Source: Steven Worster 2012 – Flickr
Look at the picture below, take a deep breath, and then ignore it. If it looks incredibly complex, that’s because it is it is. The diagram illustrates the relationship between water and energy. Now, forget about the image for now because we’re about to break it down to the core concepts.
Source: US Department of Energy (2014)
Codependency: A Common Relationship Flaw
When you think water conservation, what comes to mind? Shorter shower? Watering the lawn less? One of the most significant ways to use less water is by using less energy. To demonstrate the dependency that energy and water resources have on each other, consider the following morning routine:
You wake up and turn on the shower to let it get hot: 2 gallons
You use the loo and look at the morning monster staring back at you in the mirror: 3 gallons.
You suds up, rinse off, and jump out of the shower: 5 gallons
You brush your teeth: 1/2 gallon
You make breakfast, throw your dishes in the washing machine, and press start: 10 gallons
So when you add that up, how many gallons does your morning routine use? If you said a little over 20 gallons, you’re wrong.
Here’s the steps you didn’t consider. The water you used was pumped out of a reservoir, cleaned, and delivered to your house using electricity. The power plant that provided that energy required water in the generation of electricity.
Conservation is an environmental issue, but it also has important economic implications for US consumers. As public water supplies and energy compete for good ol’ H₂O, energy prices are increasing to balance the equation. One reason for price increases is the pumping of groundwater, which can be far below the surface and expensive to pump.
Do you like avocados and chocolate? Well, stresses to water and energy resources may decrease the supply of certain water intensive foods.
What Water does for Energy
The nation used about 201 billion gallons of water each day to produce electricity in 2005, according to the United States Geological Survey. That’s about three times the amount used for the public water supply, and that number doesn’t even include the water necessary to power hydroelectric plants.
The primary use of water in the energy sector is for thermoelectric plants, which create steam by burning a fuel to power a generator. Cooler water is then used to condense the steam to be used again.
Most of the water that is used in thermoelectric power plants is returned to the original source, but some is consumed in the process. About 2 gallons of water are consumed for each kilowatt hour (kWh) of energy produced. To put that into perspective, the average person uses 10,932 kWh in a year.
What Energy does for Water
Energy is necessary in the extraction, treatment, distribution and use of water. These processes account for about 13% of all electricity consumed in the US.
When population increases, the water demand goes with it. As we need more water we are having to drill deeper in the ground to get fresh water, like in California. Going to greater lengths to get fresh water has its health and financial consequences.
It’s Time to Talk
This is a picture from the San Juaquin Valley that shows how much the ground has sunk over 52 years. The main cause of this is from extracting water from reservoirs deep underground, causing a process called land subsidence. This has serious consequences for future water availability and stability of homes.
Dr. Tamlin Pavelsky, a professor of global hydrology at UNC, is concerned about how drought and population growth will play a part in these processes.
“And as we have more and more people move into the South…that means we need to provide water for a lot more people and a lot more businesses. And, to the extent that we should be concerned about drought here in the South, it’s largely to do with that demand side of things.”
Source: USGS, http://water.usgs.gov/ogw/pubs/fs00165/
Now you know that the relationship between water and energy is one of the most important issues for today’s population. These two resources are critical to daily activities for you, your family, and your future. Start talking more about how we need to conserve water, save energy, and preserve our way of life.