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2.1.5. Interaction with other sectors

The energy sector uses significant amounts of water and land. Hence, it may be in competition with other uses of these resources, such as for agriculture and natural ecosystems. The development of adaptation strategies for the energy sector needs to consider its interactions with other sectors in in order to avoid maladaptation.

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The term energy-water nexus is used to describe the interdependence between energy and water, two key systems underpinning economic and social development worldwide (IEA, 2016a) (see Figure 2‑6). The energy sector is the world’s second largest water user after agriculture (World Energy Council, 2016). The projected rapid increase of global water consumption for energy could result in increased competition with other water users, such as agriculture and industry (IRENA, 2015). At the same time, the water sector is a major energy user, which accounts for around 4 % of global energy consumption (IEA, 2018d).

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Figure 2‑6 Energy-water nexus

Source: Authors’ compilation based on (EP, 2012).

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The interdependencies represented by the energy-water nexus are expected to intensify over time due to climate change impacts, changing consumption patterns and population growth (Eurostat, 2018c). Several studies have indicated the impacts of water stress on energy availability (Fricko et al., 2016). A growing number of river basins in Europe will be affected by water stress by 2030, with the majority of vulnerable river basins being located in the Mediterranean region (Behrens et al., 2017). The decline in thermal power generation as envisaged in most decarbonisation scenarios is expected to lead to reduced water withdrawals, but higher water consumption by the energy sector in most advanced economies (Fricko et al., 2016).

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Another relevant angle of the energy-water nexus is the importance of energy for the provision of water for a wide range of uses, which are often crucial for the health and well-being of the population. These uses include the provision of safe and clean drinking water, water desalination, wastewater treatment, and water pumping and distribution for all uses (IEA, 2018d). Water shortages coupled with stress of failure of the energy system have the potential to disrupt these vital functions.

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The water sector in Europe may be able to reduce its energy use in the future. In some cases, e.g. wastewater treatment with energy recovery and/or biogas, it may even become a net energy generator (IEA, 2018d). At the same time, energy use may increase in the most water stressed regions of Europe where desalination is increasingly used (see Section 3.5.4).

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Some energy technologies have the potential to contribute positively to this nexus, whereas others may lead to competition or conflict. For example, replacement of thermal power generation with solar PV and wind energy would decrease freshwater use per unit of energy generated (see Box 3.1). In contrast, water use for energy crops and for concentrated solar power (CSP) can be higher than for fossil power plants (see Box 2.2). Therefore, an energy strategy focussing on those energy carriers can increase competition with other water using sectors (Berrill et al., 2016).

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The energy-water nexus can also influence the choice of cooling technology for power generation. Once-through cooling systems are the cheapest and most-efficient cooling systems but require the highest water withdrawals. Dry cooling is the most expensive and least efficient technology, but it uses the least amount of water. Wet cooling towers have intermediate costs, efficiency and water needs, compared to the first two options. The level of water stress in a region can play an important role in driving the choice of the most suitable cooling technology (IEA, 2018d).

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The system implications of this nexus are important and are beginning to be taken into account by policymakers. For example, the Climate Change Risk Assessment for Cyprus (see Section 4.3.2) identified serious water-energy issues. European research is also being oriented in this area, for example through the WATERFLEX project funded under Horizon 2020 (see Section 4.2.3 for more information).

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Box 2.2 Water use of concentrated solar power

Concentrated solar power (CSP) produces electricity by concentrating solar irradiation to heat a gas or liquid, which is in turn used to drive an electrical generator. CSP is one of the most water-intensive energy production technologies (Frisvold and Marquez, 2014) due to its reliance on large quantities of water for cleaning and cooling the mirrors used in installations. This can lead to scarcity of water resources, particularly in arid regions where such facilities are likely to be situated. While CSP presents a potentially important energy source, its water intensity illustrates significant challenges for the energy-water nexus. Efforts are being made to improve the technology and reduce its water use, for example the EU-funded MinWaterCSP project. The project is developing solutions such as new cooling systems, heat transfer surfaces and mirror cleaning techniques which aim to reduce CSP water usage. Such advances in technology could reduce water evaporation losses by up to 95 % (INEA, 2018).

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The term energy-land nexus describes the interaction between energy and other land uses, such as food production or nature protection. The term energy-food nexus describe specifically the interaction between energy and food provision due to competition for arable land and/or water. These nexuses are of growing importance, because the land footprint of RES can be substantially larger than for fossil fuels, particularly for technologies such as biofuels and hydropower, but also potentially for wind energy and solar PV (UNCCD and IRENA, 2017). Bioenergy relies on plant sources for the generation of energy. Depending on the exact type of plant sources used and land types needed, this demand can either reduce available land for food production or bring marginal, non-productive agricultural land back into use. The overall emissions balance of renewable fuel crops are often unclear, especially if existing forest or other carbon rich habitat is cleared for energy crop production (Gasparatos et al., 2017). Innovative initiatives attempt to remedy conflicts between energy and other land uses. For example, agro-photovoltaics (the co-production of food and energy) can significantly increase land use efficiency (Fraunhofer ISE, 2017).

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Competition for water by food crops, energy crops and other forms of energy production leads naturally to integrate the relation of energy with food and water in the broader perspective of the energy-water-food nexus or energy-water-land nexus. In combination with considerations of human and environmental health and sustainability, this nexus has gained attention also as an overarching global sustainable development policy perspective (Leck et al., 2015).

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The cross-sectoral interactions imply that EU environmental policy legislation such as the Water Framework Directive (WFD) plays an important role for the energy sector and its adaptation to climate change (EU, 2000). The WFD emphasises the quality of hydro-morphological conditions and achieving good ecological status in all waters. This may prevent energy projects liable to influence aquatic ecosystems, such as hydropower and thermal power plants. WFD’s preamble 16 states that the energy sector must sustainably manage and protect water, with further integration into various policy areas being encouraged. The WFD requires River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) to be drawn up to protect water environments across Europe. RBMPs should highlight how climate change projections have been incorporated into projects, how monitoring programmes detect climate change impacts, and how robust selected measures are to projected climate conditions. The Floods Directive (EU, 2007) complements the WFD in the policy framework to deal with water. It requires Member States to develop Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs), focused on measures for prevention, protection and preparedness to deal with flooding in both inland and coastal water. These FRMPs are often combined with RBMPs, and coordination between the two is encouraged in the Directives.

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