The Increasing Scarcity of WaterBased on demands for fresh water right now, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that this strain will double by the year 2035. According to the agency, much of this strain is the result of water being used in the production of power using coal. By 2035, they believe that more than half of the world's water usage will be from coal-fired power plants. The IEA also maintains that biofuel production will come second, using up 30% of the supply.
An electricity generating facility adjacent to Tradinghouse Creek Reservoir.
The agency's projections center on the fact that coal plants powered by steam require massive amounts of water. This, along with an increase in coal power throughout the world, is the reason for the IEA's fears. Although improvements have been made in the coal industry to use technology that results in less pollution to wildlife, it has come at an extreme cost. That cost is that the plants use up far more water in the process. This is often because instead of polluting rivers with heated water, they have developed a method for cooling the water. This method, however, leads to more evaporation and therefore, the loss of water.
While nuclear power plants use steam to function, they generate much less power than coal power plants do. According to IEA, nuclear power plants currently only make up 5% of the world's water consumption. The agency urges coal power plants to invest in "dry cooling," rather than "wet cooling." While "dry cooling" is the better alternative, it is also more expensive.
As for the consumption of water by biofuel industries, the IEA maintains that much of this water is used in the process of irrigation, which leads to evaporation. This evaporation presents an issue because the water will return the Earth via precipitation but not necessarily to the same area. The agency sees the production of ethanol, biodiesel, etc. as a waste because they provide less than 3% of the energy for cars, trucks, and the like while using up a significant portion of the world's water.
This news has led people to worry that coal power plants and biofuel industries will use up so much water that there will not be enough left for the production of food. This scarcity of water could lead to a whole host of problems. The United Nations itself has projected that if the trend continues with biofuels, 1.8 billion people will be living in areas of the world with little access to water. The IEA is currently pushing for new, better sources of alternative energy to be developed to avoid this problem.