DOE: The Water-Energy Nexus - Challenges and Opportunities

From the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), this report describes the integrated challenges and opportunities around the water-energy nexus nationwide.  DOE acknowledges the increased urgency to address the water-energy nexus in an proactive way due to climate change impacts  - and details these impacts and related decision-making needs.

The report explains how energy and water are intrinsically interconnected, in large part due to the characteristics and properties of water that make it so useful for producing energy, and then the energy requirements to treat and distribute water for human use. Water availability will directly affect the future of the water-energy nexus - and availability will be altered by climate impacts such as changing temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, increasing variability, and more extreme weather. Rising temperatures increase the demand for electricity for cooling and decrease the efficiency of thermoelectric generation, as well as increase water consumption for agricultural crops and domestic use. These changes also can cause vulnerabilities for energy infrastructure resilience.

DOE describes how the water-energy nexus is integral to two of its policy priorities - climate change and energy security. Energy security requires resilience of the energy system, which depends on managing current and projected vulnerabilities relating to water resource availability and variability. DOE also states that it has an important role in addressing climate change, and in doing so must further develop strategies for adapting to change in water resources.

Chapter 3, Implications of Climate Change and Other Trends, further details how climate change can alter the availability of water and disrupt energy production and distribution through changes in precipitation, temperature, and extreme weather events. The DOE describes how the future of the nexus hinges on a number of things that are within the Department’s long term scope of influence such as technology options, location of energy activities, and fuel source mix.  For example - the future of electricity generation depends on the types of water sources power plants utilize for cooling operations. According to the report, as of 2014, more than 75 percent of existing cooling systems use surface water - but that future cooling systems planning to come online by 2022 are diversifying their water source types. Only 20 percent of proposed cooling systems are planning to use surface water, while 25 percent and 30 percent plan to use plant discharge and groundwater, respectively. In addition, 17 percent of proposed systems will not require water because they are dry cooling systems.

The 4th chapter - Decision-Making Landscape - explores broader decision contexts and frameworks across the water-energy nexus, as well as the sector-specific water-energy decision-making needs for oil and gas, electric power, biofuels, and water and wastewater utilities - focusing on the major water-energy challenges, regulatory responses, and facility responses in each of these sectors.


Publication Date: June 2014

Related Organizations:

  • U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Policy analysis/recommendations


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