Energy-water nexus: key points from the World Energy Leaders' Summit, India

Posted on 13 February 2013

Over 80 energy leaders and ministers from 30 countries met at the World Energy Leaders’ Summit (WELS) in New Delhi, India on 5-6 February 2013. The objective of WELS, held twice a year in rapid growth countries, is to enable the WEC’s global energy leaders’ community to engage in an on-going, high-level dialogue to address critical energy challenges.

The New Delhi WELS offered a platform for energy leaders to explore solutions in order to energise social innovation  as a key strategy for solving “Energy Trilemma”: finding the right balance between energy security, social equity and environmental impact mitigation.  The Energy-Water Nexus was the first key topic and below is a summary of the key points addressed during the discussion.

Summary notes for the energy-water nexus:NEWS_Africa  water people

  • According to the World Energy Issues Monitor 2013, the energy-water issue is not on top of the worldwide energy agenda. However the issues is positioned as a key uncertainty in selected regions such as Africa.
  • The first and most visible impact of climate change is the change of water availability. Places that are currently dry and water-stressed will become drier and almost desert-like; places that are currently wet will become wetter. There are many linkages between energy and water: fracturing of oil shale and shale gas, coal power plants and CCS, coal to gas and to liquid, biofuels, hydropower, cooling towers, production of solar cells, refineries, etc. Virtually every energy technology relies on water. Is our energy system and infrastructure resilient to any changes on the water side? Water is a much more emotional issue, so if the two stand against each other, energy will lose out.
  • Coal fired power and the production and burning of oil and gas have the biggest water footprints. They are also the biggest sources of CO2 emissions, which are in turn the biggest causes of climate change. Wind and solar technologies have the lowest water footprints and energy efficiency is also without a water footprint. Low carbon energy transition away from fossil fuels is necessary, but the role of government is critical as it has to ensure adequate and decent jobs for the people currently working in the fossil fuel industry.
  • Climate change has an unequal impact on the poor. Whilst energy is essential for development, water is essential for life. Water scarcity also affects the poor indirectly through agriculture. In case of drought, crops are affected and prices rise hitting the poor first. Very often fossil fuel and water subsidies are seen as a way to help, but their impact is often seen as limited. There are ways to transition fossil fuel subsidies to the poor via targeted, means-tested benefits that directly help the people they are supposed to. In conjunction with this, we should ensure the accurate pricing of energy and water. This is the only way we will get the proper conservation of these resources. Another bigger point to consider is the life cycle of footprints of different kinds of technology for longer term sustainability.
  • Nepal is a developing country with a tremendous amount of water; 225 billion cubic meter of water is available annually. This gives the countrymany options for energy sources, including hydropower, for which there is potential in Nepal. However, it has not yet been harnessed and only 1.5% of the potential has been achieved. The main challenge is the need for investment, but other key challenges include technology and political instability. Government policy is to harness all possible and economically viable resources and to promote investment and welcome the international community so that more energy, water and food can be produced. The first priority is the internal need; the second priority is to export hydropower and water resources to countries such as India.
  • Water in the UAE is manufactured with technology and desalinated from the sea. It is completely dependent on energy. Today the UAE is focusing on diversifying its energy portfolio. For decades the Emirates relied on fossil fuel, but the country is now trying to create a portfolio for the future. This includes looking at nuclear (25% by 2020) and renewables (7% by 2020). At the previous WELS in Istanbul in April 2012, UAE Energy Minister Al Hamli stated that the opening up of nuclear is the biggest change of his ministerial term. Nuclear is safe, reliable and better from a security of supply point of view. Nuclear is also preferential from an environmental and economic stand point. Nuclear in the UAE relies on cooling technology which uses sea water; desalinating sea water relies increasingly on nuclear.
  • Regarding water technology, there is a high level of quality in elements such as MBR (Membrane Bio-Reactor) and RO (Reverse Osmosis) as well as equipment such as highly energy efficient pumps. These types of technology should be further developed and promoted globally. Business models, in particular financing models, are also important. We need to develop the right government and/or private funding methods. PPPs (private public partnerships) are now fashionable all over the world, but they are still trial-and-error and have to be further nurtured and refined according to the conditions of each market. We need innovative models for technology and financing.
  • There are an increasing number of projects arising as a result of the energy-water challenge. Singapore has traditionally relied on Malaysia for its water. The country came up with a way of using treated water that would otherwise have been poured into the ocean, and using it for cooling and industrial processes. In Florida, there is a power plant with three-on-one combined cycle line-ups – it uses primarily treated water rather than deep wells for cooling and use in the steam cycle. In South Africa, a very water-stressed area, there is a coal power plant which uses 12% of the typical amount of water used by coal plants. Furthermore, India is home to the world’s biggest refinery, which has several closed loop systems and is a zero water discharge site.
  • We need to think about water as a fuel: the output, waste water of one system becomes the input for another.

Other topics discussed during the New Delhi WELS  with summary notes available include  : Solving the Power Equation: Getting the Policy Trilemma Right; Renewables: Accelerating the Roll-out; and Gas Markets Outlook: Implications of Shale Gas.

The next WELS will take place in Daegu, South Korea on 15 October 2013 as part of the 2013 World Energy Congress.