Water needs for energy production are set to grow at twice the rate of energy demand.
Water is essential to energy production: in power generation; in the extraction, transport and processing of oil, gas and coal; and, increasingly, in irrigation for crops used to produce biofuels. We estimate that water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 were 583 billion cubic metres (bcm). Of that, water consumption – the volume withdrawn but not returned to its source – was 66 bcm. The projected rise in water consumption of 85% over the period to 2035 reflects a move towards more water-intensive power generation and expanding output of biofuels. Water is growing in importance as a criterion for assessing the viability of energy projects, as population and economic growth intensify competition for water resources. In some regions, water constraints are already affecting the reliability of existing operations and they will increasingly impose additional costs. In some cases, they could threaten the viability of projects. The vulnerability of the energy sector to water constraints is widely spread geographically, affecting, among others, shale gas development and power generation in parts of China and the United States, the operation of India’s highly water-intensive fleet of power plants, Canadian oil sands production and the maintenance of oil-field pressures in Iraq. Managing the energy sector’s water vulnerabilities will require deployment of better technology and greater integration of energy and water policies.