What happens when you don’t turn the lights off when you leave a room? Next month’s electricity bill will increase — and your water payment will jump, too. Not many people realize the link between water and electricity. It’s one that impacts the planet in many ways.

Check out why we need water for electricity.

Light bulbs. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

Electricity Generation From Start to Finish

Have you ever thought about how energy turns into electricity? It’s an intensive process that requires many moving parts, including rotors to stators and everything in between. There’s also a need for water. This resource plays a vital role throughout various stages:

  • Production: Two types of power plants, called thermoelectric and hydroelectric, use steam and moving water to produce electricity.
  • Extraction, refining and processing: Manufacturers require water to extract, refine and process fossil fuels like gas and coal that create electricity.
  • Transportation: It’s necessary to use water to move coal through pipelines.
  • Cooling: Operators have to cool down equipment, which means they have to keep cold water handy.

From beginning to end, you can see that water has a crucial part in electricity generation.

Average Water Withdrawal Amounts

If you think about how much water exists across the planet, you might not be too concerned about how much water electricity requires. After all, 70% of Earth’s surface contains water. However, you should know that energy demands excessive water withdrawal amounts.

It turns out that the U.S. energy sector takes around 58 trillion gallons from lakes and rivers to produce power. That’s a substantial figure, especially when you consider that freshwater remains a significant source. This resource won’t always be available.

Can We Switch to Other Resources?

There are already concerns associated with drinking water, so you can see how freshwater extraction creates a problem. Other issues exist, too. Manufacturers typically return water to the source at warmer temperatures, which impacts the surrounding environment. Hydropower has some green benefits — but they come at environmental and social costs.

It’s evident that we need water for electricity. If you consider how the U.S. still mainly uses fossil fuels for power, you can see that changes are necessary. Alternatives like solar and wind rely on little to no water at all. But until they become more widespread, we should simultaneously focus on improvements to our current generation process.

Ways to Use Water More Efficiently

There are ways to use water more responsibly. Currently, we have to look at options that reduce our dependence. It’s not feasible for everyone to switch to solar and wind, so we need to examine conservation methods.

Rather than extract so much water for electricity generation, the U.S. could use naturally-occurring “blue energy” from river deltas. This area where the river and ocean meet creates energy through saltwater and freshwater fusion. It looks promising, as we wouldn’t have to remove any water from the source to generate electricity.

It also might be possible to cool power plants without water. Countries have already experimented with “dry cooling,” which uses fan systems to remove heat from the air. This choice proves to be energy-intensive — but we have to consider all possibilities.

Science continues to develop. These are only two ways to alter our electricity generation process to become more conscious. There’s no denying that water will always play a part in energy production. It’s just how we use our resources that counts.

We Need Water for Electricity, but We Can Do Better

There’s a need for water in nearly every step during the electricity generation process. It’s an undeniably powerful resource. However, we also have to think about the downsides — and water has many. If we can improve the link between water and electricity, we’ll create a more sustainable planet.


Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.