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Energy & Water: What’s the Connection and Why Should We Care?

Water is a component of every energy production system. Besides using it as a renewable energy source—hydro-electric dams—water is a key component of:

  • Powerplants: Water is used to power steam turbines and to cool the steam.
  • Natural gas extraction: Water is used during the drilling and fracturing of wells.
  • Coal extraction: Water is used to mine and clean coal.
  • Renewable energy: Cleaning solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Rare earth element extraction: Mining materials to make solar panels and turbines. 

When you turn on the lights in your home, charge your cell phone, or run the vacuum, you aren’t directly using water. However, each of these actions uses electricity, and producing electricity requires large amounts of water use. When accounting for the water used to produce electricity, the simple action of charging a phone can take up to 2 to 4 tablespoons of water to charge. 

Renewable Energy Brings Decrease in Water Usage

In the United States energy production is seeing a shift away from coal to more natural gas and renewable energy. This transition is bringing with it a decrease in water usage; natural gas power plants are much more efficient from a water use perspective than coal plants and renewable energy even more efficient still. With increasing impacts of climate change, the added risks of water contamination and rising water temperatures preventing water from being used to cool power plants are a real threat to electricity grid stability. The good news is that as technology advances, more renewable energy sources are brought online, decreasing the reliance on water cooled fossil fuels for electricity. One state that serves as a prime example of how renewable energy sources can help combat climate change is Indiana. While being known as a coal plant hub and steel manufacturing leader, Indiana is quietly becoming a leader in renewable energy projects; currently they have the 4th most active renewable projects of any state.

With the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, companies have been seeking out locations in Indiana, because of their renewable energy innovations as they shift to implementing greener strategies. Greener energy doesn’t mean that there aren’t still drawbacks, but places like Indiana continue their desire to reduce water waste and reduce cost.

Find out what methods they are implementing by listening to the Boiler Up! Water and Energy in Indiana podcast with The Collective Tap.

Visit our Center for Climate Solutions to learn about equitable solutions we are delivering to address the impacts of our changing climate.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Andrew "AJ" Kondash (Research Environmental Scientist) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.