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Water-Energy Nexus Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2020

The need for abundant water supply will require energy. Conversely, the need for more energy will also require an abundant supply of water to generate that energy. Thus, water and energy are intricately linked. Various researchers, including Schnoor (5065), Hussey and Pittock (31), Stillwell et al. (2), and Thirlwell, Madramootoo, and Heathcote (1-16) seem to agree on energy-water nexus from different perspectives. Nexus means a connected group or series, and Felici shows that one can break down the installation to understand other parts in a simple way (Felici 1). There are some significant water-energy nexus activities, which have to take place recently. For instance, Schnoor (5065) identifies some of the greatest developments in the energy and water sectors. First, pumping natural gas from shale formation or hydraulic fracturing requires substantial volumes of water and toxic chemicals in fracking fluids (Schnoor 5065). Second, a new development is the production of gasoline from tar sands, which also consumes large volumes of water. Third, another greatest achievement in water engineering is the recycling of wastewater (both domestic sewage and industrial) for reuse. By using high-pressure membranes and reverse osmosis, pure during water has been obtained from these developments. Further, water and energy are required to recycle wastewater. Wastewater has increasingly become a valuable resource for harvesting, nutrients and energy extraction.

In the US, today, power generation is the largest installation that consumes much water. Irrigation schemes are also responsible for large water footprints, especially in feedstock and biofuel production. In this regard, it is imperative to study water-energy relations at the local scale or as a unit to understand the nexus deeply. According to Schnoor (5065), understanding water-energy nexus will be imperative in the future. These are vital resources for the world and are desperately required. Water stress has been noted in some communities, but they use different methods to alleviate it. These methods may include water importation from other sources, relying on unsustainable groundwater and recycling wastewater or saline water. From these methods of alleviating water stress, only recycling or wastewater or saline water is sustainable. On the other hand, countries that face energy crisis have focused on increased generation of energy from domestic resources and making of biofuels to avoid petroleum importation. Schnoor (5065) has noted that all these alternatives have critical environmental impacts.

It is necessary to assess the nexus between water and energy as studies have shown (Stillwell et al. 2). That is water used to generate energy and energy used to provide water. It has increasingly become necessary as the world experiences some changes related to population growth (Stillwell et al. 2). This growth leads to demand for more water and energy resources. To understand this relationship, Stillwell et al. (2) evaluated water-energy nexus in Texas by specifically focusing on electricity production and water used with regard to current policy and society. The authors show that water-energy nexus must be analyzed by focusing on different forms of electricity generating plants, which is typical for the state and the nation. This approach ensures that the dynamics of water use and electricity production are understood independently. Energy needed for water supply and wastewater recycling or treatment also reflects a critical element of the nexus that must be evaluated to compare the values obtained in Texas against the national values. From these comparative analyses, data for “Texas revealed that approximately 595,000 megaliters of water annually – enough water for over three million people for a year – are consumed by cooling the state’s thermoelectric power plants while generating approximately 400 terawatt-hours of electricity” (Stillwell et al. 2).

Also, they noted that every year, Texas consumes nearly “2.1 to 2.7 terawatt-hours of electricity for water systems and 1.8 to 2.0 terawatt-hours for wastewater systems – enough electricity for about 100,000 people for a year” (Stillwell et al. 2). According to this study, there is a need to focus on specific state or plant in order to find more accurate, specific data to comprehend the water-energy nexus and relate it to sustainable developments for a given state. Consequently, Stillwell et al. observed that Texas needed to gather data that are “more accurate on other energy-water related usages, including supply and consumption of cooling and processing water at power plants” (2). Data collection should also extend to electricity consumed for the supply of public water and wastewater recycling and distribution installations. Stillwell et al. show that the relevance of their study highlights enhanced efficiency to promote sustainable use of water and energy resources. Enhanced water efficiency will, in turn, lessen “power demand while improved energy efficiency will also reduce the need for more water” (Stillwell et al. 2). Therefore, increased efficiency in electricity and water consumption will promote sustainability efforts and lower costs of water and energy for consumers.

