Energy-Water Nexus: The Water Sector’s Energy Use

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Water and energy are resources that are reciprocally and mutually linked, because meeting energy needs requires water, often in large quantities, for mining, fuel production, hydropower, and power plant cooling, and energy is needed for pumping, treatment, and distribution of water and for collection, treatment, and discharge of wastewater. This interrelationship is often referred to as the energy-water nexus, or the water-energy nexus. There is growing recognition that “saving water saves energy.” Energy efficiency initiatives offer opportunities for delivering significant water savings, and likewise, water efficiency initiatives offer opportunities for delivering significant energy savings. In addition, saving water also reduces carbon emissions by saving energy otherwise gene rated to move and treat water.

This report provides background on energy for facilities that treat and deliver water to end users and also dispose of and discharge wastewater. Energy use for water is a function of many variables, including water source (surface water pumping typically requires less energy than groundwater pumping), treatment (high ambient quality raw water requires less treatment than brackish or seawater), intended end-use, distribution (water pumped long distances requires more energy), amount of water loss in the system through leakage and evaporation, and level of wastewater treatment (stringency of water quality regulations to meet discharge standards). Likewise, the intensity of energy use of water, which is the relative amount of energy needed for a task such as pumping water, varies depending on characteristics such as topography (affecting groundwater recharge), climate, seasonal temperature, and rainfall. Most of the energy used for water-related purposes is in the form of electricity. Water-related energy is estimated to account for about 4% of the nation’s electricity generation, but many data gaps exist. Also, regional differences can be significant. In California, for example, as much as 19% of the state’s electricity consumption is for pumping, treating, collecting, and discharging water and wastewater.

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