Energy and water

Water is necessary to energy production, just like energy is necessary to water production

Water production and energy production are strongly intertwined

In many regions of the world, water consumption offsets the capacity of resources to generate. It then becomes necessary to draw water deeper, to desalinate sea water, to recycle wastewater or even to consider inter-basin transfers, which generates a higher demand for energy. Simultaneously, reducing energy consumption has become a priority.

Furthermore, energy supply continuity is essential for water production. In Niger, 70% of disruptions in the drinking water production are linked to electric network interruptions. In Saana, Yemen, urban water services barely provide enough water to the inhabitants because the aquifer is severely depleted. The solution could be to desalinate sea water, but the city being located 2400m above sea level, energy costs of pumping up the water would add up to the already high costs of desalination. This is an unmanageable situation in a country that lacks the necessary energy resources.


The Middle-East – North Africa (MENA) region is the most concerned with water and energy intricate interlinkages.

In one of the aridest regions in the world, water is a scarce resource and is subject to acute competition between the different sectors – domestic, industrial and agricultural. Over-harvesting depleted aquifers and reduced the quantity of reliable and less costly hydric resources. A large number of Arab countries are now forced to desalinate sea water: the MENA region accounts for over 60% of global desalination units when it only represents 5% of global population. Operating these units sensibly increases energy demand.

Moreover, agriculture is the most water-consuming sector with over 80% of the total resources used for irrigation. In these oil-rich countries, the oil industry also weighs on water consumption with water flooding and produced water. Oil refineries consume as much water as they process crude oil, with large disparities due to local regulatory constraints: 3 to 5 water barrels are necessary to produce and process one barrel (159L) of oil.

A caste study realized by Saudi Aramco shows that implementing water conservation, reuse and uptake measures in crude oil and natural gas industries could save up to 31% of total demand for industrial water in Saudi Arabia. In Oman, Petroleum Development company already reuses a large proportion of produced water.


The food industry is a major energy consumer

The food industry represents about 30% of global energy consumption and produces more than 20% of global greenhouse gas, according to the FAO’s "Energy-Smart" Food for People and Climate report published in late November 2011 as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC).

Direct use of energy in farms represents around 6 EJ (exaJoules, 6.1018 J) per year (half of which in OECD countries), excluding human work and animal traction. Energy is used in particular for pumping water. Measures for reducing water and energy consumption include the use of more fuel-efficient engines, irrigation monitoring and targeted water distribution, FAO outlines.

To go further, please refer to the section Water and Energy.

To go further, please refer to the seminar Water and Energy, a tense couple.

(Re)sources' recommendations

  • Access to energy is a prerequisite to potable water access. Without energy, there simply is no water and no development, be it economic, social or environmental.
  • The intricate interlinkage that exists between water and energy refers to human rights and must lead to a joint governance at all levels (local to international) of these essential services.

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Energy and water