Multiple metrics for quantifying the intensity of water consumption of energy production

Author: Edward S. Spang
Publication: Environmental Research Letters – October 2014
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Abstract: Discussion of the environmental implications of worldwide energy demand is currently dominated by the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on global climate. At the regional scale, however, water resource challenges associated with energy systems are a growing concern. This paper, based on an inventory of national energy portfolios, posits an indicator-based framework for characterizing regional energy portfolios’ relative water intensity. These calculations extend upon a previous paper that established a method for calculating the national water consumption of energy production (WCEP) at the global level. Intensity indicators are based on normalizing the WCEP results with a set of additional indicators (including population, gross domestic product, total energy production, and regional water availability). The results show great variability in water consumption across nations, as well as across the various water intensity measures that were applied. Therefore, it is best to apply this full suite of indicators to each country to develop an integrated understanding of the intensity of water use for energy across countries.