When most people think of the link between power and water the first thought is of a hydroelectric dam like Hoover Dam and its massive electric generating water driven turbines. Some may think of the large cooling towers of a nuclear power plant but for most people, the link between water and energy isn’t important.
Chances are it will remain that way until people suffer the consequences of a shortage of either and only then will it seem important to masses of humanity that don’t give a thought to the lights coming on at the flip of a switch or the water appearing at the turn of a knob.
Proven Natural Gas Reserves Rely on Water
Natural gas is often thought of as a clean energy source isn’t so clean when the process of obtaining natural gas from shale gas fields. The process that releases the gas from its deep underground natural stowage involves water and lots of it. In a process called “fracking,” water is used to break up large underground rock formations. The water must be pretreated with specialized chemicals and once the water is recovered it has picked up still more chemicals, mainly salt in high levels and also some radioactive material.
The wastewater from natural gas extraction requires very specialized water treatment because release to the environment would contaminate local water supplies and groundwater. The use, pretreatment and wastewater treatment of this water add to the cost of the natural gas and since natural gas is often used by utilities for electric generation in the Northeast United States, this drives up the cost of electricity in the area. Additionally, the demand for water to accomplish the natural gas extraction causes water to cost more.
Geothermal Energy Relies on Water
Many people think of Geothermal Energy in terms of heating and cooling buildings but it is much more than that. In those places where the Earth’s crust is close enough to the surface, or in places where a seismic fault line makes access to earth’s hot inner core much easier, it is possible to tap the inner energy of the Earth and produce as much power as a very large nuclear reactor. Such an area exists in the Salton Sea area of California according to scientists from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Due to a number of factors, the geothermal power plants can’t use the water from the Salton Sea but must instead pipe it in from elsewhere. In this case, the source of the water is the same that is used for crop irrigation and to supply homes with drinking water. In this case, there is a cost associated with power and it extends beyond just the cost of electricity, but also includes the availability of power, food production or sustaining life and quality of life. Regardless of choice, the competing demands for water drive up the cost for everyone and impact the cost of electricity. One possibility that has yet to be pursued is the utilization of treated wastewater such as is done in Singapore and elsewhere.
Water, Energy and Everyday Life
Virtually every type of energy production or use requires some amount of water and this includes the use of bio-diesel fuels which require large amounts of water compared to traditional hydrocarbon fuels. As the demand for water increases along with the demand for power some tradeoffs will have to be made. These include the use of compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs, improved homebuilding techniques that hold internal temperatures better and much more efficient vehicles. It may also call for lifestyle changes that are difficult to predict but may include better urban planning to maximize the use of mass transit and minimize the use of automobiles.