World Water Day: Wind energy saves water

Wind power uses less water than almost any other power generation technology, the Global Wind Energy Council emphasised today, on UN World Water Day. The wind industry calls on policy makers to take this into account in the critical and urgent decisions which will determine the character of the world’s power generation infrastructure for decades to come.

“As highlighted by the UN today, water scarcity is now a pressing issue in many parts of the world, and this will be exacerbated by climate change,” said Steve Sawyer, GWEC’s Secretary General. “Wind power can make a considerable contribution to conserving the world’s valuable water resources. Unlike most other power sources, which consume huge amounts of water that could be used much more productively for human consumption and agriculture, wind power generation does not use any water.”

Some 40% of the world’s population already live in water-stressed areas, and population growth and industrialisation will put further pressure on water availability. Given the high levels of water use in conventional power generation, increasing power demand will aggravate the situation. As a result, global water demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 under a business-as-usual approach.[1]

Wind power generation actively conserves water and can help alleviate water shortages, according to research carried out by leading wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.[2] While conventional fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, which make up 78% of global electricity production, use water for cooling and condensing the steam that drives the turbines, wind power generation requires practically no water. As a result, wind power can save more than 2,000 litres of water per MWh of produced electricity. The US Department of Energy estimates that 20% of wind power in the US power system by 2030 would save as much as 4 trillion gallons (15 trillion litres) of water[3], equivalent to the annual consumption of more than 9 million US citizens.[4]

The research also shows that many parts of the world that are already or will be facing water scarcity are at the same time blessed with winds suitable for wind power production. Exploiting this rich resource would bring numerous economic and climate change benefits, and also help conserve scarce water resources.

“The global power sector is the largest industrial water user, and it has to start addressing the issue of water consumption, especially in the light of rising electricity demand, and increasing droughts created by the world’s changing climate. It is our responsibility to keep water consumption for power production to a minimum, so that this precious resource can be used more efficiently,” concluded Sawyer. “To mitigate climate change, the power sector not only needs to become CO2 free, but also dramatically reduce its water consumption. Wind energy provides a sustainable solution to both these challenges.”

[1] 2030 Water Resource Group: Charting our water future – Economic frameworks to inform decision-making (2009)


[3] DOE: 20% wind energy by 2030 – Increasing wind energy’s contribution to US Electricity Supply (2008)

[4] Based on 1,600 m3/person/year. Source: Pacific Institute