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Clean Energy Ministerial 5 (CEM5)

12–13 May 2014, Seoul, Korea

The Energy-Water Nexus: Overview and Relevance for the CEM


Increasingly, energy policy is closely interacting with water and natural resources policy. This “nexus” has become an important part of global discussions ranging from sustainable development to national security. Informed planning for future economic development requires an explicit understanding of the multitude of connections presented by the energy-water-food nexus:

  • Water is required for energy and agriculture – from cooling of thermal power plants, hydropower, and biofuels production, to irrigation and food processing
  • Energy is required for water and agriculture – from extraction, transportation, treatment, and disposal of water, to livestock production, fertilizer, and energy for irrigating crops and transporting food to market
  • Agriculture and land-use affect energy and water – food production and land-use practices impact water quality and runoff, and some crops, plant residues, and agricultural lands are used for energy production

There are numerous examples of emerging issues that governments are grappling with. For example, climate change and extreme weather create vulnerabilities in the energy sector for production and siting of generating and transmission resources and may affect system reliability; advances in energy efficiency can lead to both energy and water savings; and off-grid technologies could support irrigation and water reliability in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. In the context of the CEM, the intersections of current initiatives and this nexus is potentially very broad and could cover a range of knowledge gaps and proposed solutions. Two potential work streams through CEM initiatives are highlighted as illustrative examples.

Sustainable Cities: A key question for municipalities is how they will address the challenge of growing water and energy demand due to urban expansion and changing water availability. Water and wastewater utilities are one of the largest energy users in municipalities, in some cases accounting for up to 30 percent of total operating costs, or even higher in some developing countries.1 Energy efficiency improvements can help reduce costs for municipalities and consumers, reduce the need for additional energy generation, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. There is significant potential for energy efficiency solutions such as pump technology, maintenance improvement, and best practices for anaerobic sewage treatment (as a potential source of energy). Similar improvements in water efficiency will decrease energy demand based on the energy requirements to convey and treat water. In addition, incentives to reduce energy costs are often low due to subsidies or low fixed-rate electricity prices, and there is a growing deficit in financial investment for infrastructure improvements. Developing and promoting policies, best practices and institutional arrangements to encourage energy efficiency and investment could help achieve energy and water savings in this sector.

Global Leap/Energy Access: More than one billion people in the world live without access to grid electricity, and most also have limited access to potable water. These households rely on hand delivery of water and farmers in these areas generally rely on manual pumps or diesel-powered pumps to irrigate their crops. Crop irrigation is often an energy access concern even in grid-connected areas, as government programs in some countries subsidize the cost of electricity to run agricultural pumps as much as 100%, leading to over usage that strains local utilities. Overcoming barriers to market deployment for technologies such as solar powered drip irrigation systems could help to address some of the energy access concerns for crop irrigation and offer potential for improved grid reliability.

View the pre-read presentation.

Discussion Topics

Overarching Themes:

  • What issues relating to energy-water-food interactions are causing uncertainty and constraining clean energy development and investment in various countries?
  • What knowledge gaps exist in the energy-water-food nexus that the CEM could help identify and address?
  • How can national energy strategies and global development plans take account of the current and projected future constraints imposed by the energy-water-food nexus?

Sustainable Cities:

  • What policies or best practices can provide incentives for reductions in water and wastewater utility operating cost through energy efficiency improvements?
  • What policies, best practices, or institutional arrangements can lower risk for private sector investment in efficiency improvements for water and wastewater utilities?
  • What examples from CEM countries can be held up as case studies of innovative technologies and policies in municipalities for energy and water savings?

Global Leap / Energy Access:

  • What are the potential benefits to grid reliability by replacing grid powered irrigation systems with off-grid irrigation technologies?
  • What steps should be taken to scale up off-grid technologies such as solar drip powered irrigation systems, particularly in regions such as South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa?

Other CEM Initiatives:

  • 21stCPP: How might water availability and quality issues affect power system reliability, and are there more resilient pathways, considering the energy-water nexus, within the broader power sector planning?
  • CCUS: What are the implications on water demand and possible constraints of transitioning coal- or natural gas-fired power plants to CCUS? What are the possible technology options for reduced water usage?
  • GSEP: What are the opportunities for energy-water savings through energy efficiency improvements in industrial facilities – particularly for water-intensive industrial processes – on both the supply and demand side?
  • SEAD: What policies, standards, or best practices can provide incentives for reductions in water use through appliances?

1 World Bank, 2012: “A Primer on Energy Efficiency for Municipal Water and Wastewater Utilities.”