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Yet Another Reason Clean Energy Will Dominate the Future: Water Scarcity

2 min. read

Stories like this one are why water-conserving, clean energy technologies need to - and hopefully will - dominate the future.

Climate change could put millions more people at risk of water scarcity, a new study suggests.

Forty percent more people will be put at risk of chronic or absolute water scarcity due to changes in rainfall and evaporation that result from climate change, according to a report published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change will “substantially aggravate the water scarcity problem” globally, the report says.

"We conclude that the combination of unmitigated climate change and further population growth will expose a significant fraction of the world population to chronic or absolute water scarcity," the report adds.

How much water do fossil fuels use? A lot. For instance, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reports that "total water used for coal mining in the United States (including water use for coal washing and cooling of drilling equipment) ranges from 70 million to 260 million gallons a day." Then,  to transport the coal, "slurry pipelines withdraw hundreds of gallons of water for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced."  And then there are coal-fired power plants, which the UCS says can use up to "20 to 50 gallons per kilowatt-hour—even without considering the water needed to mine coal or store coal waste." As for natural gas fracking, this report finds that in Colorado, fracking uses as much as 39,500 acre-feet, "[e]nough water for 66,400 to 118,400 homes in Colorado." That's a lot of water -- water we can't afford to waste in a world of increasing scarcity.

In stark contrast, according to the UCS, "[s]olar PV cells do not use water for generating electricity." As for wind power, UCS reports that "[t]here is no water impact associated with the operation of wind turbines." So here's the choice for the 21st century: continue on with polluting, water-wasting fossil fuels, or switch to clean, water-saving renewable energy. This is not a difficult choice, especially given the plummeting cost of clean energy.