- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Center Team Advances Vital Research at Intersection of Water and Energy

| Winter 2012-2013

Two years ago, Venkatesh (Venky) Narayanamurti and Laura Diaz Anadon, director and associate director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy program, set the stage for the Center’s energy research team to zero in on the challenges facing energy and the natural resource essential to it in many countries around the world—water.

“Water is critical for energy and energy is critical for water,” said Anadon, who directs the Center’s Energy Technology Innovation Policy research team. She and Narayanamurti determined that ETIP’s goal for the Water/ Energy Nexus (WEN) project would be “to quantify challenges posed by the coupling between water and energy systems in key areas around the world and to determine what technology, government structures, and policies can address these challenges.”

With a team that has grown to five engineers, a political scientist, and an architect, ETIP is focusing its efforts on three geo- graphic areas: the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) countries, China, and the United States. The two central issues for each of these areas is the availability of sufficient water for various energy, industrial, and residential needs, and the environmental impacts of using that water.

In the effort to obtain more water, one dilemma facing a number of countries is the trade-off between desalination and water reuse. Many countries in MENA, for example, use desalination as a way to increase the water supply. A recent paper from the team found that it would make more sense (economically and environmentally) for some countries to increase their reliance on treated municipal and industrial water, a method that has proven effective and much less energy intensive than desalination.

In China, water resources are scarce in the North, where most energy development takes place. The WEN team, working in China jointly with the Sustainability Science Pro- gram, is looking at quantifying the impact on water availability of energy development plans and also the impact of different water allocation structures at the central and provincial government levels.

In the United States, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction has presented a new set of challenges at the water/energy nexus. In water scarce regions, the growing demand for frac fluids is putting pressure on existing water supplies. ETIP researchers are working to assess the water-related impacts of hydraulic fracturing, assess the emerging technologies and drilling practices to mitigate these impacts, and identify company behaviors that encourage adoption of these technologies. Additionally, the team has investigated the regional water implications of alternative formulations of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Wilke, Sharon. Center Team Advances Vital Research at Intersection of Water and Energy.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Winter 2012-2013).

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