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Western Resource Advocates has recently released a brilliant report, 'Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity.' Analyzing the water use for electrical power generation, in competition with growing agricultural and domestic water demand, this report offers some great conclusions for truly internalizing the marginal costs of water use through water management policy.
As one of the biggest factors in the water-energy nexus, electrical power generation is one of the leading consumers of national freshwater. In particular (and unfortunately), the largest electricity-generating consumers of water are the most commonly used sources of electricity such as coal fired power, nuclear power and hydroelectricity. New sources of electricity such as wind, photovoltaic solar and dish-engine concentrated solar power, we can reduce national electricity's water footprint by a massive amount, as well as significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Western Resource Advocates' Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity does a fantastic job of putting the true value of water use into perspective and offers three main (and great!) conclusions:
- At a minimum, utilities across the region should report water consumption for existing facilities, along with projected water consumption for different proposed portfolios, as part of their integrated resource plans.
- In considering new water-intensive power plants, utilities and regulators should assess the value of water today, the potential value of water in the future, and the opportunity cost of using water for power generation over the lifetime of the power plant.
- Regulators and electric utilities should consider the benefits of maintaining flexibility, and the role of water-efficient forms of generation and energy efficiency as a hedge against short- or long-term drought.
These are all great policy recommendations which could significantly help push our nation towards a freshwater-secure future. Later this year, River Network will be releasing a report with a similar objective; to bring the massive and unnecessary water-consumption of electricity generation to light. Though not focusing specifically on water use for electricity generation in only the southwestern states; our report will offer a more broad life-cycle analysis of water withdrawal and consumption by all major and emerging electricity sources throughout the entire US, providing policy and management recommendations. I am truly giddy to see the release of this work in progress and will certainly relay more information on the timing and availability of the release as that time becomes more clear to us here in the near future.