Worldwide water shortage by 2040

Jul 29, 2014

Two new reports that focus on the global electricity water nexus have just been published. Three years of research show that by the year 2040 there will not be enough water in the world to quench the thirst of the world population and keep the current energy and power solutions going if we continue doing what we are doing today. It is a clash of competing necessities, between drinking water and energy demand. Behind the research is a group of researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark, Vermont Law School and CNA Corporation in the US.

In most countries, electricity is the biggest source of because the power plants need cooling cycles in order to function. The only energy systems that do not require cooling cycles are wind and solar systems, and therefore one of the primary recommendations issued by these researchers is to replace old power systems with more sustainable wind and solar systems.

The research has also yielded the surprising finding that most power systems do not even register how much water is being used to keep the systems going.

By 2020 the water issue affects 30-40% of the world

"It's a huge problem that the electricity sector do not even realise how much water they actually consume. And together with the fact that we do not have unlimited water resources, it could lead to a serious crisis if nobody acts on it soon", says Professor Benjamin Sovacool from Aarhus University.

Combining the new research results with projections about water shortage and the , it shows that by 2020 many areas of the world will no longer have access to clean . In fact, the results predict that by 2020 about 30-40% of the world will have water scarcity, and according to the researchers, climate change can make this even worse.

"This means that we'll have to decide where we spend our water in the future. Do we want to spend it on keeping the power plants going or as drinking water? We don't have enough water to do both", says Professor Benjamin Sovacool.

How to solve the problem?

In the reports, the researchers emphasise six general recommendations for decision-makers to follow in order to stop this development and handle the crisis around the world:

  • Improve energy efficiency
  • Better research on alternative cooling cycles
  • Registering how much water power plants use
  • Massive investments in wind energy
  • Massive investments in solar energy
  • Abandon fossil fuel facilities in all water stressed places (which means half the planet)

Close up on France, the US, China and India

The team of researchers conducted their research focusing on four different case studies in France, the United States, China and India respectively. Rather than reviewing the situation on a national level, the team narrowed in and focused on specific utilities and energy suppliers. The first step was identifying the current energy needs, and then the researchers made projections as far as 2040, and most of the results were surprising. All four case studies project that it will be impossible to continue to produce electricity in this way and meet the water demand by 2040.

"If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage – even if water was free, because it's not a matter of the price. There will no by 2040 if we keep doing what we're doing today. There's no time to waste. We need to act now", concludes Professor Benjamin Sovacool.

Explore further: Consider water use in climate change policies, advise Australian researchers

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User comments : 29

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Nik_2213
5 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2014
So they urgently need to retro-fit some 'dry' heat exchangers to supplement the 'wet' towers and river feeds, shifting the split according to demand and ambient conditions. Won't be pretty, won't be cheap, but may be easier than having to ration the water...
Whydening Gyre
4.5 / 5 (8) Jul 29, 2014
A planet of 70% water surface, yet a shortage in the impending future...
Anybody else see the irony in that..?
incender
2.9 / 5 (11) Jul 29, 2014
No matter how many times you prove the nuclear apologists and propagandists wrong they'll keep saying everything is a conspiracy by anti nuke kooks. Massive water usage problems and cooling towers concerns? A non existent problem in their book. They sound exactly like GW deniers.
TegiriNenashi
1.7 / 5 (12) Jul 29, 2014
This article is beyond ridiculous. Nuclear plant requires cooling, but it doesn't care if the water is salty or fresh. Nuclear station on an ocean coast is as good as a plant on a river. One may argue that if we have cheap abundant energy then desalination would become cost effective. And, no; the "renewable" energy is neither cheap, nor abundant.
Modernmystic
2.4 / 5 (10) Jul 29, 2014
I have no clue what anyone is talking about with respect to nuclear plants using up water.

