Where will we get the water?

The Boston Globe recently reported that proposed coal-fired power plants in Texas are facing increasing and widespread opposition because of the drought.  The opposition includes political conservatives who have no issues with the use of fossil fuels, but can’t accept the huge water demands of the plants.  If you think the water shortage problem is confined to Texas, U.S. government data forecasts water shortages in 36 states starting by 2013.

Power plants fueled by coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear and, yes, unfortunately even concentrating solar, all work basically the same way.  A large amount of water is continuously pumped into the plant and the coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear reaction or concentrated solar radiation is used to boil the water to produce steam and drive the turbines to generate electricity.

Considering the enormous amounts of increasingly scarce water required by the power plants to keep the electricity flowing, we may soon face some rather difficult choices.  What do we give up if there simply isn’t enough water to go around?  I’m not talking about water price, I’m talking about water availability

What if it becomes a choice between flushing the toilet, showers, washing clothes and dishes and watering the yard vs. running the heater and A/C, turning on the lights, watching TV, using the stove, oven, microwave and computers, running the refrigerator and charging cell phones and other devices?

It isn’t just residences guzzling the water.  Certain manufacturing processes use staggering amounts of water.  Then there is the big kahuna: agriculture, which is the largest user.  But then, eating is also kind of important.

There’s a disconnect, a basic lack of understanding by most people about how much it takes to keep the electricity flowing.  We’ve blithely rolled along, oblivious to the looming problems and not worrying about tomorrow.  Well, tomorrow is upon us.  Now what?

There are only two ways to generate electricity without using water in the process: solar panels and wind turbines.  It may very well be water shortages, rather than increases in fossil fuel costs, which compels us to transition more quickly to solar and wind energy.

About the Author

Mark H. Witte is a strong proponent for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and believes individuals should have more control over how the energy for their homes is produced.