The relationship of water and energy is ageless and continues to evolve. Understanding how best to optimize the use of water and energy will be critical for business leaders and policy-makers. The energy industry cannot single-handedly solve the growing global water crisis. However, the risks for the industry are too great to stay out of the policy debate and to disregard water in strategic planning. The industry’s ability to contribute to a better understanding of the difficult choices ahead argues for joining the dialogue about this important relationship.
Everyone needs fresh water for drinking, cooking, sanitation, food, energy and industrial purposes. The world’s ecosystems need water to sustain the flora and fauna that inhabit them. This much is self-evident.
What is less well appreciated, however, is just how demanding humanity is and the extent of the problems we are storing up for ourselves by undervaluing this precious resource.
Supply and demand
Each year 110,000 cubic kilometres of rain fall onto the ground surface of our planet and of this, some 43,000 cubic kilometres reach the oceans. However, only 12,500 cubic kilometres of this water is accessible and we already withdraw and consume nearly a third of that for drinking, industry and irrigation for agriculture. Click the map for more information.
So, although the world has an abundance of fresh water, the problem is that it is not always in the right places or available when needed. This means that access to drinking water (over one billion people don’t have safe drinking water) is still a major problem, as is having enough water to grow food for a world population that will increase from the current seven billion to nine billion in the next 40 years. An average person in the industrialized world has a water footprint between 3 and 6 cubic meters per day of fresh water, two-thirds of which is used for growing and processing food. Since some of the food is imported, our personal water footprint encompasses various countries, if not several continents.
Population isn’t the only thing that’s changing: rapid urbanization and climate change will make matters even worse.
The challenge is to envision and develop solutions that can provide access to water for all our needs, while sustaining our ecosystems and not damaging the biosphere.
In many developed countries, water has been managed by the institutions responsible for each stakeholder use. For example, drinking water issues have been dealt with separately from flood risk management, generation of hydro-electricity, and irrigation of crops. This has led to a fragmented approach to water management, with water issues being viewed narrowly as opposed to considering how they interrelate.
And the answer is?
There is no single easy answer. What is needed on a national level, is a strategic, integrated approach to water resources management that allows us to deal with different water issues from a wider perspective.
Adopting an integrated approach to water resource planning will enable us to predict the effect that a proposed activity or demand from one part of the water system will have on other parts of the water system and allow them to be managed effectively. This requires a deep understanding of the distribution of water resources at different scales: community, sub-basin, basin, national, regional and international. It will require support from all the stakeholders and water users. Governments and the industry must engage with them so they grasp the complexity of water resource planning. Experts must play their part too, coming up with practical and sustainable water management regimes and interventions.
By understanding the dynamics of demand and availability, the decision-makers need evidence-based advice to ensure access to water for all stakeholders and to manage water scarcity and flooding. In practical terms this requires engineers and scientists to use tools such as simulation modeling and geographical information systems, for decision-making purposes. Simulation of river basin hydrology, hydro-geology, hydrodynamics and water quality is one of the water sector's most important tools, enabling us to investigate many alternative demand scenarios against predicted changes in water availability. In the same way we can simulate the impact of extreme rainfall events on our rivers and storm drainage systems and then take steps to mitigate the problems.
On an international scale, as population and water demand grows, trade between water-rich and water-scarce nations will have to be made easier. Trade barriers may need to be lowered and major trade bodies such as the World Trade Organization will have a part to play. Furthermore, society will need to find ways to optimize national and international water availability and improve international cooperation around this precious resource.
Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Renewable energy often provides energy in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services.
Based on REN21's 2014 report, renewables contributed 19 percent to humans' global energy consumption and 22 percent to their generation of electricity in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This energy consumption is divided as 9% coming from traditional biomass, 4.2% as heat energy (non-biomass), 3.8% hydro electricity and 2% is electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Worldwide investments in renewable technologies amounted to more than US$214 billion in 2013, with countries like China and the United States heavily investing in wind, hydro, solar and biofuels.
Renewable energy resources exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to other energy sources, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency is resulting in significant energy security, climate change mitigation, and economic benefits. The results of a recent review of the literature concluded that as greenhouse gas(GHG) emitters begin to be held liable for damages resulting from GHG emissions resulting in climate change, a high value for liability mitigation would provide powerful incentives for deployment of renewable energy technologies. In international public opinion surveys there is strong support for promoting renewable sources such as solar power and wind power.
At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20 percent of energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond. Some places and at least two countries, Iceland and Norway generate all their electricity using renewable energy already, and many other countries have the set a goal to reach 100% renewable energy in the future. For example, in Denmark the government decided to switch the total energy supply (electricity, mobility and heating/cooling) to 100% renewable energy by 2050.
While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas and developing countries, where energy is often crucial in human development. United Nations' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity.As most of renewables provide electricity, renewable energy deployment is often applied in conjunction with further electrification, which has several benefits: For example, electricity can be converted to heat without losses and even reach higher temperatures than fossil fuels, can be converted into mechanical energy with high efficiency and is clean at the point of consumption.
Alternative energy is a term used for an energy source that is an alternative to using fossil fuels. Generally, it indicates energies that are non-traditional and have low environmental impact. The term alternative is used to contrast with fossil fuels according to some sources. By most definitions alternative energy doesn't harm the environment, a distinction which separates it from renewable energy which may or may not have significant environmental impact.
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