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MIT modeling study finds 52% of projected global population in 2050 will live in water-stressed areas

13 January 2014

A modeling study by researchers at MIT projects that 5 billion (52%) of the world’s projected 9.7 billion people in 2050 will live in water-stressed areas. The researchers also expect about 1 billion more people to be living in areas where water demand exceeds surface-water supply. A large portion of these regions already face water stress—most notably India, Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The study applies the MIT Integrated Global System Model Water Resource System (IGSM-WRS), a modeling tool with the ability to assess both changing climate and socioeconomics, allowing the researchers to isolate these two influencers.

In studying the socioeconomic changes, they find population and economic growth are responsible for most of the increased water stress. Such changes will lead to an additional 1.8 billion people globally living in water-stressed regions.

Our research highlights the substantial influence of socioeconomic growth on global water resources, potentially worsened by climate change. Developing nations are expected to face the brunt of these rising water demands, with 80% of this additional 1.8 billion living in developing countries.

—Adam Schlosser, assistant director of science research at the Joint Program on Global Change and lead author

Looking at the influence of climate change alone, the researchers find a different result. Climate change will have a greater impact on water resources in developed countries. This is because, for example, changes in precipitation patterns would limit water supplies needed for irrigation.

When researchers combine the climate and socioeconomic scenarios, a more complicated picture of future water resources emerges. For example, in India, researchers expect to see significant increases in precipitation, contributing to improved water supplies. However, India’s projected population growth and economic development will cause water demands to outstrip surface-water supply.

The MIT team plans to continue this work by focusing on specific regions and conducting more detailed analysis of future climate changes and risks to water systems. They plan to refine and add to the model as they research other regions of the globe.

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In a Hot, Thirsty Energy Business, Water Is Prized

WITH so much focus on carbon emitted from the nation’s power plants, another environmental challenge related to electricity generation is sometimes overlooked: the enormous amount of water needed to cool the power-producing equipment

In the United States almost all electric power plants, 90 percent, are thermoelectric plants, which essentially create steam to generate electricity. To cool the plants, power suppliers take 40 percent of the fresh water withdrawn nationally, 136 billion gallons daily, the United States Geological Survey estimates. This matches the amount withdrawn by the agricultural sector and is nearly four times the amount for households.

Battles for water among these competing interests are becoming more common, and power plants are not always winning. A recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed many examples from 2006 to 2012 of plants that had temporarily cut back or shut down because local water supplies were too low or too warm to cool the plant efficiently.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/business/energy-environment/in-a-hot-thirsty-energy-business-water-is-prized.html

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-09/asian-water-scarcity-risked-as-coal-fired-power-embraced.html
Inner Mongolia’s rivers are feeding China’s coal industry, turning grasslands into desert. In India, thousands of farmers have protested diverting water to coal- fired power plants, some committing suicide.

The struggle to control the world’s water is intensifying around energy supply. China and India alone plan to build $720 billion of coal-burning plants in two decades, more than twice today’s total power capacity in the U.S., International Energy Agency data show. Water will be boiled away in the new steam turbines to make electricity and flush coal residue at utilities from China Shenhua Energy Co. (1088) to India’s Tata Power Co. (TPWR) that are favoring coal over nuclear because it’s cheaper.

With China set to vaporize water equal to what flows over Niagara Falls each year, and India’s industrial water demand growing at twice the pace of agricultural or municipal use, Asia’s most populous nations will have to reconsider energy projects to avoid conflict between cities, farmers and industry.

“You’re going to have a huge issue with the competition between water, energy and food,” said Vineet Mittal, managing director of Welspun Energy Ltd., the utility unit of Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management LLC-backed Welspun Group. “Water is something everyone should be probing every chief executive about,” he said in an interview.

BTW, it's not just the water that thermal power plants normally use. That chemical spill in West Virginia which put 300,000 people under a "do not use your tap water" order was a chemical made for the coal industry - they use it to wash the coal so they can burn it;
http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-west-virginia-spill-20140112,0,7698876.story#axzz2qHToKWWU

Thanks, ai vin, for the additional info.
Hopefully, a large proportion of power generation by 2050 will be by RE and not by thermal power plants.

And let us not forget what it takes to get oil to market. For example: "Tar sands take 3 barrels of water to process every barrel of oil extracted. Ninety percent of this water becomes so toxic that it must be stored in tailing ponds."
Read more at http://livinggreenmag.com/2013/03/13/video/tar-sands-oil-extraction-the-dirty-truth/

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