Solar Can Solve Our Food and Water Crises

When it comes to life on Earth’s essential needs, fossil fuels are an absolute waste.

“We need to fundamentally rethink how we produce and consume energy in relation to the water and food sectors,” director Adnan Amin explains in the foreword of the International Renewable Energy Agency’s new report, Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy and Food Nexus (PDF). “Renewable energy technologies provide access to a cost-effective, secure
and environmentally sustainable supply of energy.”

By 2050, the report notes, global demand for energy will double while demand for water and food will increase 50 percent — and there is simply no way that the traditional energy industry as we know it can help, given global warming’s megadroughts and superstorms. Policymakers and others looking for security in these sectors will find none, unless renewable energy is significantly mobilized. Keeping the lights on these days requires 15 percent of global freshwater withdrawals, while 70 percent of freshwater use comes from the “agri-food supply chain,” which also consumes 30 percent of the world’s energy.

This is the definition of an industry way out of whack.

Meanwhile, renewable energies like solar and wind are much less resource-intensive. “Solar PV or wind could withdraw up to 200 times less water than a coal power plant to produce the same amount of electricity,” IRENA explains. In addition, innovations like “large-scale deployment of solar pumps can support the expansion of irrigation, reduce dependence on grid electricity or fossil fuel supply, mitigate local environmental impacts and reduce government subsidy burdens.”

This is why many have already begun to decouple fossil fuels from business as usual. Water utilities are building solar power systems to empower pumping stations, whose costs comprise the majority of their operational budget. The agricultural supply chain is decoupling from fossil fuels using everything from solar farms, onsite anaerobic digesters and geothermal energy. Switching to renewables could reduce water withdrawals for power generation by 20 percent for Gulf nations, 50 percent for the U.K., 10 percent for India, and 25 percent for America, Germany and Australia by 2030.

Given that humanity currently wastes about a third of its food, this is nothing but good news for Earth — and bad news for fossil fuels.

IRENA’s wide-ranging report expands upon all of these existentially interlinked imbalances in its 100-plus page report, which consolidates existing literature into a pretty dense analysis, capped with a nation-by-nation annex of electricity mix composition. The latter is rather disheartening reminder to readers that, even at this late stage of global warming’s catastrophic game, the U.S., U.K., Australia, India and more are still primarily empowered by dirty fuels like oil, coal, nukes and so-called natural gas. This cannot last.

Despite this, “renewable energy technologies now represent a mainstream energy source,” IRENA’s report concludes. All that’s needed now is to push its unclean competitors off a cliff.

This article appeared at Solar Energy

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