They have a once through system that cools the plant and is both discharged back into a river, lake or, the ocean and vented off as steam from the cooling towers...which, as anyone who takes two seconds to THINK about it returns to the system as rain eventually.

No water is broken down to hydrogen and oxygen...which is the only way to actually "lose" it. Get a grip...seriously.
Sinister1812
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2014
They probably won't get enough fresh water from desalination either.
Scroofinator
2.2 / 5 (9) Jul 29, 2014
Worldwide water shortage by 2040

For poor nations.

WG,
A planet of 70% water surface, yet a shortage in the impending future...
Anybody else see the irony in that..?

See above...
Modernmystic
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 29, 2014
They probably won't get enough fresh water from desalination either.


Well since power plants don't "use up" water it's a moot point.
TegiriNenashi
1.9 / 5 (10) Jul 29, 2014
They probably won't get enough fresh water from desalination either.


I'm not sure if you are serious. The entire city of Dubai is supplied by one or two desalination plants. And if you think this is a third-rate city have a look at its skyline.
3432682
2.6 / 5 (8) Jul 29, 2014
Desalination is about twice as expensive as conventional water systems, and getting cheaper, so the problem of scarcity will be easily solved by raising prices.

In most cases,the only real problem with water is that in most places it is so plentiful and cheap (or essentially free, as for many farmers) that is has not been used carefully and conservatively. Implement ownership and a realistic pricing mechanism and the market will solve all the problems.
Vietvet
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 29, 2014
Desalination is about twice as expensive as conventional water systems, and getting cheaper, so the problem of scarcity will be easily solved by raising prices.

In most cases,the only real problem with water is that in most places it is so plentiful and cheap (or essentially free, as for many farmers) that is has not been used carefully and conservatively. Implement ownership and a realistic pricing mechanism and the market will solve all the problems.


Your ignorance is stunning.
alfie_null
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 30, 2014
Your ignorance is stunning.

Ignorance? Could you elaborate?

Like it or not, economic motivation will be the inducement for getting the problem solved. If you harbor any hope of having it solved efficiently.
holoman
1.2 / 5 (5) Jul 30, 2014
Desalination takes too much energy.

Here is a technology (FREE to ALL) that needs little energy as it uses CO2 as a catalyst to produce hydrogen from seawater for power plants, cars, etc.

2/3 of planet is seawater and of that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.

http://www.altene...en/33897

ThomasQuinn
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 30, 2014
It's simple common sense that we need to replace drinking water with something else for cooling and other frankly wasteful functions. Using drinking water in such a way is ludicrous, and would be even if it WASN'T as scarce as it is.
ThomasQuinn
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 30, 2014
In most cases,the only real problem with water is that in most places it is so plentiful and cheap (or essentially free, as for many farmers) that is has not been used carefully and conservatively. Implement ownership and a realistic pricing mechanism and the market will solve all the problems.


Yeah, let's put natural resources in private for-profit hands and let the free market solve all problems, because that's worked out really well with other natural resources (like coal, oil) in the past - not wasteful, inefficient and damaging at all, and certainly not an open invitation for corruption.
grondilu
2.5 / 5 (4) Jul 30, 2014
Don't most power plants use water that would be improper for consumption anyway? I mean, most nuclear plants for instance use sea water for cooling, don't they?
Modernmystic
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 30, 2014
Thomas....do you really....REALLY think they use DRINKING water to cool power plants....because I mean...really???

All they are doing is using untreated water for cooling. Let me say that again...all they are doing is using untreated water for cooling and then sending it right back down stream. The water doesn't mystically disappear. It is still perfectly useable for whatever purpose...including treating it and using it as drinking water.
ThomasQuinn
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 30, 2014
Thomas....do you really....REALLY think they use DRINKING water to cool power plants....because I mean...really???

All they are doing is using untreated water for cooling. Let me say that again...all they are doing is using untreated water for cooling and then sending it right back down stream. The water doesn't mystically disappear. It is still perfectly useable for whatever purpose...including treating it and using it as drinking water.


