Manila Bulletin

DOE eyes deeper study and as­sess­ment of im­pact of wa­ter-food-energy nexus


The Depart­ment of Energy (DOE) is tar­get­ing to as­sess and study deeper the full im­pact of food-wa­ter-energy nexus; or what global ex­perts would re­fer to as the “link­age of a thirsty tri­an­gle.”

Energy Sec­re­tary Al­fonso G. Cusi said this was among the top­ics high­lighted dur­ing the re­cently con­cluded dis­cus­sions at the Asian Co­op­er­a­tion Di­a­logue (ACD) that he at­tended in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emi­rates last month.

“We are al­ready hav­ing grad­ual steps on ex­am­in­ing the link­age and im­pact of food-wa­ter-power nexus, but we still need to do a more com­pre­hen­sive study on this,” he stressed.

Even the United Na­tions (UN) had ac­knowl­edged though that in many coun­tries, poli­cies fo­cus­ing on the nexus are not even at start­ing point of dis­cus­sions yet. Poli­cies may have been tack­led on bits-and-bobs at each sec­tor, but the lack­ing piece in the puz­zle, is col­lab­o­ra­tive dis­cus­sions and har­mo­niz­ing in­ter­sect­ing edicts for the nexus.

In a cy­cle, wa­ter both cre­ates and con­sumes energy; while energy is also a sig­nif­i­cant wa­ter-con­sum­ing sec­tor and could be a di­rect threat to drink­ing wa­ter sup­plies and the ir­ri­ga­tion of farm­lands. And to the ex­perts, there is a third wheel that is equally im­por­tant to this link­age: the food sec­tor be­cause agri­cul­ture has al­ways been dom­i­nant in over­all wa­ter use glob­ally.

Hy­dropower alone, ac­cord­ing to data, con­trib­utes about16-per­cent of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion glob­ally; plus wa­ter is used as coolant in ther­mal power plants. It could also strip car­bon diox­ide (CO2) from the flue gases of power fa­cil­i­ties un­der the much-vaunted car­bon cap­ture and stor­age (CCS) tech­nol­ogy ap­pli­ca­tion.

In ex­treme nat­u­ral dis­as­ters like the 2011 Dai-ichi Fukusima nu­clear tragedy in Ja­pan, ex­perts fur­ther grasped the ‘in­ter­de­pen­dency of wa­ter and energy’ – of which long-term im­pacts may have yet to be es­tab­lished through the lens of sci­ence.

Data from the UN-Wa­ter As­sess­ment Pro­gram had shown that energy ac­counts for 15-per­cent of all wa­ter with­drawals glob­ally. Over­ex­ploited aquifers or dry­ing rivers and even de­crease in wa­ter flows could af­fect the vol­ume of power that can be gen­er­ated from hy­dro plants; and they also im­pact ad­versely on oil and bio­fu­els’ pro­duc­tion be­cause wa­ter is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent in the re­fin­ing process. In ar­eas where abun­dant shale gas plays had been found, threats of drought could turn into a night­mare be­cause these un­con­ven­tional gas-rich do­mains are re­ally in need of a lot of wa­ter for ex­trac­tion. The same goes for the pro­posed pro­duc­tion of oil sands. The flip side is the deeper scrutiny be­ing un­der­taken as to the im­pact of the “hy­draulic frac­tur­ing or frack­ing” for shale gas which many ex­perts sus­pect to have been pos­ing risks of con­tam­i­nat­ing wa­ter ta­bles.

Devel­op­ment of other renewable energy fa­cil­i­ties, such as geo­ther­mal in wa­ter-scarce ar­eas may also pose some prob­lems, al­though en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists are es­pous­ing that tech­nol­ogy ad­vance­ments and adop­tion of best prac­tices could ad­dress such dilem­mas. (MMV)

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