Andrew Elmes of Siemens Gamesa considers the implications for power from the severe drought conditions hitting much of Europe - and how wind energy can reduce water while also meeting our energy needs.
This record-breaking heat and a few recent headlines made me remember one of the often unsung benefits of wind power that we may soon come to appreciate more.
Many parts of the world are already facing drought or are water-stressed and the UK is no exception; as climate change bites, the “jaws of death” gap, between increasing demand and more erratic supply, is set to worsen and prompted the head of the UK environmental agency to warn of an “existential threat” to our way of life as a result.
Did you know that up to half of all the water we consume goes into producing energy and electricity? Hundreds of millions of cubic metres (m3) of water abstracted every year, to be boiled, turned into steam to drive turbines, then cooled using yet more water to complete the cycle but with inevitably some lost to evaporation and requiring replacement. In fact, as water levels lower and warm, even this model (and therefore our energy security) is further at risk; with warmer water we lose efficiency in the plants, and nuclear especially has to reduce output as we are seeing right now in nuclear-dependant France
But wind turbines (and solar panels for that matter) in their daily operation use NO water; and even when taking into account their manufacture, the lifetime water footprint for wind is negligible. So how much water do you think a world of wind could save us?
I did some reckoning that I’ll throw out here; inevitably there will be better data such as from a Wind Europe study back in 2014, but while they may be more accurate, I'm sure no one is going to seriously contradict me here.
Taking an EEA median water consumption for coal of 1.9m3/MWh (not as high as nuclear but higher than gas, and coal is a good proxy for the fuel we are replacing) and the UK electricity stats from DUKES for 2021, I worked out that
last year, wind power saved us the equivalent of nigh on 50,000 Olympic swimming pools worth of Adam’s Ale!
That’s the entire volume of Rutland Water, one of our largest reservoirs!
or if you wish, 4x the volume of the Queen Mary reservoir which sits in our own Energy Secretary’s constituency of Spelthorne!
Playing that forward to the energy future we could have, and taking the electricity figures from “Leading the Way” scenario in the recent FES update, by 2035 when we need the grid to be carbon-free, home blown electricity should be saving us
or 30 Queen Mary’s
That would equate to nigh on 10% of the UK’s entire annual water abstractions!
So as we all cool down from mother nature’s latest warning, and hope for rain to alleviate the water shortage, we can reflect that renewables and especially wind and solar…
won't just save us money, as the cheapest form of electricity mankind has known;
won't just provide us energy independence and economic security, protection from malign petro states;
won't just significantly reduce our polluting of the atmosphere and warming our planet to the point of uninhabitability
but they will also free up, for our better consumption and preservation, the very compound on which all life depends!
Abusing H2O metaphors here, we’re on thin ice and in hot water; both literally and metaphorically. But we have the solutions now and indeed the technology is getting better all the time; we just need to be given the support, the infrastructure and resources to get it done!
There is much we can do as individuals, from changing energy supplier and electric appliances, to voting for the party that will best accelerate renewable electricity. But if you’re not involved in renewables or the energy transition already, why not come and be part of the change?
Water ya waiting for?