The Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3)

Across the United States, our demand for electricity is colliding with our need for healthy and abundant freshwater.

Energy and Water in a Warming World (EW3) is a collaborative effort between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of more than a dozen independent experts to build and synthesize policy-relevant research on the water demands of energy production in the context of climate variability and change.

The initiative includes core research collaborations intended to raise the national profile of the water demands of energy, along with policy-relevant energy development scenarios and regional perspectives.

This multi-year research and outreach collaboration seeks to put the water demands of energy more firmly “on the map” for U.S. policy makers and the public and to motivate low-carbon and low-water energy solutions to the energy-water collision.

National in scope, the initiative is focused primarily on the U.S. Southwest and Southeast—regions in which the water demands of energy production are particularly salient.

In addition to our diverse set of core collaborators and advisors (see below), we are engaging colleagues across relevant disciplines, geographies, and research institutions for guidance, peer review, and exchange of ideas.

EW3 Research

Focused on the electricity sector, we are addressing the following core research questions:

  • Energy-water baseline: What are the current impacts of electricity production on freshwater availability across technologies and U.S. regions?
  • Energy-water pathways: How will electricity choices over the next few decades affect water availability, quality, and energy costs across U.S. regions under unconstrained and constrained carbon budgets?
  • Regional vulnerability/risk: Which regions are at greatest risk of facing water (and/or water-related energy) shortages, and how does risk vary across scenarios and geography?
  • Solutions: For regions at risk, how does, e.g., the prioritization of low-water energy options alter risk within the system and the relative attractiveness or cost of different energy choices?

 Current EW3 Research Collaborations

  • Electricity-water baseline
    This research and report, Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource, was led by Dr. Kristen Averyt (University of Colorado Boulder, NOAA Western Water Assessment) and included colleagues at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Tufts University, UCS, Synapse Energy Economics, Western Resource Advocates, and Duke University. 

    In this work, the authors present the first systematic assessment of both power plants’ effects on water resources across the United States and the quality of information available to help public- and private-sector decision-makers make water-smart energy choices.
  • Water implications of different electricity pathways
    This research and report, Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World, is co-led by Steve Clemmer (UCS) and Dr. Averyt. Key collaborators include colleagues at NREL, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the University of Colorado - Boulder.

    This work reflects comprehensive new research on the water implications of electricity choices in the United States under a range of pathways, at national, regional, and local levels. This analysis uses the NREL ReEDS (Regional Energy Deployment System) model and the SEI WEAP (Water Evaluation Analysis and Planning) model to assess the water implications of different electricity technology and efficiency scenarios through 2050, with a particular focus on major water basins of the U.S. Southwest and Southeast.

EW3 Scientific Advisory Committee 

Providing substantive and strategic guidance to the EW3 research collaborations are the members of the EW3 Scientific Advisory Committee: Dr. Peter Frumhoff (UCS), Chair; Dr. George Hornberger (Vanderbilt University); Dr. Robert Jackson (Duke University); Dr. Robin Newmark (NREL); Dr. Jonathan Overpeck (University of Arizona); Brad Udall (University of Colorado Boulder); and Dr. Michael Webber (University of Texas at Austin).

EW3 co-managers: John Rogers and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.

Images (top; bottom): Wikimedia Commons, Arnold Paul; Nuclear Regulatory Commission

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