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SEI report

Water for Electricity: Resource Scarcity, Climate Change and Business in a Finite World

This report examines the potential impact of low-carbon electricity generation technologies on water resources – and how these water considerations might shape renewable-generation choices.


Fencl, A., V. Clark, V. Mehta, D. Purkey, M. Davis and D. Yates (2012). Water for Electricity: Resource Scarcity, Climate Change and Business in a Finite World. SEI Project Report.

The need to keep climate change within safe thresholds will require rapid emission reductions, and widespread deployment of low-carbon technologies to help achieve them. Yet some low-carbon energy sources require considerable amounts of water – and given competing demands, resource depletion and projected climate impacts, sufficient water may not always be available.

This report, based on research conducted as part of a partnership between the business leaders’ initiative 3C (Combat Climate Change) and the Stockholm Environment Institute, starts by exploring the ways in which a changing climate and associated hydrologic changes may affect electricity generation strategies – in particular, where future climate change may significantly decrease water availability.

The authors then examine the water use implications of different electricity generation pathways, as well as potential ways to reduce the water use of electricity generation technologies. Finally, they provide a case study of water and energy considerations in California, a renewable-energy leader in the USA.

The goal of this report is to provide a general framing of the interplay between electricity management and water management that can inform the sort of site-specific analysis and planning that will be required to discover strategies that contribute to a low-carbon future without placing undue stress on water resources.

Download the report (PDF, 4.2MB)

Read a policy brief summarising the findings »

SEI authors

Topics and subtopics
Energy : Renewables / Water : Water resources
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