Where Water and Energy (Should) Meet

water-energyDid you know that powering one 60-watt bulb for 12 hours a day for a year requires 3,000-6,000 gallons (~11,400-22,800 liters) of water? Or that, conversely, the electricity used for water treatment can be as much as 1/3 of a city’s energy bill?[1] These are just two examples of how water and energy — both of which are the focus of intense conservation and sustainability discussions — are closely intertwined. The following graph, adapted from GE and WRI’s January 2016 report on the water-energy nexus[2], highlights some of the key industries that contribute to the stresses being placed on both water and energy resources:


If today more than 650 million people do not have access to clean water and a billion do not have electricity, the growing world population makes the challenges of meeting the highly interconnected water and energy demands even more acute.[1]  

Yet despite the growing recognition that meaningful solutions will have to address both energy and water challenges, we learn from Ali Zaidi, associate director for natural resources, energy, and science in the Office of Management and Budget, that the US invests  50 times more in clean energy R&D than it does for water.[3] It is good news, therefore, that President Obama’s budget for 2017 includes almost $260 million to fund a water innovation strategy, which the White House says will boost water sustainability and reduce the price and energy costs of new water supply technology.

The following highlights from the proposed budget allocations indicate clearly the understanding that water and energy are two sides of the same coin (our emphases):

  • $98.6 million for the federal WaterSMART program, which promotes water conservation initiatives and technologies, including grants for water-energy efficiency initiatives.
  • $25 million in new funding for the Department of Energy to launch a new Energy-Water Desalination Hub that will focus on developing technologies to reduce the cost, energy input, and carbon emission levels of desalination.
  • $88 million for the National Science Foundation for water research, focusing on technologies that increase the US water supply, drinking water quality, and water for use in agriculture and industry processes or cooling.


It seems that the dialog between the smart energy and the smart water sectors is intensifying and that is only good news for better and more sustainable management of resources that are critical for a sustainable future.


[1] Kevin Moss, Debora Frodl, “Solving the Twin Crises of Energy and Water Scarcity” Harvard Business Review, January 25, 2016

[2] Eliot Metzger et al, Water-Energy Nexus: Business Risks and Rewards, GE and World Resources Institute (WRI) report, January 2016

[3] Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, “Obama’s Spending Plan Pumps $260M into Water Technology R&D”, Environmental Leader, February 10, 2016


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