Water and energy consumption

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The plumes of vented cooling water steaming from the two towers at the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Byron, Illinois, can be seen for miles around. Seeing the plumes can serve to remind us of the close link between our energy consumption and water consumption.

The National Geographic website water use quiz reveals some additional facts about the link between energy and water consumption.

Our power plants account for about 40 percent of fresh water withdrawals from rivers, lakes and stream. Agricultural withdrawals are a close second, accounting for nearly the same amount. Each gallon of gasoline refined from crude oil requires at least 2.8 gallons of water. Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) for natural gas is also water consumptive, particularly at the local level.

According to estimates by the International Energy Agency, the amount of fresh water consumed for world energy production could double over the next 25 years. The two biggest sources of global water demand are increased production of coal-fired electricity and increased biofuel production. Increased recycling of water could reduce the consumption from these sources.

Increasing energy and water demands in a resource-constrained world, along with citizen expectations of a higher standard of living and growing numbers of people are just some of the challenges ahead of us.

Some citizens have demonstrated their interest in water quality along the Rock River by participating in the annual cleanup. This successful effort should go beyond cleaning up the debris to devising strategies to reduce its occurrence. The Rock River Trail Initiative deserves additional support to address water quality issues in the watershed.

We can all benefit from more effective efforts at reducing water consumption. Our communities need more green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable pavers, slightly sunken gardens, and tree street plantings to retain some storm water and allow it to soak into the ground. The water could be used for gardening, watering lawns, and washing off driveways and patios.

Retention ponds strategically placed around the city can help reduce runoff. To keep the sites aerated, floating solar water pumps could be installed.

While all the actions suggested will not eliminate storm water runoff, they could be an effective means to reduce the problem. Philadelphia has a Green Cities Clean Water program that demonstrates the effectiveness of a community-wide effort.

Other forms of citizen actions could occur within our homes. Fixing water leaks, installing low-flow faucets, shower heads and toilets, using front-loading washing machines, drying clothes on lines and racks, and buying Energy Star appliances are ways to cut energy and water consumption.

Up to 75 percent of the operating cost of supplying water to a community is attributable to energy use. Reducing water consumption saves money for both individuals and communities.

Seeing the plumes from our local power plant can stimulate us to upgrade our energy efficiency investments and install renewable energy sources, which do not use water for cooling. The plumes are a constant reminder of the important link between our consumption of energy and water.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Sept. 17-23, 2014, issue

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