Energy, water and food must be looked at holistically, not in isolation

World Energy Congress, Istanbul, Turkey, 12 October 2016: Energy is inextricably linked to water and food, and all three are crucial to human existence however, the debate in the global energy business often overlooks this nexus, agreed panellists at the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul.

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Water is a critical component of not only agriculture but also electricity production. Ninety-eight percent of electricity directly depends on water, from the extraction of primary energy sources such as oil and gas, to hydroelectric dams and river run-offs.

“The world is on the wrong track with water use and we need to get back to a holistic appreciation of water and its interaction with energy and life,” said Jason Drew, CEO, AgriProtein, a South African company that turns organic food waste into reusable proteins in a process that uses almost no water.

“The cost of not doing something about water is unimaginable. Unfortunately, there is not a regular and clear policy around the world. There is no decision taken seriously,” said Matar Al Neyadi, the UAE’s Undersecretary at the Ministry of Energy and Vice Chair for the Gulf States/Middle East at the World Energy Council.

Maria Neira, Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants, WHO, said,“We need to work on these essential pillars of clean energy, clean water and clean air. Clean air is the next human disaster on the horizon.”

Guillermo Bravo Mancheno, Senior Vice President, Abengoa, believes that governments should do more to promote investment.“We know we need energy and investment. We have to elevate policies and governments to promote framework in the private sector… to engage people and communicate that this is sustainable for them and they should encourage it and pay for it.”

A World Energy Council report called “The road to resilience – managing the risks of the energy-water-food nexus,” prepared in collaboration with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and Marsh & McLennan, is the first in a series that addresses the need for more investment and system change to combat the new emerging risks, including extreme weather, the energy-water-food nexus and cyber risks.

Key findings of the report:

1. Energy is the second-largest freshwater user after agriculture. It is used all along the energy value chain from primary energy production to power generation.

2. The risks posed by the energy-water-food nexus will expand because of growing demand. Some currently water-stressed regions could see significant economic development, population growth and changing consumption patterns, all increasing demand.

3. Alongside growing demand, increasing uncertainty about water availability and quality will further increase the significance of risks posed by the nexus.

4. From 2014 to 2069, reductions in usable water capacity could impact 60% of the 24,515 hydropower plants analysed and more than 80% of the 1,427 thermoelectric plants.

5. In many cases, location-specific knowledge on water issues and modelling tools to adequately reflect risks posed by the nexus in energy infrastructure investment decisions are lacking. These risks have large economic stakes. In 2015, Brazil’s hydropower facilities were hit by losses of more than US$4.3 billion due to energy and water rationing during drought.

6. The risks posed by the nexus are often made worse by the lack of sound water governance such as well-defined water rights for competing users, water pricing and trading arrangements.

7. Cross-border cooperation is key. 261 international trans-boundary basins cover 45% of the Earth’s land surface, serve 40% of the world’s population and provide 60% of the Earth’s entire freshwater. This affects the operation of planned and proposed energy infrastructures, and there is a need to ensure that adequate cross-border water management frameworks are in place.


News release based on the session Energy-water-food nexus at the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul