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Water energy nexus (water energy what?)

The recent Global Water Day made me think – as it was meant to do – about the vital role of water in all of our lives.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) was obviously also moved, since they used the day  to launch a report  called Water Energy Nexus.   Unlike most IEA reports, which carry a significant price tag, this one is free to download.

I was intrigued from the outset.  English isn’t my first language and the word ‘nexus’ was new to me.   So I looked it up.  The Oxford Living Dictionary defines ‘nexus’ as ‘a connection linking two or more things’.

And that is indeed what this report is about: the connection between energy and water.

As the report puts it:

‘Energy needs water, water needs energy; and these linkages have enormous significance for economic growth, life and well-being. Water is essential for all phases of energy production, from fossil fuels to biofuels and power plants: energy use is vital for a range of water processes, including water distribution, wastewater treatment and desalination’

Today the global energy sector is responsible for 10% of global water withdrawals — mainly for cooling processes in power production (see table 1). Water actually consumed (i.e withdrawn but not returned to a source) is about one eighth of this.

As table 1 also shows, production of coal (22%) and biofuels (25%) are the most demanding energy sources when it comes to water.    Oil at 13% and natural gas at 3%  are far less demanding  — yet together account for more than half of current energy supplies.

Energy-related water withdrawals and consumption, 2014
By 2040, the amount of energy used in the water sector will double

Looking at the other side of the energy-water equation:  the global water sector uses almost as much energy as Australia.  In 2014, about 4% of global electricity consumption was used to extract, distribute and treat water and waste water.

On top of that, the sector used the energy equivalent of 50 million tonnes of oil – mostly in the form of diesel for irrigation pumps and natural gas in desalination plants.  Today more than 300 million people globally depend on desalinated water.

By 2040, demand for desalinated water in Middle East will account for over 10% of the region’s energy consumption.

By 2040, demand for desalinated water in Middle East will account for over 10% of the region’s energy consumption.By 2040, the amount of energy used in the water sector will doubleBetween now and 2040, the IEA anticipates a doubling of the amount of energy used in the water sector.  The largest increase comes from desalination, followed by large-scale water transfer and increasing demand for wastewater treatment.

Demand for desalinated water will increase dramatically in the Middle East – accounting for over 10% of the region’s energy consumption by 2040.

Energy demand for desalination and re-use, 2014

So thanks to oil and gas – much of it locally produced – the deserts of the Middle East could blossom and help meet the nutritional needs of a growing population.

That would be a nexus to celebrate – particularly now that I know what the word means.


About Olaf Martins

Olaf is IOGP’s global engagement manager.  He has over 25 years’ experience in the industry. Before joining IOGP Olaf was with ExxonMobil, where he held a number of senior public affairs roles, including most recently his position as ExxonMobil Central Europe Holding’s manager of government relations and media. Olaf’s educational background is in economics.

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