Beyond the Energy-Water-Food Nexus

Beyond the Energy-Water-Food Nexus

by Will Sarni


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910174470
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 06/01/2015
Series: DoShorts Series
Pages: 73
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 11.60(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

William Sarni has over 30 years of experience providing sustainability and environmental consulting services to global companies such as BASF, Cisco Systems, EMC and Sodexo. He is based in based in Denver, Colorado and is also the author of Greening Brownfields (McGraw-Hill, 2009).

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Beyond the Energy-Water-Food Nexus

New Strategies for 21st-Century Growth

By William Sarni

Do Sustainability

Copyright © 2015 William Sarni
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-910174-47-0


What is the Nexus? Meeting the Energy, Water and Food Needs of 9 Billion People

THE ENERGY–WATER–FOOD NEXUS is really a collision of systems creating a more complex set of relationships, challenges and opportunities (Figure 1). Each of these systems is complex on its own, and the linkages between them make the nexus significantly more intricate still.

The food system consists of the activities, resources and people involved in bringing food from the farm to the table, including but not limited to the following:

• Growing and harvesting crops.

• Breeding, housing, feeding and slaughtering animals for food.

• Catching and harvesting aquatic plants and animals for food.

• Processing raw plant and animal materials into retail products.

• Transporting feed, animals, produce and other goods.

• Storing and selling products at retail outlets.

• Preparing and eating food.

• The land, labor, soil, energy, animals, seeds and other resources involved in making the aforementioned activities possible.

The water system provides water for human use as well as for ecosystems as a whole. Water is a local issue, with the watershed or catchment the local "unit." Watersheds are numerous: according to the US Geological Survey (USGS) there are over 2,264 watersheds in the continental United States alone. This water is often moved around within and between watersheds in order to meet the needs of individuals and communities; and in some cases we dramatically alter water systems to better meet our agricultural, municipal, commercial, industrial and energy production needs.

The overarching energy system includes not only the systems required to generate, transmit and distribute electricity, but also the systems needed to produce and distribute transportation fuels. Electricity is generated either at a power plant fueled by fossil fuels or nuclear fission, or by lower-impact sources, including hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal. The aspects of the energy system involved in producing transportation fuels include producing, refining and distributing oil and natural gas, as well as producing and processing feedstocks for biofuels, for example the maize used to produce ethanol.

As noted above, while each of these systems is complex on its own, the interactions among them are where the larger stresses arise.

Food and water

Food production and processing is an immense source of water consumption, with crop irrigation alone accounting for about 40% of all of the water withdrawals in the United States (and in states such as California as much as 80% cent of water use). Irrigation competes with other major water uses such as manufacturing, power plant cooling, municipal drinking water and fossil fuel production. These water resources can be additionally strained during droughts, causing problems for farmers who rely on irrigation of their crops. Agricultural water use can also negatively affect watersheds through runoff from fertilizers, pesticides and manure from farms and feedlots polluting local water resources.

Water and energy

Generating energy from fossil fuels requires large amounts of water, primarily for cooling – although once-through generation processes actually consume only small amounts, recycling water through cooling towers for reuse. Nearly half of all water withdrawals in the United States are used for power plant cooling. The hundreds of large-scale power plants across the United States together withdraw 58 billion gallons of water from the ocean and 143 billion gallons of freshwater each day. This dependence is why most power plants are located near rivers, lakes or the ocean.

As with food and water, droughts and other water shortages also affect power plants. When surface water levels drop, they can lose their access to cooling water and have to reduce or shut down operations. When the weather is warmer or drier, the bodies of water that supply power plants may face temperature increases that hamper cooling processes or harm the ecology of that water system.

Food and energy

The connection between food and water is clear, but the ties between food and energy became much stronger with the "green revolution" in farming between the 1940s and 1970s. The technology and industrialization underlying the green revolution have increased the energy needs of farming and food production along the entire process of getting food from farm to table. Among the energy-intensive activities of modern agriculture are fertilizer production, water pumping, farm equipment operation, food processing and packaging and food and livestock transportation.

Population growth and associated problems are increasing the stresses upon each of the elements of the energy–water–food nexus, as well as the connections between them. Statistics compiled by the United Nations indicate that these stresses are only going to increase as the global population grows:

• The global population is expected to increase to about 9.1 billion by 2050.

• The average growth rate per year from 2006 to 2050 is projected to be 0.75%.

• In sub-Saharan Africa and Near East Africa growth is projected to be respectively 1.92% and 1.19% per year.


Global Trends in Energy, Water and Food

THE DEMANDS FOR WATER, ENERGY AND FOOD are growing unabated. To understand the solutions to the threats to the energy–water–food nexus we need to first understand these global demands in greater detail.

