Water-scarcity: a prime consideration for the transition to solar power in future￼
“Water is life’s matter and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”– Albert Szent
India’s rapid economic growth in the past few years has increased the demand for energy as well as water. Therefore, the energy-water nexus is considered to be central to the country’s energy reliability & transition targets. Although, the agricultural sector along with the residential sector account for nearly 80% of the country’s water demand, water is also considered critical for electricity generation in the energy sector. Currently, the energy sector in the country is dominated by thermal/coal-based power plants that withdraw roughly 25 billion cubic metres (bcm) of water primarily for tower-cooling purpose, and this accounts for 80% of the energy sector’s total water withdrawal.
With the country planning to transition towards solar & other renewable energy sources for electricity generation in the next few decades, the water withdrawal by the energy sector is expected to drop to less than 7 billion cubic metres (bcm). This projected drop in the water withdrawal can be attributed to less water-intensive nature of solar & other renewable energy sources. Therefore, transition to large share of solar & other renewables by 2030 not only provides environmental benefits but can also relieve the water-stress/water-scarcity faced in most parts of the country. According to a report by IRENA, the water withdrawal intensity & water consumption intensity are expected to reduce by 84% & 20% respectively in 2030, with regards to 2014 baseline data. Subsequently, this can possibly ensure that large portions of the country’s population have better access to potable water.
Apart from India, countries like China & those in the GCC region are also experiencing a boom in the solar energy sector in recent times. Considering the fact that these countries also face severe water-scarcity, the transition to solar energy & other renewable energy sources can possibly be a game-changer in this aspect. Additionally, adopting certain novel techniques/methods can also minimize water usage in the operation of the solar energy plants. One such method is by migrating from the conventional wet cleaning to the dry-cleaning/robot-cleaning technique of the solar panels. This would ensure that nearly 10 billion gallons of water that is being used for panel cleaning purpose worldwide is saved every year.
It is quite evident that with the transition from water-intensive thermal energy sources to solar energy & other renewables along with the adoption of novel techniques for cleaning & maintenance, a significant amount of water-stress/water-scarcity can be overcome in the near future. This bodes well for the availability/access of potable water for the population & would also ensure a larger share of water withdrawal for water-intensive sectors such as agriculture, residential, etc. Therefore, it can be concluded that apart from technical aspects like grid-parity, the water-scarcity is also an important consideration with regards to a solar energy-powered future.