We know all about the water/energy nexus. And by now we are all equally aware of imbedded water and the concept of water footprints (www.waterprint.net). This week, these worlds collide—with happy results—in a blog post by Timothy Hurst entitled, “In a Water-Scarce World, Wind Power Shrugs”.
In his post, Hurst discusses wind energy drawbacks—expense, noise, intermittency, avian threat—and how these challenges are overshadowed by one big wind energy benefit: Wind power uses less water than “every other electrical power source per unit of energy produced (known as ‘water intensity).” And, while in the past the small water footprint of wind energy was not promoted, that has begun to change; thanks, in part, to World Water Day and the increased attention being placed on alternative energy sources as a result of the nuclear crisis in Japan and continued instability in North Africa and the Middle East.
In a statement released last week on World Water Day, Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, said, “Unlike most other power sources, which consume huge amount of water that could be used much more productively for human consumption and agriculture, wind power generation does not use any water.”
The hope is that by touting the low water intensity of wind power, policy makers will begin to take notice of the imbedded water in all of our power sources. Because power generation requires water—and water collection, treatment, and delivery require energy—it makes sense to highlight the water footprint of our energy infrastructure. For example, as Hurst points out, 75% of electricity generation requires water—either for cooling or for the steam that powers turbines in conventional, and nuclear, power plants. In contrast, wind power requires almost no water for maintenance or operation. This is a significant difference when you consider that nuclear, natural gas, and coal consume about 3 cubic meters of water per megawater-hour (3m3/MWh) compared to 0.0 cubic meters of water (according to research by Vestas Wind).
Hurst says this gap between the water intensity of traditional power sources and wind power has implications that “may be even more important for emerging economies where water and electricity scarcity already go hand in hand.” With the Water Resources Group predicting that water demand will “outpace water supply by 2030,” and more than 40% of the world’s population already reside in water-stressed regions, it’s easy to see how wind power could emerge as the solution for countries facing increasing demand, reduced resource, and few alternatives.
In fact, in the near future, we may get a chance to see how wind energy can elevate and empower countries in the developing world. In Kenya, the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) is “poised to provide 300 megawatts of clean power to Kenya’s national electricity grid by taking advantage of a unique wind resource in Northwest Kenya near Lake Turkana.” The project, which will begin construction this June, consists of 353 wind turbines—each with an 850-kW capacity—to be installed in Northwest Kenya near Lake Turkana. It is anticipated that the LTWP will be able to provide Kenya with up to 300 MW of power by July 2012, adding 30% more to Kenya’s current power capacity. This leapfrogging of technology is quite common in many parts of the world where technological advancements allow countries to skip the developmental phase and go straight to implementation. In this instance, it’s quite possible that success by the LTWP will inspire increased investment in renewable energy in Africa and other parts of the developing world.
So what do you think? How can we continue to have separate conversations about energy dependency and water resource management when both spheres are no inexorably linked? When will we be willing to adjust our focus away from the obstacles and challenges that must be overcome in order to transition from fossil fuel dependency? And when will we be finally willing to embrace all the benefits—including increased water efficiency—that we will experience once we’ve made the switch to clean (and renewable) energy sources?