A group of water and energy development experts gathered for a panel discussion at the U.N sponsored World Environment Day conference in Pittsburgh last week where calls were made for an energy policy that not only takes into consideration energy needs and climate change but also the role that water plays in the production of energy. Kathleen Miller of the National Center for Atmospheric Research says energy and water are closely tied. She says it takes water to make energy and it takes energy to clean water. Energy production is the largest user of water worldwide but falls substantially when it comes to water consumption. Duke Energy Vice President for Sustainability Roberta Bowman says her company returns to the environment 98% of the water it uses in the production of energy. Duke’s numbers are higher than many electricity-generating companies due to its intense use of hydropower to spin turbines. Bowman says the availability of water can make or break energy production of all kinds. She says plants are having to shut down in the summer due to a lack of water for cooling and as companies design plants they are having to take into consideration drought scenarios never before imagined.
Westinghouse Chief Technology officer Kathryn Jackson says it took decades to link energy policy and climate policy, now water police needs to be added to the mix. She says companies are dealing with water issues every day as they plan new power plants. She says those companies need to know what regulations will be in place and what policies they will be living with in the future because an investment in a new power plant takes years to recover and the facility may have a lifespan measured in decades. She says if there is no comprehensive energy-water policy regulators will be trying to play catch-up on the back end.
Bowman says water and clean air needs at times but heads. She notes that it usually takes more water to run a power plant with fewer emissions tan one with a more dirty smokestack. However, she says she is optimistic. Bowman says universities and research and development department are full of scientists trying to figure out new ways to produce clean electricity using less and less water.