Energy companies are becoming increasingly conscious of the competing demands for water from the utility sector and agriculture, according to speakers at a conference held by Shell.
With food consumption predicted to increase by 50% by 2030, the energy sector is now much more aware of the delicate relationship between water, food and energy – the so-called stress nexus.
“[The three] are so inextricably linked, that if you don’t work on them together, you don’t get to the best long-term solution,” said Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil, speaking at the firm’s Innovation Summit held in Houston, TX.
“It is important to us in terms of how we build this company’s long-term strategy,” he added.
Odum refers to the water-food-energy interconnection as the “stress nexus”, whereby water requires energy for treatment and transportation; energy requires water for production; and food production requires water and energy.
The stress nexus is most critical in countries with a higher population density, such as India and Ethiopia. And it is in these areas where energy demand is expected to more than double by 2050 that water stress levels will be highest.
According to Charles Iceland, a senior associate for markets and enterprise at the World Resources Institute, an increase in energy demand could create water stress issues for 55% of power plants in Asia.
“We are going to have to undertake large-scale adaptation to be able to manage our energy production in a quickly deteriorating water landscape,” he speaking at the conference.
But the issue is also a problem in many parts of the US, where more than 40% of irrigated crops are grown in areas with serious water shortages.
Shell says it is taking measures to improve its use of water. It has installed a water purification system at one of its plants in Qatar that produces natural gas liquids.
It also announced future plans to move towards waterless fracturing for shale production.