After Cape Town dominated the conversation around water scarcity in the early months of this year, experts around the world have been sounding the alarms for other regions that can expect significant reductions in water supplies. In light of this conversation, a WRI Report found that countries that are currently experiencing or expecting to experience water scarcity can avoid the imminent threat by resorting to renewable energy.
In tandem with a list released by BBC detailing 11 cities that are at threat of water scarcity, the World Resources Institute (WRI) Report also listed around 40 countries that are expected to or are experiencing water scarcity. However, the report looks particularly at how an increasing demand for energy contributes to water scarcity. Around 98 percent of the world’s energy is generated through hydropower or thermoelectric power, both processes that require immense amounts of water.
The WRI Report believes that while growing demand for energy may indicate economic growth, that growth is coming at the expense of water supply. Instead, the Institute suggests that water-stressed countries resort to sources of renewable energy like solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind energy, which require little water to maintain and have zero emission release.
To better describe their suggestions, the WRI Report ranked 40 countries based on water stress and solar energy potential as well as water stress and wind energy potential. Unsurprisingly, the top 20 countries on the WRI’s list fall in the Middle East and North Africa, while the remaining 20 countries are in Asia and Pacific, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The list was not restricted to developing countries, but also included countries that were more and less developed than average.
According to the WRI’s data, Yemen, Eritrea , Saudi Arabia, Oman, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, the UAE, and Jordan are the world’s most water stressed countries with the most potential for solar energy. Mexico, Iran, and Australia also ranked in the top 20 countries that failed to strike a balance between water scarcity and potential for developing solar energy.
For war-torn countries like Yemen that continue to suffer from prolonged warfare, water scarcity seems difficult to combat. Recently, the World Bank invested $50 million in developing solar energy in Yemen. But with the civil war raging, maintaining renewable energy remains difficult.
As for the Arab Gulf, countries like Saudi Arabia have announced funneling more money into developing renewable energy, hoping to reach their goals by 2023. Other countries in the Gulf, however, may find the transition to renewable energy difficult since desalination, which is one of the most popular means of replenishing water supply, seems to be doing the trick for now. As such, some countries do not necessarily feel that investing in renewable energy is critical.
According to the WRI’s data, Andorra, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Australia, the United States, San Marino, Morocco, and China are the world’s most water-stressed countries with the most potential for wind energy. And while generating energy using wind turbines is a fairly simple process, it comes with a hefty price tag, which is why a wind-rich country like Andorra will think twice before making the switch. For the tiny European nation, importing electricity from Spain is currently cheaper than developing its own renewable energy, which is arguably why it hasn’t already made the switch.
The WRI Report also explains why hydropower or thermoelectric energy generation are such water-intensive processes. According to the Institute, hydropower, which can be found in the form of dams, converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. And with water scarcity on the rise, energy generated through hydropower processes can continue to decrease.
Thermoelectric power also requires an intense amount of water since the majority of energy produced through thermoelectric processes is created by burning fossil fuels. And since this method of energy generation only works at intense temperatures, it is essential that power plants are constantly fed with a steady water supply for cooling.
This isn’t the first time that the dwindling environmental conditions of the Middle East have been highlighted. Earlier this year, the Arab Forum for Environment and Development published a study on the declining air quality in a number of Arab cities across the region.
In India, the government has been investing in making wind energy a primary source of power, since, according to the WRI, transitioning to solar energy could save the country up to 25 percent of its water consumption.