EU Science Hub

Projected fresh water use from the European energy sector

Abstract: 
Although most of the Earth is covered with water, the share of fresh water is only around 2%. Currently different sectors of the economy compete for the use of fresh water resources, and by 2030 increasing demands may lead to 40% global water supply shortage (European Commission, 2012). Total water withdrawal in the EU in 2000 was above 260 billion m3 (World Energy Council, 2010) and around one third of this water was withdrawn for energy purposes. During the last years shortages in the available water resources are affecting the operation of the energy system across Europe (e.g. reducing the output of power plants). This study is a first attempt to quantify in detail, by sector and by location, the amount of water currently used by the EU energy system, as well as the expected energy-related water demands up to 2050. These estimations are intended to be used in energy modelling analyses supporting the design of energy and environmental policies. The conclusions of this research show that the water withdrawn by the EU energy sector in 2015 amounted to 74 billion m3. The withdrawals are expected to decrease to 46 billion m3 by 2050 as a result of the increasing penetration of renewable energy sources and the decrease of coal and nuclear power generation. In 2015 more than two thirds of the water withdrawn in the EU was used for energy transformations, mostly in power plants, while the remainder was used for energy production. This ratio is expected to change to 80% and 20% respectively by 2050. The use of water by renewable energy sources is very small or even negligible. Around 5% of the water withdrawals are actually consumed. In 2015 the EU energy sector consumed 3.8 billion m3, and by 2050 consumption is expected to decrease up to 2.7 billion m3. The most critical regions in Europe as regards energy-related water use are those with nuclear power plants or those containing both coal mines and coal power plants.
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