Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

How do we Balance Needs Of Energy, Water, and Climate?

Published: Friday, November 15, 2013
Last Updated: Friday, November 15, 2013
Bookmark and Share
MIT study underscores need to examine trade-offs before choosing energy technologies.

In deciding how best to meet the world’s growing needs for energy, the answers depend crucially on how the question is framed. Looking for the most cost-effective path provides one set of answers; including the need to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions gives a different picture. Adding the need to address looming shortages of fresh water, it turns out, leads to a very different set of choices.

That’s one conclusion of a new study led by Mort Webster, an associate professor of engineering systems at MIT, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study, he says, makes clear that it is crucial to examine these needs together before making decisions about investments in new energy infrastructure, where choices made today could continue to affect the water and energy landscape for decades to come.

The intersection of these issues is particularly critical because of the strong contribution of the electricity-generation industry to overall greenhouse-gas emissions, and the strong dependence of most present-day generating systems on abundant supplies of water. Furthermore, while power plants are a strong contributor to climate change, one expected result of that climate change is a significant change of rainfall patterns, likely leading to regional droughts and water shortages.

Surprisingly, Webster says, this nexus is a virtually unexplored area of research. “When we started this work,” he says, “we assumed that the basic work had been done, and we were going to do something more sophisticated. But then we realized nobody had done the simple, dumb thing” — that is, looking at the fundamental question of whether assessing the three issues in tandem would produce the same set of decisions as looking at them in isolation.

The answer, they found, was a resounding no. “Would you build the same things, the same mix of technologies, to get low carbon emissions and to get low water use?” Webster asks. “No, you wouldn’t.”

In order to balance dwindling water resources against the growing need for electricity, a quite different set of choices would need to be made, he says — and some of those choices may require extensive research in areas that currently receive little attention, such as the development of power-plant cooling systems that use far less water, or none at all.

Even where the needed technologies do exist, decisions on which to use for electricity production are strongly affected by projections of future costs and regulations on carbon emissions, as well as future limits on water availability. For example, solar power is not currently cost-competitive with other sources of electricity in most locations — but when balanced against the need to reduce emissions and water consumption, it may end up as the best choice, he says.

“You need to use different cooling systems, and potentially more wind and solar energy, when you include water use than if the choice is just driven by carbon dioxide emissions alone,” Webster says.

His study focused on electricity generation in the year 2050 under three different scenarios: purely cost-based choices; with a requirement for a 75 percent reduction in carbon emissions; or with a combined requirement for emissions reduction and a 50 percent reduction in water use. 

To deal with the large uncertainties in many projections, Webster and his co-authors used a mathematical simulation in which they tried 1,000 different possibilities for each of the three scenarios, varying each of the variables randomly within the projected range of uncertainty. Some conclusions showed up across hundreds of simulations, despite the uncertainties.

Based on cost alone, coal would generate about half of the electricity, whereas under the emissions-limited scenario that would drop to about one-fifth, and under the combined limitations, it would drop to essentially zero. While nuclear power would make up about 40 percent of the mix under the emissions-limited scenario, it plays almost no role at all in either the cost-alone or the emissions-plus-water scenarios.

“We’re really targeting not just policymakers, but also the research community,” Webster says. Researchers “have thought a lot about how do we develop these low-carbon technologies, but they’ve given much less thought to how to do so with low amounts of water,” he says.

While there has been some study of the potential for air-cooling systems for power plants, so far no such plants have been built, and research on them has been limited, Webster says.

Now that they have completed this initial study, Webster and his team will look at more detailed scenarios about “how to get from here to there.” While this study looked at the mix of technologies needed in 2050, in future research they will examine the steps needed along the way to reach that point.

“What should we be doing in the next 10 years?” he asks. “We have to look at the implications all together.”


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,900+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 5,300+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Radiation-Free Imaging in the Brain
Scientists create sensors that use proteins to detect particular targets through induced blood flow changes.
Monday, December 05, 2016
New Method for Analyzing Crystal Structure
Exotic materials called photonic crystals reveal their internal characteristics with new method.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Biomarker Guiding Cancer Therapy
Biologists link levels of Mena protein to breast cancer cells’ sensitivity to chemotherapy.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Capsule Achieves Long-Term Drug Delivery
Novel drug delivery method could aid in elimination of malaria and treatment of many other diseases.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Synthetic Cells Isolate Genetic Circuits
Encapsulating molecular components in artificial membranes offers more flexibility in designing circuits.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Turning Greenhouse Gas into Gasoline
New catalyst provides design principles for producing fuels from carbon dioxide emissions.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
New Approach Against Salmonella
Researchers have developed a strategy to immunize against microbes that invade the gastrointestinal tract, including Salmonella.
Tuesday, November 08, 2016
Laser Particles Could Provide Sharper Tissue Images
New imaging technique stimulates particles to emit laser light, could create higher-resolution images.
Tuesday, November 08, 2016
Engineers Design New Weapon Against Bacteria
Researchers have successfully engineered antimicrobial peptides that can kill bacterial strains resistant to existing antibiotics.
Thursday, November 03, 2016
Predicting Cancer Cells’ Response to Chemotherapy
Researcher develop method for testing cell ability to perform different types of DNA repair, which can reveal tumors’ sensitivity to drugs.
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
Nanobionic Spinach Detects Dangerous Chemicals
Scientists have changed spinach plants into biosensors that can detect harful chemicals and wirelessly relay the information.
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
Fighting Cancer with the Power of Immunity
Researchers at MIT have used a combination of four different therapies to activate both of the immune system’s two branches, producing a coordinated attack that led to the complete disappearance of large, aggressive tumors in mice.
Friday, October 28, 2016
Fighting Cancer with Immune Response
New treatment elicits two-pronged immune response that destroys tumors in mice.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
MRIs for Fetal Health
Algorithm could help analyze fetal scans to determine whether interventions are warranted.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Mapping Serotonin in the Living Brain
Imaging technique that creates a 3D video of serotonin transport could aid antidepressant development.
Monday, October 24, 2016
Scientific News
Big Genetics in BC: The American Society for Human Genetics 2016 Meeting
Themes at this year's meeting ranged from the verification, validation, and sharing of data, to the translation of laboratory findings into actionable clinical results.
Stem Cells in Drug Discovery
Potential Source of Unlimited Human Test Cells, but Roadblocks Remain.
Cancer Genetics: Key to Diagnosis, Therapy
When applied judiciously, cancer genetics directs caregivers to the right drug at the right time, while sparing patients of unnecessary or harmful treatments.
Transporting Microscopic Cargo Between Human Cells
Scientists have developed a virus-inspired delivery system for material transport between cells.
New Form of Autism Found
An international team of researchers have identified a new form of syndromic autism.
Radiation-Free Imaging in the Brain
Scientists create sensors that use proteins to detect particular targets through induced blood flow changes.
Survey of New York City Soil Uncovers Medicine-Making Microbes
Microbes have long been an invaluable source of new drugs. And to find more, we may have to look no further than the ground beneath our feet.
BGI Sequences Gingko Tree, Revealing Large, Highly Repetitive Genome
Researchers at BGI have sequenced the more than 10-gigabase ginkgo genome to find a high number of repetitive sequences as well as a number of gene clusters that appear to be involved in defense mechanisms.
Accelerating the Detection of Foodborne Bacterial Outbreaks
The speed of diagnosis of foodborne bacterial outbreaks could be improved by a new technique developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Making Personalized Medicine a Reality
Groundbreaking technique developed at McMaster University is helping to pave the way for advances in personalized medicine.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

SELECTBIO Market Reports
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,900+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
5,300+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!