The tricky issue of wind and water


July 28, 2014

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Energy producers in Europe use more water than farmers and the public combined.

This is an interesting fact though not a new one. The European Environment Agency reported in 2009 that the energy sector accounts for 44% of Europe’s total water use, mainly for cooling electricity generation equipment. But the European Union is surely poised to look at this more closely as concerns grow globally about water scarcity.

If European politicians take more action on water scarcity then it would be good for the wind sector. Wind farms use virtually no water, which means that owners and investors have little to fear when water costs rise and laws on water use are toughened — as they surely will be. In fact, it would help wind if water-hungry rivals like shale gas are hit hard.

This is why investors should take an interest in the European Wind Energy Association’s report, “Saving water with wind energy”, published last month. This sets out three ways that the EU should take action to drastically cut water consumption in the energy sector.

First, it should promote higher water efficiency standards in future energy policies. Second, it should promote adequate pricing of water use throughout the EU. And third, it should set binding renewable energy targets for 2030 to move away from water-intensive technology such as thermal power plants and towards technologies such as wind energy.

These are sensible objectives that deserve support from wind investors. They will create a more favourable environment for wind schemes, as well as helping the environment.

EWEA reports that, since 2012, Europe has saved enough water for 7million citizens by using wind farms rather than other more water-hungry energy sources. If wind can take a bigger market share from nuclear, gas and coal then these benefits would be multiplied.

And it makes sense to do it now as global giants like Coca-Cola, Google and Nestle are talking publicly about issues of water scarcity. You may disagree with their ethics in other areas of their businesses, but you can’t deny that they are making water waste an issue.

The other aspect of water scarcity that is of interest to the wind sector is in manufacturing, where manufacturers will use water in their production processes. Growing concerns over water capacity will force manufacturers to be more efficient how they use this resource.

For instance, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is calling for a shift in how businesses think about these issues. In its Global Water Report 2013, which was launched in October 2013, it looked at the steps that 593 corporations are taking to reduce their eater use.

Three-quarters of respondents (70%) said they saw water scarcity as a big business risk, with potential disruptions due to inadequate public infrastructure and in their supply chain. Manufacturers in the wind sector are little different than other sectors, although would face harsh criticism if see as building green products while simultaneously wasting water.

But, on balance, it’s imperative that we see the opportunities here.

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