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Nick Aster headshot

What is the Water-Energy Nexus?

By Nick Aster

Interested in going really deep on the water-energy nexus?  Take a look at this year's blogging contest to win a trip to Abu Dhabi, courtesy of Masdar.

Among the more serious issues in the sustainability conversation today are those concerning resource scarcity and the insatiable global appetite for energy.   Water, especially, has cropped into view as the most serious resource constraint of the 21st century - a "new oil" bound to define opportunity and conflict for generations.

It may not be immediately obvious, but water and energy are deeply intertwined.  Tremendous amounts of water are used in the generation of both electricity and liquid fuel - even oil requires 40l of water for every liter of oil produced (new sources like Canadian tar sands are far higher). Water-free sources of energy like photovoltaics and wind power still require large amounts of water in their manufacturing phase.

To make everything more complicated, fresh water supplies are increasingly scarce & unpredictable -  especially in the developing world.   Hence what we call the "water-energy nexus" is emerging as a key topic of conversation at all levels of government and industry.

So how do we get out of this mess?

Simply put, saving water saves energy, and vice versa.    In most cases, finding ways to use water more efficiently will also result in a savings of energy.   Maintaining awareness of this relationship can help nations and industry prioritize efficient use of both water and energy.   Whether or not doing so is a "good idea" is a moot point - it is now a necessity, and any company or country that fails to recognize this efficiency imperative is bound to start losing money and investment in time.  This goes double for areas of the world where water is scarcer than others - especially where energy intensive desalinization is needed for drinking water.

Energy and Water Fast Facts

  • The water-energy nexus is the relationship between how much water is used to generate and transmit energy, and how much energy it takes to collect, clean, move, store, and dispose of water.

  • 40% of the world’s population is expected to live in water scarce-regions by 2025.

  • 27% of the urban population in the developing world does not have piped water in its house.

  • Globally, we use 70% of our water sources for agriculture and irrigation, and only 10% on domestic uses.

  • Total electricity consumption of the water and wastewater sectors will grow 33% in the next 20 years.

  • 99.7% of all the water on earth is not available for human and animal consumption.

  • 52% of total global water desalination occurs in the Middle East.

The good news is that the water-energy nexus presents a tremendous business opportunity.  Startups around the globe have emerged to introduce new technology designed to track and measure water & energy use, modify existing technology to use less, and create brand new technology.    Governments too can encourage existing industry to evolve by pricing water and energy at realistic (read: higher) levels.


Got something to say on the topic?  Consider throwing your hat in the ring for this year's blogging contest:

Here's how to enter:

1. Write a blog post addressing the following question:

What steps can individuals, businesses or world leaders take to address the most pressing and often interrelated water and energy challenges?

2. Publish the blog post on your blog. Don’t forget to mention the contest and link to www.masdar.ae/engage to help us find your post(If you don’t have a blog, entries can be emailed to: press@masdar.ae)

3. Post a link to your story in the comment field ON THIS PAGE by December 31, 2012. 

4. Vote and Promote.  After the post has been published, tell your friends, families and readers to vote for your post at the Masdar Engage page. Use Facebook, Twitter or any other social media to get the word out. The more your post is voted for, liked, tweeted and shared, the higher it will be scored by our judging panel. NOTE: Voting closes January 3, 2013. 

After voting closes, our judging panel will make a decision based on the voting, the number of likes, shares, tweets and the overall quality of the submission. Winners will be notified by email.

For more details about the Masdar Engage blogging contest see the contest rules


Nick Aster headshot

Nick Aster is the founder of TriplePundit. Prior to launching 3p, Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years, and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He also worked for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging. Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

Read more stories by Nick Aster