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SHOCK nation’s water resources.

TheScience

Power plants use water to create the steam that drives electricityproducing turbines and also use volumes of water for cooling.

once they had found out how much energy the power plant produced, the team could calculate the water the plant used. The team published its findings in the 2011 report “Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource.” The study determined that power plants are often using more, and occasionally using less, water than they are reporting. The authors also concluded that in several places around the U.S., power plants’ thirst contributed to water stress— the increasing demand relative to the supply of the nation’s water resources. During the 2011 drought in Texas, for example, farmers, cities, and power plants competed for dwindling water supplies, and some power plants had to truck or pipe in water from remote sources to meet their cooling needs. Unfortunately, droughts often coincide with heat waves, and with heat waves come increased electricity demands as people switch on their AC, Averyt said. “So, it is the perfect storm,” she said. A growing population demands more water and more energy, and a warming climate spells diminished water supplies. “We may be looking at a face off between many different players over water, and energy is just one of those players,” Averyt said. “At some point water may become as precious a commodity to the U.S. as oil and gas.” Her team is also using their report as a springboard for further investigation at a regional level—in particular, the arid Southwest. Currently, the researchers are analyzing the demands on water resources in the Southwest and exactly how power plant usage feeds into the equation, Averyt said. Accounting for all the checks and balances will allow researchers to make accurate assessments about the portfolios of power sources and new technologies for a specific region. Averyt is confident, however, that future work to understand the energy-water nexus will help improve water reliability. “In the future, it would be nice if we didn’t have to choose between switching on the power or taking a bath,” Averyt said.

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Spheres: 45th Anniversary Edition  

A periodic magazine covering the broad range of research done at the Cooperative Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of C...

Spheres: 45th Anniversary Edition  

A periodic magazine covering the broad range of research done at the Cooperative Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of C...

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