SUNDAY, 07 SEPTEMBER 2014 23:10
Stockholm hosts largest-ever international conference on global contest for water and energy.
Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue
The 24th annual World Water Week in Stockholm attracted 3,000 participants from 130 countries to discuss the ties between energy and water. Click image to enlarge.
STOCKHOLM – Of all the world’s developed nations, none faces a more urgent confrontation between rising energy demand and scarce water supplies than South Africa. And just as in other desert African nations, parched South Africa is desperate to generate more energy while somehow bypassing ecological limits on its water supply.
One in every ten of South Africa’s 51 million residents do not have ready access to clean supplies of drinking water, according Christine Colvin, a freshwater program specialist for the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa. More than one in ten South Africans does not have access to electricity in a nation that has built just 46,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity, said Martin Ginster, a land, water, and environmental manager at Sasol, the big South African coal and fuel producing company.
That’s about the same level of generating capacity as Illinois, a big American industrial state with about one-fifth of South Africa’s population. Ninety percent of South Africa’s electricity is fueled by water-gulping coal.
During two programs convened by the World Resources Institute, and held here on the third and fourth days of World Water Week, Colvin and Ginster described the conflicting paths that South African authorities are considering to respond to their nation’s thirst for water and energy. In one scenario, which the nation is pursuing with modest resolve, is to tap the country’s deep shale reserves for new supplies of natural gas. That involves fracturing the reserves with millions of gallons of water, though it is not certain that the fluid needed to frack those wells needs to be fresh water.
The other new pathway is to build more than 18,000 megawatts (18 gigawatts) of new generating capacity from wind and solar photovoltaic plants, both of which require far lower amounts of fresh water. South Africa has set 2030 as the year it wants to reach that goal.
Neither Colvin nor Ginster knew what it might cost to build 18 gigawatts of renewable generating capacity, though it’s not a terrifically large amount of power. Yet what was striking about their comments to an ample audience of executives, scientists, activists, and government officials from around the world was the agreement both shared about the need to actively pursue the clean energy program and be exceedingly cautious about fracking South Africa’s desert.