Energy Sector

With current pressures of urbanization and population growth there is a growing demand for reliable energy sources. With global electrification rates over 85 per cent (“Access to Electricity: % of Population”, The World Bank) and on the rise, electricity in particular is the world’s fasted area of growth for end-use energy consumption (International Energy Outlook 2016, IEA p. 4). Whether for residential, commercial, industrial or transportation use, the need for both electricity and thermal energy is pervasive.

Energy production requires water for cooling of thermoelectrical power plants. Generating energy also requires land resources to host physical infrastructure and to grow energy crops for biofuels. Adoption of energy efficiency measures, on-site renewable energy and green building strategies in the built environment can help reduce the amount of energy required from power utilities. However, the expanded use of electric vehicles increases the demand for utility power in lieu of petroleum fuels. Concerns over climate change and fuel shortages are driving the energy sector to install lower carbon energy sources and more efficient technologies for conventional fuels. There is great opportunity for synergy between the energy, water and land-use sectors to improve system operations through integrated planning and design.

Water Use for Energy

This section describes how water and land/food are inputs to energy. Learn more here on how energy is an input for water, and how energy is an input for the land/food sector

Water is essential to both producing fuels and generating power—and the need for water in the energy sector will only continue to grow, with projections showing a nearly 60 per cent increase between 2014 and 2040 (World Energy Outlook 2016, IEA, pp. 347, 353). Power generation from fossil fuel represents 58 per cent of water withdrawals, followed by nuclear power at 28 per cent, primary energy production (coal, natural gas, oil and biofuel) at 12 per cent, and renewables at 2 per cent. Thermoelectric power plants, in particular, are one of the largest water consumers in both the United States and globally (“Thermoelectric Power Water Use”, USGS, updated October 18, 2017). In the United States, thermoelectric power plants account for over 40 per cent of freshwater withdrawals (The Energy-Water Collision: 10 Things You Should Know, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2010).

Fuel mix, plant function (baseload versus peaking), plant design, cooling technology and weather all influence the quantity of water consumed at thermoelectric power plants. Water is also essential to operating certain renewable energy technologies, such as concentrating solar power and geothermal power, and is a requirement for biofuels, which are the largest source of water withdrawals and consumption for primary energy production (World Energy Outlook 2016, IEA, p. 356). Water is also fundamental to operating hydro and marine power sources and it is required for fuel extraction and processing.

Water use for energy topics covered here include key considerations regarding the use of water for the extraction, processing and generation of energy, including water quality, water efficiency, water treatment, fit-for-purpose water, access to clean and reliable water supplies, urbanization, cooling technologies, fuel extraction and processing, renewable energy generation, fossil fuel-based power generation, hydropower, marine energy, energy efficiency, demand response, ancillary grid services and energy storage.

Land Use for Energy

Land is used in energy production to grow energy crops (such as biofuels) and to host the infrastructure that generates power from both renewable and conventional power sources. The land requirements of these technologies can have substantial impacts on land availability for development and for ecosystem functionality.

Biofuels are the most land-intensive of all energy sources—“corn ethanol supplies roughly 4% of transportation fuel in the United States, but requires five to ten-times more land than would be required to derive two-thirds of the country’s electricity from wind and solar. Further, biomass for electricity requires an order of magnitude more land than solar power (“How Much Land Does Solar, Wind and Nuclear Energy Require?” The Energy Collective, June 25, 2015).” Also, biofuels can contribute to deforestation and other land conversions, which can increase carbon dioxide emissions, with crop selection being a key consideration in the potential for adverse impacts ("Land-use Changes and Biofuels: The Changing Landscape of Low-carbon Fuel Risks and Rewards”, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2008).

Land-use decisions in the built environment, such as development density, construction materials, use of sustainable building strategies, equipment selection, and landscaping, also influence energy demand. “Buildings are responsible for an enormous amount of global energy use, resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings have 34 per cent lower CO2 emissions, consume 25 per cent less energy and 11 per cent less water, and have diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills (“Benefits of Green Building”, U.S. Green Building Council , updated October 2017).”

Land use for energy topics covered here encompass key considerations pertaining to land-use impacts on the extraction, processing, generation, and transmission of energy, including energy crops, renewable energy, fossil fuel-based energy, nuclear power, land-use change, land conversion, energy efficiency, transportation and the built environment.

While industrial energy use varies greatly by country, the industrial sector uses more energy globally than any other end-use sector, consuming 54 per cent of all delivered energy. This energy demand is projected to increase over the next 20 years (International Energy Outlook 2016, IEA p. 113). The main energy consuming industries are discussed further under industry impacts.

The energy sector includes policies and best practices as they relate to the following key topics: