World Water Day: Wind power saves water

March 22, 2011

Wind power uses less water than almost any other power generation technology, the American Wind Energy Association emphasized today on U.N. World Water Day, in partnership with the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and other national industry groups worldwide.

World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of fresh water, and to advocate for sustainably managing our freshwater resources so they are there for the future.

World Water Day graphic

The wind industry calls on policy makers to take into account the water usage of most forms of energy in today's urgent decisions that will determine the world's power generation infrastructure for decades to come.

"As highlighted by the U.N. today, water scarcity is now a pressing issue in many parts of the world, and this will be exacerbated by climate change," said Steve Sawyer, GWEC's Secretary General. "Wind power can make a considerable contribution to conserving the world's valuable water resources. Unlike most other power sources, which consume huge amounts of water that could be used much more productively for human consumption and agriculture, wind power generation does not use any water."

Some 40% of the world's population already lives in water-stressed areas, and population growth and industrialization will put further pressure on water availability. Given the high levels of water use in conventional power generation, increasing power demand will aggravate the situation. As a result, global water demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 under a business-as-usual approach.

Water Intensities of Power Generation (m3/MWh)

PV – Photovoltaic; CSP – Concentrated Solar Power; NGCC – Natural Gas Combined Cycle; CT – Cooling Tower; CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage; PC – Pulverized Coal. Source: Vestas

Wind power generation actively conserves water and can help alleviate water shortages, according to research carried out by leading wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S. While conventional fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, which make up 78% of global electricity production, use water for cooling and condensing the steam that drives the turbines, wind power generation requires practically no water.

As a result, wind power can save more than 528 gallons (2,000 liters) of water per MWh of produced electricity. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 20% of wind power in the U.S. power system by 2030 would save as much as 4 trillion gallons (15 trillion liters) of water, equivalent to the annual consumption of more than 9 million U.S. citizens.

The research also shows that many parts of the world that are already or will be facing water scarcity are at the same time blessed with winds suitable for wind power production. Exploiting this rich resource would bring numerous economic and climate change benefits, and also help conserve scarce water resources, according to GWEC.

"The global power sector is the largest industrial water user, and it has to start addressing the issue of water consumption, especially in the light of rising electricity demand, and increasing droughts created by the world's changing climate. It is our responsibility to keep water consumption for power production to a minimum, so that this precious resource can be used more efficiently," concluded Sawyer. "To mitigate climate change, the power sector not only needs to become CO2 free, but also dramatically reduce its water consumption. Wind energy provides a sustainable solution to both these challenges."

For a 3-minute video of Rina Bohle Zeller of Vestas explaining the wind/water/drought connection, with further graphics and illustrations, please see www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqpsnzKCyEM

About GWEC

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) is the credible and representative forum for the entire wind energy sector atthe international level. With a combined membership of over 1,500 organizations, GWEC's members represent theentire wind energy community. GWEC's mission is to ensure that wind power establishes itself as one of the world'sleading energy sources, providing substantial environmental and economic benefits.

AWEA is the national trade association of the U.S. wind energy industry. We represent 1,000 member companies and over 100,000 jobs in the U.S. economy, serving as a powerful voice for how wind works for America. Members include global leaders in wind power and energy development, turbine manufacturing, and component and service suppliers. They gather each year at the Western Hemisphere’s largest wind power trade show, the AWEA WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition, next in Chicago, Illinois, May 7-10, 2018. Find information about wind energy on the AWEA website. Gain insight into industry issues on AWEA's blog, Into the Wind. And please join us on Facebook, and follow @AWEA on Twitter.