• Thu. Nov 24th, 2022

The global water crisis could crush the energy industry

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Sep 23, 2022

For years, the energy sector, and almost every other sector, took water for granted, viewing it as an abundant resource. But as we enter a new era of renewable energy, the vast amounts of water needed to power green energy operations may not be so easy to come by. And it’s not just renewables that are threatened by water scarcity, as they also hamper fossil fuel production and threaten food security.

In recent months, we have witnessed extreme droughts in Europe and the United States, which are finally making people realize the importance of water security. Stefano Venier, CEO of Italian energy infrastructure company Snam, highlights the huge impact of recent droughts on food security and energy production. Labeled as ‘Europe’s worst drought in 500 years’, low water levels have limited navigation capabilities, as well as drying out soils and reduce summer crop yields.

Venier Explain“For a long time, water was considered [as being] for free, as something that is fully available in any quantity. He went on to say, “Now we’re discovering that with climate change…water can become scarce.” And so, “we must regain the perception of the importance, and the value [that] …water has, too, when it comes to … energy production … we found that without water, enough water, we can’t produce the energy we need, or we can’t ship fuels to fill power stations,” he added.

The drought has already raised concerns among nuclear power plant operators who rely on water from rivers to cool their nuclear reactors. EDF generally uses water from the Rhône and the Garonne, but the rise in water temperatures means that nuclear production could be reduced during hot periods. Falling water levels have also hampered traditional energy operations such as coal production, according to several European energy companies.

But the problem of water scarcity is perhaps the most detrimental to hydropower projects. In the United States, several hydroelectric operations are located along rivers with falling water levels, with an increased risk of water shortages by 2050. Montana, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, La California, Arkansas and Oklahoma are the hardest hit states. A recent study published in the Journal Water found this 61% of all hydropower dams worldwide will be in basins at very high or extreme risk of drought, flooding or both. In addition, one in five hydroelectric dams will be in areas at high risk of flooding, compared to one in 25 today.

Jeff Opperman, World Wildlife Fund Global Lead Freshwater Scientist Explain, “Hydropower projects face a range of hydrological risks – from too little to too much water – and these risks are expected to increase in many regions due to climate change.” “We have already seen regions, such as the Southwest United States, Southern Africa and Brazil, where hydroelectric generation has declined due to falling water levels,” he adds.

And it’s not just the United States that faces these challenges. In August, Norway threatened to limit its electricity exports due to low reservoir levels. The country, which depends on hydroelectricity for about 90% of its electricity production, has tightened regulations on electricity production to prevent hydroelectric reservoirs from running out of water. This news came just days after the world’s longest underwater electric cable began to transfer hydroelectric power from Norway to the UK.

Norwegian Oil and Energy Minister Terje Aasland Explain, “We need a management mechanism or a security mechanism that maintains national security of supply so that we do not run out of water in our reservoirs.” He added: “We are now introducing a system where when we get to a situation where store capacity is below what is normal for the time of year and goes down to an extremely low level, there will be a restriction on exports.

These types of restrictions could become commonplace if these severe weather events, and the resulting water scarcity, continue to occur. The recent heat wave in Europe has far exceeded the expectations of climate experts, with several countries reaching record highs that have sparked wildfires in regions that have never experienced such events before, showing the reality of the effects of the climate change.

Apart from the detrimental effect of water scarcity on energy production, it also has an extremely negative impact on food production. As several parts of the world experience lower harvests year on year, as temperatures soar and water scarcity becomes a challenge, many countries are concerned about their food production levels. And the water-food-energy nexus raises concerns about the impact of the other two factors on the energy sector. We already see this link working the other way, with the increase gas prices causing fertilizer shortageswhich further aggravated the impact of water shortages on agricultural yields.

With growing concerns about water scarcity, primarily due to climate change, there are fears that the great transition to renewable energy may be further hampered. However, even traditional fossil fuel production cannot escape the effects of water scarcity, and the water-food-energy nexus can further aggravate the situation, which means that plans to alleviate this shortage must be quickly established to avoid a major energy crisis.

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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