Two new papers postulate that there will be a water crisis by 2040. Not because of population, but because of current energy and power solutions.  And they believe solar and wind power is the only answer.

 In most countries, electricity is the biggest source of water consumption because the power plants need cooling cycles in order to function and that is why the scholars from Aarhus University in Denmark, Vermont Law School and CNA Corporation, a federally-funded research center for the United States Navy and Marine Corps, advocate solar and wind energy over existing technology.

Credit: Aarhus University

Is their model accurate? It depends on what field you are in. For law scholars, sure. They neglect that water is recycled, a nuclear plant uses water for cooling, sends it outside and then uses it again. So they have to speculate on how much is lost. Their model isn't as bad as other virtual water models - it takes 140 liters of water to make a cup of coffee claims - but it creates parameters and extrapolates from them without being critical of their framework.

The team of researchers used four different case studies in France, the United States, China and India and focused on specific utilities and energy suppliers. They identifyied the current energy need, and then the researchers made projections as far out as 2040, concluding that it will be impossible to continue to produce electricity in this way and meet the water demand by 2040. 

If that sounds like peak oil and the Population Bomb and wars over water all projected to have happened decades ago, you are correct. 

 "It's a huge problem that the electricity sector do not even realise how much water they actually consume. And together with the fact that we do not have unlimited water resources, it could lead to a serious crisis if nobody acts on it soon," says Professor Benjamin Sovacool from Aarhus University. 

Except they are only talking about a fraction of a percent of the world's water in their estimations. We have a virtually unlimited amount of water, we just need energy to make it potable. For other uses, it does not need to change at all. That energy can't realistically come from wind and never will but by 2040 solar may be ready. 

Their boldest projection is that up to 40% of the world will be impacted 6 years from now. But they use other virtual water projections to make that assertion and declare that by 2020 about 40% of the world will have water scarcity. More than 40% of the world has always had water scarcity but it is not getting worse, it is getting better. 

Their primary agenda seems to be changing to solar and wind, so projections fit the bill. 

"This means that we'll have to decide where we spend our water in the future. Do we want to spend it on keeping the power plants going or as drinking water? We don't have enough water to do both," says Professor Benjamin Sovacool.

The oceans disagree. 

Three of their six recommendations are common-sense, the others are more driven by politics and unrealistic ideas about economics than data. They are:

  • Improve energy efficiency
  • Better research on alternative cooling cycles
  • Registering how much water power plants use
  • Massive investments in wind energy
  • Massive investments in solar energy
  • Abandon fossil fuel facilities in all water stressed places (which means half the planet)

Reports:Capturing Synergies Between Water Conservation and Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the Power Sector and A Clash of Competing Necessities: Water Adequacy and Electric Reliability in China, India, France, and Texas

Source: Aarhus University