Water and energy consumption has increased with devastating effects on the environment in the long-term. It has been noted that such high rates of consumption lead to degradation of the environment by destroying water resources, its quality and depleting aquifers (Thirlwell, Madramootoo and Heathcote 2). Also, energy has been used to pump, treat, supply and heat water for consumption. In this case, significant amounts of non-renewable fossil fuels have been mined to support these activities, which in turn generate greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Thirlwell et al. (1-16) view water-energy nexus with regard to wasteful consumption of natural resources. In this regard, the current approach has created challenges that restrict the optimal exploitation of water and energy resources (Thirlwell et al. 1-16). According to Thirlwell et al. (2-16), these approaches require change. While change may come in the form of energy and water conservation by limiting the amount consumed through “more efficient practices in homes, industries and agricultural fields, effective change can also be achieved through new policies initiated and implemented by governments to promote these conservation efforts” (Thirlwell et al. 13). To support these conservation efforts, various technologies and management practices are available to lessen water and energy consumption across different sectors. On this note, all stakeholders must implement these technologies and practices based on sustainable demand initiatives for water and energy resource management and consumption. Thirlwell et al. (1-16) conclude that without these changes, massive environmental degradation will continue and result in even bigger challenges in the end.

The water-energy nexus is even clearer in the modern economies as demonstrated by Hussey and Pittock (31). Three distinct factors have been introduced to this nexus, including “supply, sustainability, and economic efficiency” (Hussey and Pittock 31). These factors have accelerated significant reforms in both the water and energy sectors. However, policymakers continue to encounter challenges because of the nature of the relationship between water and energy. While scholars have demonstrated the nexus in mining coal, drilling oil, refining gasoline, and generating and distributing, policymakers are unable to develop their policies for both sectors in consultation. Instead, the policies are independently developed, a situation that causes fragmentation and flawed development and use of these resources. Compromises exist between water and energy that are necessary to ensure adequate supply and security of these resources. As previously noted, transfer of water and desalination to offset water stress, thorough groundwater pumping to enhance supplies, development of biofuel products, the development of new hydropower plants, use of alternative methods such as rainwater harvesting and even some improved irrigation techniques, demonstrate the complex relationship between water and energy usages, which policymakers should account for in their policies. Hussey and Pittock (31) focused on the analysis of data from the US, Australia, and Europe to ensure thorough comprehension of the nexus between water and energy.

Besides, they wanted to show if policy integration and management practices would improve. Further, it is imperative to understand whether solutions to current water-energy nexus already exist, as well as the evaluation of potential barriers that hinder integration approaches. For policymakers, Hussey and Pittock identified the following barriers to integration and effective management strategies. First, many issues were associated with data, including mission, unconsolidated, conflicting, uncertainty or a lack of access. Second, current policies and regulatory frameworks are also inconsistent and fragmented. Also, they suffer from poor implementation, lack of adequate resources and/or training to undertake critical processes such as strategic assessments of impacts. Further, key agencies may not collaborate during the implementation of these policies or management practices. Finally, the system may lack constant reviews and evaluation strategies to identify issues and development interventions. Third, water and energy sectors have always existed as independent sectors and naturally, resistance to integration is expected. The resistance starts among researchers and eventually affects the entire system.

Works Cited

Felici, Mandi Mauldin. Nexus. Ann Arbor, Ml: ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2005. Print.

Hussey, Karen and Jamie Pittock. “The Energy–Water Nexus: Managing the Links between Energy and Water for a Sustainable Future.” Ecology and Society 17.1 (2012): 31. Print.

Schnoor, Jerald L. “Water- Energy Nexus.” Environmental Science & Technology 45 (2011): 5065–5065. Print.

Stillwell, Ashlynn S, Carey W. King, Michael E. Webber, Ian J. Duncan and Amy Hardberger. “The Energy-Water Nexus in Texas.” Ecology and Society 16.1 (2011): 1-20. Print.

Thirlwell, Gweneth M, Chandra A. Madramootoo and Isobel W. Heathcote. Energy- water Nexus: Energy Use in the Municipal, Industrial, and Agricultural Water Sectors. Washington D.C: Policy Research Initiative of Canada and the Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007. Print.

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