Water & Energy Paradox

In order for us to produce energy, we need to use massive amounts of water. But to use water, we need a great deal of energy to process the water. Let’s take a look at how much water is used to supply power to America.

According to the United States Geological Survey, over 45% of water water-withdrawl-category-pie-2010consumed per day is used to power America. Water is the main component in the ability to cool a thermoelectric power plant. Typically these plants are found along medium to large sized rivers, or lakes. 99% of the water is drawn from surface water. While some of the consumed water can be reused, less than half of the plants use such technology. According to the department of energy 41.9% use recirculating systems. However, on average 3,891 gallons per minute evaporate in such systems. This means the current implementation has a significant loss of water rather than reintroduced in it’s original source.

Unfortunately, to use water requires a great deal of energy. We can identify three areas in which energy is spent in the water process. The first one being the transportation of water. Pumping 17,000ft³ at the height of 330ft requires about 200kWh of electricity. This is a significant amount of energy considering the vast distances that water must be transported in every American municipality. The second area is in water heating. This is typically about 15% of the energy bill in a home. Finally, we need to transport wastewater and treat it. In California it can be between 475-1400kWh of energy to treat 300,000 gallons of water.

In a world of constrained resources, and increase demand we cannot look past this paradox. A great example of this problem is the concern of desalination plants in California. It would cost about 14kWh per 0.3 Million Gallons per day just to convert sea water into drinkable water. After that, the other three areas of energy consumption for the water process mentioned earlier gets applied.

As we can see from this analysis, energy and water complement each other. We cannot have one without another. This calls for close cooperation between water and energy organizations.



Total Water Use. USGS, 9 Dec. 2016, water.usgs.gov/watuse/wuto.html.
Thermoelectric Power Water Use. USGS, 9 Dec. 2016, water.usgs.gov/watuse/wupt.html.
Water Usage in Coal to Power Applications. National Energy Technology Laboratory, www.netl.doe.gov/research/Coal/energy-systems/gasification/gasifipedia/water-usage.
Water and Energy Relationship. Alliance for Water Efficiency, www.home-water-works.org/energy-water.
Seawater Desalination Power Consumption. Water Reuse Association, Nov. 2011, watereuse.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Power_consumption_white_paper.pdf.