Water, Water, Nowhere

A funny thing happened on our way to Peak Oil. We started running out of water in a very large area of the United States. Some parts of Australia have been in extreme drought mode for several years. Several other countries have started reporting similar problems. Of course we hear outcries of more evidence of global warming. But historically the earth has gone through periods of extreme drought, long before there were any man made greenhouse gasses polluting the atmosphere.

Several months ago I became a part of our corporation’s drought remediation planning team trying to address the issues that are becoming more and more threatening in the SE part of our country. As a part of that team, I have become aware of a lot of issues that I had been only vaguely aware prior to addressing this problem. Some of these have a direct impact on some of the energy issues for which we are all keenly aware. I had been asked by some friends to put some of my thoughts on paper regarding this exceptional drought condition and how I envision it playing out. This is my own perception of what is going on and how it impacts people and the enterprises that support them.
.
.
.
Well, you say, “I don’t live in the SE part of the US, what has this got to do with me and the energy crisis?” Did you turn on any lights today? Do you have a refrigerator keeping your food cold? Does your job depend on availability of electricity? Then you might want to pay attention. Unless you are a resident of Texas, which is not a part of the national power grid, all the rest of us are linked together in several interconnecting big power grids, often called the world’s largest machine. Guess what is the essential ingredient in all nuclear, coal fired, gas fired, oil fired, and hydro power plants? You guessed it! Water! For every kilowatt generated in a fossil fuelled power plant, 0.5 gallon of water is used. In a nuclear power plant that number is 0.62 gallon of water. I don’t know what the water usage in hydro plants is per kilowatt, but since that does not play a large role in the SE United States, I am not too concerned with it. Because peak loads all over the country are frequently handled by transferring power across the grid from areas not experiencing peak usage, a problem in the Carolinas with power generation shutting down from lack of water may show up in another location hundreds of miles away. Suddenly the drought problem in northern Georgia may become a problem for you, several states away, in a totally unexpected way. The same way a tree limb falling on high tension lines in Ohio several years ago was a problem all the way to the Atlantic in the NE. Suddenly your utility may find itself way down the peak production slope because the excess supply isn’t there, but the demand still remains. Companies in the drought areas will be faced with having to shut down because of lack of water for air conditioning chillers for electronic equipment, electricity usage being curtailed to preserve water for human consumption, and other side effects.