Each European uses four bathtubs of water a day for electricity

(Bloomberg, 20 Oct 2019) Research highlights another edge renewables have over fossil fuels in an era when climate change is straining water supplies.

Solar and wind power could be in for another boost once policy makers begin accounting for the vast volumes of water needed to keep the lights on.

That’s the conclusion of research published this week by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre, which is urging the bloc’s leaders to pay closer attention to the amount of water used by traditional coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants. It takes more than 1,300 liters of water — enough to fill four bathtubs — to generate the electricity each European resident uses each day.

“For the EU, to decarbonize and increase the share of renewables of its energy supply, it needs to formulate policies that take the water use of energy sources into account,” wrote the water and energy researchers led by Davy Vanham.  Solar, wind, geothermal and run-of-river hydropower account for a “small fraction” of water used compared with what is consumed by biofuels and traditional thermal plants, they said.

The findings focus attention on the rising competition for water resources between households, industry and agriculture. Exacerbating that friction is a string of heatwaves and lower rainfall levels that have prompted shutdowns at power plants across the continent during periods of peak strain. Some of those incidents have been traced back to climate change. The issue has been replicated in the U.S., India and China, underscoring how policies that touch on water, energy and food supplies tend to have impacts in all three spheres. 

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Bloomberg, 20 Oct 2019: Each European uses four bathtubs of water a day for electricity