Created on: February 05, 2013 Last Updated: February 07, 2013
According to the United Nations (UN), the scarcity of water resources affects every continent. Nearly one-fifth of the world’s population (more than 1 billion people) are impacted by this shortage. A further 1.5 billion people feel the effects of “economic” water shortage (that is, they live in areas that lack the infrastructure to make use of water from local rivers or aquifers).
As demands for water compete (residential vs. industrial, energy vs. agriculture), water becomes a more and more precious commodity. Along with competing demands come constraints, whether natural (droughts, floods, monsoons, and so on) or man-made (such as population growth, pollution, and industrial development), each takes its toll on the dwindling water supply.
Water and energy use
While most of us associate the need for water with residential use or agriculture, the fact is that vast amounts of water are also used for industrial purposes, and in particular for the creation of energy and electricity.
Water is likely to be in high demand (even doubling in need) for energy production within the next 25 years, says the International Energy Agency (IEA). Although the large amount of water used for fracking (releasing oil and natural gas) has been widely discussed in the media in recent months, this use is dwarfed by the need for water in the production of energy by coal plants and biofuel production, according to “National Geographic” magazine.
As noted by the IEA, the “scale of water use for energy production is tremendous.” Some 15 percent of the world’s total amount of water is used for energy. According to “National Geographic,” the “water consumed for energy production [will] increase from 66 billion cubic meters today to 135 billion cubic meters annually by 2035” if nothing changes.
Understanding the numbers
Taken abstractly, it’s hard to get a grip on what those numbers mean, other than an obviously large increase. To put it in perspective, “National Geographic” notes “That’s an amount equal to the residential water use of every person in the United States over 3 years, or 90 days’ discharge of the Mississippi River. It would be 4 times the volume of the largest US reservoir, Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead.”
More than 50 percent of that water would be used for coal-fired plants, about 30 percent for biofuel production, 10 percent for oil and natural gas, and just 5 percent
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