I live some 20 kilometers from a nuclear power plant. They use the same water that is, after FURTHER treatment (it is not yet tap water but has already been filtered) used as drinking water a few dozen kilometers further south. The used water drained from the outer cooling system is not highly radioactive like the inner cooling systems, but it is still considered unfit to be processed into drinking water. Therefore, it removes a part of our scarce source of drinking water, rendering it unsuitable for at least some time.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (6) Jul 30, 2014
Therefore, it removes a part of our scarce source of drinking water, rendering it unsuitable for at least some time.


I'd say that's patently false. I'd need to see a source on that one. Unless heating up water somehow makes it unusable or unfit to process as drinking water. Do you know something I don't? (no sarcasm, honestly).
Burnerjack
3 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2014
hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.
Hilarious! This fact is often quoted, yet obtaining hydrogen efficiently from said universe isn't.
It's a fact that has absolutely no relevance.
Scroofinator
1.8 / 5 (4) Jul 30, 2014
It's a fact that has absolutely no relevance.

Only until it becomes of relevance, which modern science/industry are working towards. Your shortsightedness is bewildering.
ThomasQuinn
3.5 / 5 (4) Jul 31, 2014
Therefore, it removes a part of our scarce source of drinking water, rendering it unsuitable for at least some time.


I'd say that's patently false. I'd need to see a source on that one. Unless heating up water somehow makes it unusable or unfit to process as drinking water. Do you know something I don't? (no sarcasm, honestly).


The water suffers low-grade contamination with radiation, rendering it lightly radio-active (not enough to be dangerous externally, but definitely carcinogenic when ingested), which is why it is stored separately and not returned to the source.
Modernmystic
3 / 5 (4) Jul 31, 2014
The water suffers low-grade contamination with radiation, rendering it lightly radio-active (not enough to be dangerous externally, but definitely carcinogenic when ingested), which is why it is stored separately and not returned to the source.


Again patently false, and again I need a source if you're going to make claims which contradict accepted conventional wisdom. The water can't get "radioactive" (it's considered contaminated if it's carrying radioactive materials), it's totally separate from the cooling that goes on in the core. It IS absolutely returned to the source. You're either lying or ignorant. Please demonstrate some intellectual integrity.
Modernmystic
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 31, 2014
It occurs to me that you might be confusing the isolated water which is in contact with the core and the secondary cooling circuit. I find that hard to believe because we're talking about VERY small amounts of water when compared to all the potable water in the country, but it's possible.

Is that the case?
ab3a
4.8 / 5 (4) Aug 02, 2014
I write this as someone who has worked at a water utility my entire career (28 years and counting).

Like beer, nobody buys water. They rent it.

The biggest issue with water is rarely ever availability. What they're really talking about is fresh water (as opposed to brackish or sea-water). The good news is that energy requirements to desalinate this water are dropping all the time.

Yes, we will always require SOME energy to desalinate water and to move water where it will be consumed. The issue is not a fresh water shortage, but an energy problem to clean and distribute that water.

Meanwhile there are water resources that are slowly being used up because they were built over geological time periods, and we're not replenishing them fast enough.

So the era of cheap water is ending. But there are untapped technologies. Those who declare gloom and doom about this issue need to rethink what they're saying.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (6) Aug 02, 2014
"here will no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we're doing today."
What BS!
antigoracle
1 / 5 (5) Aug 02, 2014
This is no joke people.
Wait till you see the plagues of frogs and locusts.
Vietvet
5 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2014
@ab3a

You make some excellant points but what can be done to recover heavely polluted waters and water shortages far from any coastline?
DeliriousNeuron
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 03, 2014
The water situation is bleak out here in west Texas. There are 100+ year old eells drying up. The oil boom west of san angelo texas isn't helping either. Water trucks run non stop out here. Lakes out here are almost bone dry too.

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