What is the Water-Energy Nexus?

Water-Energy Nexus

This nexus refers to the interdependence between energy and water systems – aka the water required to meet our energy needs and the energy required to meet our water needs. Basically, generating energy requires water, while cleaning, collecting, and moving water requires energy. More water = more energy = more emissions.

Want some fast facts?

  • Roughly 4% of all energy use in the United States is related to the movement and treatment of water for industrial and residential use.
  • 50% of the water drawn from rivers and lakes in the U.S. is used in energy production, but thankfully, only 4% of that is consumed.

Are my purchases impacted by the Water-Energy Nexus?

Yes. With every purchase you make, you’re likely contributing to high energy use at the expense of water or vice versa. For example, cotton requires 25% less energy to produce than polyester, but it also requires 9 times more water. We always try to make decisions using the most reliable, science-backed information available, but sometimes these tradeoffs require a judgment call. That’s why understanding the nuances of sustainability is so important.

Why does it matter?

Increasing populations and the impacts of global warming have made the demand for water go up, while the supply (especially in places like the American southwest) keeps going down. Our need for more water is leading to an increase in the energy we need to clean, store, and move that water. At the same time, our energy system is totally dependent on using that same water that we just used energy to get. Whether it’s a nuclear reactor (which needs water for cooling), natural gas (which needs water for extracting) or renewables like wind and solar, all energy sources have a water footprint. 

Energy and water security are extremely important for people to live safe and comfortable lives. People simply need the amenities that these resources provide: temperature-regulated homes, working appliances and outlets, clean drinking and cooking water, etc. It is vital that we take a little bit of strain off of the Water-Energy Nexus so that the two systems can keep working together in their perfect game of tug-o-war without one side collapsing.

Still want to learn more? Check out some of our favorite references: