Energy Production Depends on Water

Energy production depends on water. Which technologies are the most water-efficient, and which are the least? Power plants require water to scrub pollutants, cool machinery, produce the steam necessary to turn huge turbines and generators, and more. Even some alternative energy sources, such as ethanol and hydrogen, require large volumes of water.

| August/September 2008

  • Energy production depends on water. As electricity demand rises, so does the demand for water. Read on to find out how much water is used by various energy production technologies.
    Energy production depends on water. As electricity demand rises, so does the demand for water. Read on to find out how much water is used by various energy production technologies.
    Photo by Istockphoto/David Joyner

  • Energy production depends on water. As electricity demand rises, so does the demand for water. Read on to find out how much water is used by various energy production technologies.

Energy production depends on water. Power plants require water to scrub pollutants, cool machinery, produce the steam necessary to turn huge turbines and generators, and more. Even some alternative energy sources, such as ethanol and hydrogen, require large volumes of water.

Energy Production Depends on Water

Ecologist Jacques Cousteau once said, “Sometimes we forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are the same.” What he meant was that not only human survival, but all life on Earth, totally depends upon water.

Our modern world is also driven by energy use — we need energy for producing food and clean water; for providing electricity in our homes, businesses and industries; and for transportation.

But did you know that energy production depends on water? Conventional production of energy and power requires a huge amount of water. Power plants require water to scrub pollutants (generated from burning coal, for example), to produce the steam necessary to turn huge turbines and generators, and more. Even some alternative energy sources, such as ethanol and hydrogen, require large volumes of water. As electricity demand rises, perhaps as much as 50 percent in the next 25 years, the demand for water also will increase.



Crunching Water and Energy Production Numbers

So how much water is used by various energy production technologies? To illustrate the water use for various technologies in a consistent unit, the chart at right shows water usage in gallons of water used per British thermal unit (Btu), which indicates pure energy as heat. Btu is applicable to all energy production and power generation methods.

The Water Use Efficiency Chart shows that in terms of fuel production, soy-based biodiesel is the least water-efficient energy source, followed by corn-based ethanol. Natural gas is the most efficient. In terms of electricity generation, nuclear energy is the least efficient while hydroelectric power is the most efficient system.

davisonh
10/2/2008 7:54:13 PM

Uh oh,be careful about how this water for driving steam turbines is used..I've been to many,many power plants,coal and otherwise for what I used to do for a living(test machinery used for feeding the coal into the boilers)and all of them use cooling towers for cooling the drive steam for driving the massive turbines.Some also pipe the drive steam from the power plants to municipalities to be used for local central heating of buildings or use it for process steam.These cooling towers then use river water or air to cool and condense the steam.But yes the equivalency number you give is correct,thing is that water is usually condensed back and reused.


Russell Lowes
9/6/2008 7:50:17 PM

This article is very impressive. Where did the chart come from specifically -- that is, where from the EIA? Thank you!







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