Water scarcity, variability and uncertainty are becoming more prominent, potentially leading to vulnerabilities of the US energy system, according to a US Department of Energy report.
The report frames an integrated challenge and opportunity space around the water-energy nexus for the DOE and its partners and lays the foundation for future efforts.
Present-day water and energy systems are tightly intertwined. Water is used in all phases of energy production and electricity generation. Energy is required to extract, convey and deliver water of appropriate quality for diverse human uses.
Recent developments have focused national attention on these connections.
When severe drought affected more than a third of the United States in 2012, limited water availability constrained the operation of some power plants and other energy production activities. Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the compounding ramifications of vital water infrastructure losing power. The recent boom in domestic unconventional oil and gas development has added complexity to the national dialogue on the relationship between energy and water resources.
The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenge and Opportunities lays out an array of technical and operational challenges across the water-energy nexus at local, regional and national scales. System evolution brought on by climate change, population growth, technological advances, and policy developments are increasing the urgency for informed action, the report says.
The report identifies six strategic pillars that will serve as the foundation for coordinating research and development:
- Optimize the freshwater efficiency of energy production, electricity generation, and end use systems;
- Optimize the energy efficiency of water management, treatment, distribution, and end use systems;
- Enhance the reliability and resilience of energy and water systems;
- Increase safe and productive use of nontraditional water sources;
- Promote responsible energy operations with respect to water quality, ecosystem, and seismic impacts; and
- Exploit productive synergies among water and energy systems.
To pursue next steps, the DOE says it will work with partners, including other federal agencies, state and local governments, foreign governments, private industry, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and citizens.