Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity
River Network, 2012
This report is a snapshot of the current water impacts of electrical production and an introduction to the choices the United States faces as a nation trying to sustain water and energy in a warming world. Based on the available published water-use information, this report calculated that in 2009 the water footprint of U.S. electricity was approximately 42 gallons per kilowatt hour (kWh) produced. An average U.S. household’s monthly energy use (weighted by cooling technology and fuel mix) requires 39,829 gallons of water, or five times more than the direct residential water use of that same household. This estimate does not include major portions of the lifecycle of electrical production for which there is not available documentation. As the world’s largest electrical consumer, the U.S. needs to consider the sustainability of this course before investing in more water-intensive electrical infrastructures. According to the calculations in this report, eliminating ‘once-through’ cooling—by itself— could reduce the water footprint of thermoelectricity by more than 2/3rd. Increasing wind and PV solar energy to 40% of the grid would have a similar effect and reduce consumptive water use by 11%. Taken together, these two actions could reduce the water footprint of thermoelectricity by 82% and consumptive water use by 27%.