Special Report on Solar PV Global Supply Chains
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Energy and water

Exploring the interdependence of two critical resources

Energy supply depends on water. Water supply depends on energy. The interdependency of water and energy is set to intensify in the coming years, with significant implications for both energy and water security. Each resource faces rising demands and constraints in many regions because of economic and population growth and climate change.

Key findings

Global water use by the energy sector by scenario, 2016-2030

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Low-carbon doesn’t necessarily mean low water

Thermal power plants running on coal or gas are huge consumers of water, but even the fuels or technologies used to achieve the clean energy transition could, if not properly managed, increase water stress or be limited by it. Around the world, droughts have caused hydropower plants to curtail output. Some low-carbon technologies, such as wind and solar PV require very little water, others, such as biofuels, concentrating solar power (CSP), carbon capture, utilization and storage or nuclear power are relatively water-intensive. And nascent technologies such as using electrolysis to produce so-called "green" hydrogen are big water users.

An integrated approach focused on tackling climate change, delivering energy for all and reducing the impacts of air pollution (Sustainable Development Scenario) could result in lower water withdrawals in 2030 relative to today and other scenarios thanks to the increased deployment of solar PV and wind, a shift away from coal-fired power generation and energy efficiency.