

The problem is expected to only get worse. By 2035, the world's energy consumption will increase by 35%, which in turn will increase water consumption by 85%, according to the International Energy Agency.

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% increase in agricultural production and a 15% increase in already strained water withdrawals. With two-thirds of the world's population — 5 billion people — expected to be urbanized by 2030, cities in developing countries will be under tremendous pressure to meet the demand for food, energy and water services. Today, however, 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.

Thirsty Energy is a global initiative aiming 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.

With the energy sector as an entry point, initial work  already has started in South Africa, and dialogue has been initiated in Bangladesh, Morocco and Brazil, where the challenges already have manifested themselves 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 issue is too large for any partner or sector to tackle alone.

Solutions exist, but countries must continue to innovate and adapt policies and technologies 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.