Watering the Clean Energy Transition:

A global call to action on the water-climate-energy nexus (Photo: AGWA / WINZ)

19 Jun 2024 by The Water Diplomat

John Mathews at the WINZ

On the 3rd of June, during the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2024 , the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) hosted an event on ‘watering the clean energy transition’. This event explored the relationships between water and energy in the context of the transition to clean sources of energy. 

As explained by the organisers, energy development that does not take sufficient account of water needs lead to disrupted energy delivery and untenable pressure on water systems that will wreak havoc on the economy, society, and the environment. All low and zero emission fuels and power sources for electrification need water, often at a large scale. Many countries lack the tools to effectively measure and manage these interdependencies, and therefore the deployment of best practices and climate resilient forms of water management will be a critical enabler of the clean energy transition.

In 2017, the International Energy Agency published a special report on the ‘Water-Energy Nexus’. The report explored the interconnections between water and energy and concluded that not only are water and energy deeply interconnected, but their interdependency is set to intensify in the coming years, with significant implications for both energy and water security. Each resource faces rising demands and constraints in many regions as a consequence of economic and population growth and climate change.

For example, the report finds that over the next 25 years, the amount of energy used in the water sector will more than double, mostly as a result of the expansion of energy intensive desalination projects. By 2040, it is expected that these desalination projects will account for 20% of water-related electricity demand. In addition, large-scale water transfer projects as well as increasing demand for wastewater treatment also contribute to the water sector’s rising energy needs. Currently the water sector accounts for some 4% of global electricity consumption, although this varies from around 3% in the United States to around 9% in the Middle East.

In the context of the energy transition, leading solutions for the energy storage needed for renewable power networks, pumped storage hydropower, lithium batteries and green hydrogen, are predominantly sourced by water. Despite the existence of these interconnections, there remain many knowledge gaps, risks, and opportunities related to the water-energy nexus. In the Nationally Determined Contributions (commitments made by countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions), there is as yet little attention for  the water dependency of clean energy measures, potentially putting the delivery of those measures at risk. Very little climate adaptation finance and action is targeted to the water resilience of the energy sector.

UN-Water and the International Universities Climate Alliance have undertaken a joint study to assess the scale and effect of the water dependency of various mitigation measures at the global level, particularly including those of the clean energy transition, and will present their findings at this event. They will also call for additional research to support national level assessments on the water-clean energy nexus and identification of opportunities to improve integration of water in climate mitigation plans in the next round of NDCs (2025).

Speaking at the event, Ms. Elke Hüttner, the Head of Department of Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure at GIZ highlighted the fact that water is a key lever for the clean energy transition and across different aspects of climate mitigation, with water-related measures accounting for at least 10% of man-made emissions. She is in favour of promoting water management as a resilience multiplier to achieve our climate adaptation and mitigation goals as well as a just energy transition.  She called for action to mainstream water in global energy and climate discourse. Without this, she said, the world cannot achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C or to feed the world in the coming decades. Furthermore, she noted that realizing this in practice will require alliances across government, society, and the private sector and across the water, energy and climate sectors.