Energy sector water use implications of a 2°C climate policy

Oliver Fricko*, Simon C. Parkinson, Nils Johnson, Manfred Strubegger, Michelle van Vliet, Keywan Riahi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Quantifying water implications of energy transitions is important for assessing long-term freshwater sustainability since large volumes of water are currently used throughout the energy sector. In this paper, we assess direct global energy sector water use and thermal water pollution across a broad range of energy system transformation pathways to assess water impacts of a 2°C climate policy. A global integrated assessment model is equipped with the capabilities to account for the water impacts of technologies located throughout the energy supply chain. The model framework is applied across a broad range of 2°C scenarios to highlight long-term water impact uncertainties over the 21st century. We find that water implications vary significantly across scenarios, and that adaptation in power plant cooling technology can considerably reduce global freshwater withdrawals and thermal pollution. Global freshwater consumption increases across all of the investigated 2°C scenarios as a result of rapidly expanding electricity demand in developing regions and the prevalence of freshwater-cooled thermal power generation. Reducing energy demand emerges as a robust strategy for water conservation, and enables increased technological flexibility on the supply side to fulfill ambitious climate objectives. The results underscore the importance of an integrated approach when developing water, energy, and climate policy, especially in regions where rapid growth in both energy and water demands is anticipated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034011
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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