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We designed our power plants, refineries, and other energy infrastructure to depend on water. But not just any kind of water—water that’s available at the right quantity, quality, place and time. When water falls outside of this Goldilocks zone, energy systems can unravel, sometimes in unexpected ways. Low water levels strain hydroelectric and thermal power production and restrict coal shipments by river. Extreme cold freezes water in natural gas infrastructure, causing blackouts. Examples abound.
The irony is that the energy system fuels climate change, which in turn fuels water problems for the energy system.
So how do we address these vulnerabilities as we decarbonize? And how can we build a resilient water-energy system in an increasingly chaotic climate?
In this episode, Shayle talks to Dr. Michael Webber, author of Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival. Michael is a professor of energy resources at the University of Texas-Austin and chief technology officer at Energy Impact Partners, where Shayle is a partner.
They cover topics like:
- The surprising places we use water in energy, like extracting minerals and natural gas, growing crops for biofuels and sequestering carbon
- The ways energy improves the quantity and quality of water, allowing us to move water longer distances, reach deeper wells and desalinate water
- How to avoid exacerbating water problems as we decarbonize
- Whether cheap, abundant electricity from nuclear fusion will power wide-spread desalination
- Why the data on water systems is so scarce compared to energy systems
- How prescient the new Mad Max water-war movies are
- Yale University Press: Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival
- The New York Times: Europe’s Scorching Summer Puts Unexpected Strain on Energy Supply
- The New York Times: China’s Record Drought Is Drying Rivers and Feeding Its Coal Habit
Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.
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