2.1 Energy

The demand for energy has been increasing and is projected to continue for the foreseeable future. This should come as no surprise, since the need for energy is driven by the same factors that are driving the demand for water and food. Like water and food, the energy sector is being transformed through technology innovation, led to a large degree by a need to meet demand and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel energy sources.

As with water and food, population and income growth are the key factors behind growing demand for energy. By 2030, world population is projected to reach 8.3 billion, which means an additional 1.3 billion people will need energy; and world income in 2030 is expected to be roughly double the 2011 level in real terms. In response, global primary energy consumption is projected to grow by 1.6% per annum (p.a.) from 2011 to 2030, adding 36% to global consumption by 2030. The growth rate itself declines, from 2.5% p.a. from 2000 to 2010, to 2.1% p.a. for 2010 to 2020, and 1.3% p.a. from 2020 to 2030.

Demand for energy will not be evenly distributed. Low- and medium-income economies outside the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) account for over 90% of population growth to 2030, and as a result of their rapid industrialization, urbanization and motorization, these economies will also contribute 70% of the global GDP growth and over 90% of the growth in global energy demand (Figure 2).

Some key takeaways from this chart:

• Almost all (93%) of the growth in energy consumption will be in non-OECD countries, with energy consumption in 2030 61% above the 2011 level, growing by an average of 2.5% p.a. (or 1.5% p.a. per capita).

• Non-OECD countries account for 65% of world consumption in 2030, compared to 53% in 2011. OECD energy consumption in 2030 is just 6% higher than in 2011 (0.3 energy – water – food % p.a.), and will decline by about 0.2% p.a. per capita from 2011 to 2030.

• Energy used for power generation will grow by 49% (2.1% p.a.) from 2011 to 2030, and will account for 57% of global primary energy growth. The primary energy used directly in industry will grow by 31% (1.4% p.a.), accounting for 25% of the growth of primary energy consumption.

• The fastest growing fuels will be renewable (including biofuels), averaging 7.6% p.a. 2011 to 2030. Nuclear and hydro both grow faster than total energy (2.6 and 2.0% p.a., respectively). Among fossil fuels, gas grows the fastest (2.0% p.a.), followed by coal (1.2% p.a.), and oil (0.8% p.a.).

2.2 Water

As mentioned above, almost 1 billion people don't have access to safe water and over 2.5 billion don't have access to sanitation and hygiene. Why is it that there are so many globally that don't have access to safe water and sanitation?

Let's first examine the issue of water scarcity and access to safe water. JP Morgan Global Equity Research framed the reasons for water scarcity in a report titled "Watching Water" published in 2008:

Population growth and increasing food needs (the rise of the middle class). The current global population recently crossed 7 billion (at the time of the JP Morgan report it was about 6.4 billion) and is increasing by about 70 million people per year, with most of the growth in emerging economies. The global population is expected to reach 8.1 billion by 2030 and 8.9 billion by 2050. While growth in OECD countries is expected to remain relatively flat, the population of the United States is expected to increase from 320 million at the end of 2014 to 370 million by 2030.

Urbanization. More than half of the global population now lives in cities, and increasing urbanization results in increased industrialization and increased water use.

Climate change. Climate change will alter hydrologic cycles on both a regional and local level. The long-term and short-term availability of freshwater will be altered along with changes in water quality, for instance water temperature, increased dissolved constituents, and others.

A 2030 Water Resources Group (WRG) report, "Watching Our Water Future," also provided a view of water scarcity, globally and within selected regions.

WRG concluded that "there is little indication that, left to its own devices, the water sector will come to a sustainable, cost-effective solution to meet the growing water requirements implied by economic and population growth." This is not an encouraging prognosis for the future considering the increasing demand for water by both the public and private sectors.

The report makes the key points that, in the world of water resources, economic data are insufficient, management is often opaque and stakeholders are insufficiently linked. This also sums up the challenge of the energy, water and food nexus.

WRG lays out scenarios for water supply, water demand and the "water gap" on a regional scale. This gap will play a critical role in how businesses address the risk and opportunities for them. The report concludes that by 2030, assuming an average growth scenario and if no efficiency gains are realized, global water requirements will grow from 4,500 billion m to 6,900 billion m – about 40% above current accessible and reliable supplies.

The 40% gap is driven by global economic growth and development. Agriculture makes up the majority of this global water demand with current use at about 71% of total demand. By 2030, the WRG expects that agriculture's total water use will increase, but with faster population growth its share will decline slightly to 65% of total demand. Industrial demand is currently 16%, with a projected increase to 22% by 2030. Domestic water demand will decrease slightly from 14% to 12% by 2030.

The key concern in the WRG forecast is how to close the projected gap between business as usual and estimated increases in supply and water efficiency. For example, historical improvements in water efficiency in agriculture reveal only about 1% improvement between 1990 and 2004. There has been a similar rate of improvement in the industrial sector. If we project these rates of efficiency improvements to 2030, we would only meet about 20% of this 40% gap. If we assume a 20% increase in supply we would still have a remaining 60% of demand unmet.

