Solar Is Preferred For Water Conservation


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Solar PV is the major solution for avoiding water-related conflicts (credit: sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker)


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In addition to our Aug. 2, 2014 post, there is another important reason that we prefer Solar Energy use: it is critical in avoiding water-related conflicts.

In a new CNA report, A Clash of Competing Necessities (Water Adequacy and Electric Reliability in China, India, France, and Texas), PV is being identified as the major solution for avoiding water-related conflicts. The first solution is energy efficiency, moving from coal to using PV, wind, and natural gas, according to this report. The Director of Energy, Water and Climate at the CNA Think Tank‘s Institute for Public Research, Paul Faeth, says he is very surprised that water conservation is not “part of the sales pitch” for PV. The dramatic drop in prices for solar is making it a cost effective solution to water scarcity, he added.

An estimated 40% of all freshwater withdrawal in the U.S. is being used for thermal cooling, in order for power generation to remain safe and stable. As energy demand, economic and population growth, and climate change  place more strain on water access, there have been/are/will be scrutinising water use in the power sector by competing necessities. Thermal power generation is heavily dependent on water use: Faeth describes the growing concern  of plants having to power down or completely shut down in drought and heat waves.

The report indicated that for water being removed for the process of thermal cooling and being put back into the local environment, or “withdrawal”, the water use by different energy sources are as follow:

  • coal with carbon capture and storage (CSS) uses 4.3 cubic meters per MWh
  • nuclear uses 4.2 cubic meters per MWh
  • coal alone uses 2.3 cubic meters per MWh
  • natural gas uses 1 cubic meters per MWh
  • wind uses zero cubic meters per MWh
  • solar PV uses 0.1 cubic meters per MWh  (solar PV uses a small amount of water for washing the panels once in a while, but none for power generation)

For ‘consumption’ of water, whereby water is completely removed from the local environment,

  • coal with carbon capture and storage (CSS) uses 3.2 cubic meters per MWh
  • nuclear uses 2.5 cubic meters per MWh
  • coal alone uses 1.9 cubic meters per MWh
  • natural gas uses 0.7 cubic meters per MWh
  • wind uses zero cubic meters per MWh
  • solar PV uses 0.1 cubic meters per MWh

According to Faeth, policy for water conservation for the power sector and energy efficiency doesn’t exist at the moment. “Water concerns for policy makers and for many people are also a higher priority than climate change,” he said, “in drought it doesn’t matter what the cause of drought is you still have to respond, and if you can respond in a way that is cost effective and mitigates emissions, such as using wind and PV, then that is a real plus.”

The report uses figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), focusing on China, India, France, and Texas as case studies, since there are already challenges in power generation and water scarcity in these regions. China has high agriculture demand (second only to U.S.) and relies heavily on coal, requiring water for cooling, is already experiencing blackouts from a lack of water for cooling. India already uses 1.3 billion cubic meters of water per year, with forecast of 7 billion by 2040. “You have to wonder if that is even possible,” said Faeth. Solar is inexpensive in India and is a cost effective way to reduce water conflicts. Faeth added, “If water is taken from agriculture, it would be politically untenable….India has to start doing something else to avoid water competition that is already happening and we expect to get worse.”

In India 52% of the population live in water scarce areas, with 73% of electricity generation located in water stressed areas, with frequent blackouts.  Currently 79% of newly built capacity is scheduled for construction where the water supply is under threat.

In 2003, a heat wave in France lost 4 GW of nuclear and hydro energy, causing France to restrict its electricity exports, definitely reflecting its energy insecurity for its European importers. In 2009, France used 64% of its (withdrawn) water for thermal cooling due to its 80% nuclear energy generation, this presents a unique threat to energy security during droughts. Energy demand in France is expected to grow by 28% by the 2040s. France’s reliance on nuclear energy means even modest growth is a concern for water scarcity.

Current drought in Texas has already taken water from farmers to avoid blackouts. The case is now in the U.S. court. The report indicated that Texas is likely to meet water and energy demand from new PV, wind, natrual gas, and energy efficiency, despite the challenges due to drought. But the state needs to avoid new coal generation. Texas is now “looking to do more wind and PV, not particularly for climate change mitigation but because these strategies can save water,” said Faeth.

Gathered, written, and posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker

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