Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In energy, too, it’s the water ... again!

About this time six years ago--ok, ok, April 7, 2009, if you want me to be specific--my newspaper column was titled "In energy, too, it's the water."  I noted there:
instead of urging countries, particularly India and China, to stop using coal, perhaps we ought to focus on how to a large extent it is all about water. Many parts of India, China and other countries have low levels per capita of available water. For instance, while the United State has about 1,600 cubic meters of water per person, the average in China is about 400 cubic meters, and even less in India. This immensely valuable resource can be put to better uses than in coal-fired power plants.
This is but another incentive for us to explore alternative energy sources that do not impose additional demands on water, which will then also mean lesser reliance on coal. Water-constrained countries such as China, India and Israel ought to encourage innovation on this urgent issue.
But, hey, when was the last time anybody ever listened to me, right?  

Today, I read this about a town in Texas:
Last week Georgetown, Texas, a town of about 50,000 about 30 miles north of Austin (and the home of Nolan Ryan) announced that the utility that it owns, Georgetown Utility Systems, would soon get 100 percent of the electricity it provides from renewables.
What is the connection to my column from six years ago?  "because it will save on electricity costs and decrease our water usage.”
creating electricity from fossil fuels doesn’t simply require lots of natural gas and coal. It requires a huge amount of water. “Production of electrical power results in one of the largest uses of water in the United States and worldwide,” the U.S. Geological Survey notes in this infographic. At power plants, water is heated to make steam and huge amounts of water are needed to cool the equipment. Producing the fuel that powers these plants—mining coal and fracking natural gas—also consumes a huge amount of water.
But creating electricity from wind turbines and photovoltaic panels requires virtually no water. 
Ahem, is it ok to say "I told you so?"

BTW, such developments via the marketplace are yet another reason why I am not a big fan of the rah-rah fanaticism about fossil fuel divestment.  Other than a few nutcases who continue to believe in coal and petroleum, most of the corporate world is fully aware of the issues, and put their money where their mouth is--after all, that bottom-line is always their guide!  (A post for another day.) 

But then, at the end of it all, nobody listens to me. I don't get no respect.  The story of my life; what a Cassandra Curse! ;)  


Ramesh said...

Oh I didn't know this. I thought you needed water to produce electricity whatever the source - didn't you have to heat water to steam in the solar power plants as well.

And secondly I always thought the water was heavily recycled - remember the cooling towers in the NLC Thermal Station ?

Obviously there is more to it.

Sriram Khé said...

Think of those "battery-less" calculators that we were so excited back in the day. Remember them? They somehow converted light to electricity for the calculator to work, right? That is the photovoltaic solar power that we find as those arrays on rooftops, as standalone structures ...

Thank Einstein for helping the world understand this photoelectric effect ;)

Are you now thinking about the wave/photon dual nature of the electromagnetic spectrum that Vasudevan talked about in physics? Or, did you miss out on all that because you moved on to study economics? If you missed it, here is a briefing video:

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