News Feature | March 18, 2014

Water Shortages Could Mean Power Outages For Britain

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

ukpowerreg

Britain is at risk of losing electricity in large sections of the country as a result of water shortages, according to a study by top academics from Newcastle and Oxford University.

"In just a few decades some power stations may be forced to decrease production or shut down due to water shortages, which may be expected with changes in climate and a growing population. It is vital that policymakers seriously consider the levels of water use across different potential energy pathways, giving credit to those options that maintain the UK’s water security," Ed Byers of Newcastle University said in an announcement

The matter might not feel urgent, but it is. "It is difficult to fathom that we should start to think about water shortages in the middle of these storms, but only two years ago areas of Britain were suffering from severe droughts," Byers said to The Guardian

"The high dependency on water in electricity generation means there is a real possibility that in just a few decades some power stations may be forced to decrease production or shut down if there are water shortages, which may be expected with changes in climate and a growing population," he said.

The researchers investigated various energy sources and their potential impact on the water supply.

"One Department of Energy and Climate Change option – of using gas or other fossil fuels with high levels of carbon capture and storage – could increase fresh water consumption by almost 70 percent," the report said. 

Using a large amount of nuclear power could "lead to increases in the use of tidal and coastal water by almost 400 percent" the report said.

Wind power could save water. "The academics conclude that a high level of wind or other renewable power technology, with a consequent reduction of other more water-intensive power systems, could result in fresh water consumption falling in the electricity sector by about 60 percent," the Guardian said. 

Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm, made similar findings last year.

"Water shortages are threatening energy output and increasing costs in some of the world's most prolific sectors including shale gas in the U.S., crude oil in the Middle East and coal in China, and the situation is set to worsen," the Wall Street Journal reported, citing the firm. 

The energy sector is the world's largest water customer, according to the report. "Huge quantities are needed to increase pressure at oil fields, in technologies like hydraulic fracturing and to upgrade coal quality," the Journal said.

Rising water demand "will pit energy companies against other users, and increase production costs significantly," the Journal said, citing the firm.

Image credit: "Electricity Showrooms, Hoxton, N1," © 2008 Ewan-M, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

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