A few of the conclusions the WRG outlines in its report:

• Agricultural productivity is a fundamental part of the solution to closing the water gap since the agricultural sector makes the greatest demands on global water use and water efficiency is one of the key low-cost technology solutions.

• Industrial and municipal productivity is just as critical as agricultural productivity improvements.

• There is a link between quality and quantity of water.

• Most solutions require cross-sector tradeoffs such as increased irrigation to promote agricultural productivity and resultant increases in energy use.

2.3 Food

No other resource feels the squeeze from water scarcity and quality and energy needs like food production. The world has made significant progress in raising food consumption per person, in terms of kcal/person/day – the key variable used for measuring and evaluating the evolution of the world food needs. In the last three and a half decades, consumption increased from an average of 2,370 kcal/person/day to 2,770 kcal/person/day. This growth was accompanied by significant structural changes, as diets shifted toward more livestock products and vegetable oils, and away from staples such as roots and tubers.

These increases in population and economic growth will drive dietary changes. For example, total food consumption globally, as measured in kcal/person/day, is projected to increase from 2,373 in 1969/1971 to 3,070 by 2050. In developing countries the growth is projected to be from 2,056 in 1969/1971 to 2,572 in 2050. Below are some of the current and projected changes in diets.

Cereals are currently the most important source of total food consumption in developing countries (their direct food consumption provides 53% of total calories) and the world as a whole (49%).

Roots, tubers and plantains have traditionally been the mainstay of food consumption in several countries with low to middle levels of overall food consumption, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Ten countries depend on these products for over 30% of food consumption in terms of calories and another six for 20 to 30%, all 16 in sub-Saharan Africa.

• World average sugar consumption per capita has been nearly constant over several decades, but rising in the developing countries and falling in the developed countries.

• The other major commodity group with very high consumption growth in the developing countries has been vegetable oils. The rapid growth in consumption, in combination with the high calorie content of oils and other oil-crop products, have been instrumental in bringing about the increases in apparent food consumption (in kcal/person/day) of the developing countries that characterized past progress in achieving food security.

• The growth of world milk production and consumption has been less buoyant than that of meat. World per capita consumption is currently 83 kg per year, up from 77 kg 30 years ago. All of the increase in per capita consumption came from the developing countries (from 37 kg to 52 kg), with China playing a major role in the last few years.


How Did We Get Here? What is Not Working?

NOW THAT WE HAVE A FEEL for the major drivers in water, food and energy, the way to get to solutions to the nexus is by first understanding how we got here. And "here" is not a good place to be, facing increased scarcity and stress on resources, as well as an inability to meet the needs of a growing global population.

3.1 Silo thinking

When there is a real or perceived abundance there are few, if any, incentives to think beyond the silo in which you operate. If you are in the water industry and supplies are abundant, then there is no need to understand how the energy and food sector may need the water you are using. Same with energy: if you are in the power generation or oil and gas sectors there is no need to understand demands from the agricultural sector. Historically, this has often been the case.

This is now changing.

As a result of increased competition for resources, coupled with innovation driven by scarcity and an awareness of sustainability and resilience, the silos are breaking down.

Two energy companies offer good examples of moving beyond silo thinking within the power generation sector: EDF and Southern Company.

The EDF Group, one of the leaders in the energy market in Europe, is an integrated energy company, active in generation, transmission, distribution, energy supply and trading. For many years, the EDF Group has been deeply involved in water issues: water resources forecast and management, water quality, fish migration, sediment transportation.

In order to optimize and balance water allocation between energy generation and water's many other uses in France's Durance Valle – including agriculture, tourism, flood control and drinking water – as well as to prepare for future water demand from these and other uses, EDF implemented an innovative solution.

In 2000, the company signed a six-year Water Saving Convention along with the two main irrigation users in the valley, with a goal of saving 44 million m of water, with EDF offering financial incentives to reach the target. The saved water could then be used to generate additional energy during peak demand times.

The program was so successful that in 2003 the participants raised the savings target to 65 million m, and then in 2006 to 90 million m. As a result, annual agricultural water consumption decreased from 310 million m in 1997 to 201 million m in 2006.


Excerpted from Beyond the Energy-Water-Food Nexus by William Sarni. Copyright © 2015 William Sarni. Excerpted by permission of Do Sustainability.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction1. What is the nexus? Meeting the energy, water and food needs of 9 billion people2. Global trends in energy, water and food3. How did we get here? What is not working? 3.1 Silo thinking 3.2 Public policy 3.3 Market failure4. What has to change? 4.1 Decoupling growth from resource use 4.2 Moving out of the silos – What do solutions look like? 4.3 Integrated solutions in the utility sectors 5. Twenty-first-century thinking: A new framework with new rules 6. Closing thoughts: Abandon business as usualReferences

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