The World Bank’s new initiative, Thirsty Energy, quantifies tradeoffs and identifies synergies between water and energy resource management. It aims to help governments prepare for an uncertain future by opening disciplinary silos that prevent cross-sectoral planning, and working with stakeholders to build country capacity that can plan energy and water resources. In this context, partnerships are important; the energy-water challenge is too large for any organization to tackle alone. The Thirsty Energy group works with an array of partners to design and implement activities and has also formed a Private Sector Reference Group to share experience, to provide technical and policy advice, and to scale up outreach efforts.

The interdependence of energy & water

Water produces power; power produces water. Almost all energy generation processes require significant amounts of water, and the treatment and transport of water requires energy, mainly in the form of electricity. Even though the interdependency between water and energy is gaining wider recognition worldwide, water and energy planning often remain distinct. The tradeoffs involved in balancing one need against the other are often not clearly identified or taken into account, complicating possible solutions.

Developing countries are vulnerable

Population and economic growth, urbanization, and increasing demand for food and energy place competing pressures on water. Water consumption for energy generation will increase by 85 percent from 2010 to 2035, posing a serious challenge to many countries around the world.

Recurring and prolonged droughts are threatening hydropower capacity in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, China, and Brazil. These stresses mount as emerging economies, like China, will double their energy consumption in the next 40 years.


A Marriage of equals

Although the relationship, complementarities, and synergies between water and energy are now evident, these two sectors have historically been regulated and managed separately. Energy and water planning must be integrated in order to optimize investments and avoid inefficiencies. Cross-sectoral implications need to be further understood. To achieve this, planners should:

  • Consider water constraints in the energy sector when planning power expansion.
  • Understand the water requirements of electricity generation and fuel extraction technologies and their potential impact.
  • Consider the complexities of the hydrological cycle and other competing uses when assessing plans and investments; consider joint development and management of water and energy infrastructure and technologies, maximizing co-benefits and minimizing negative tradeoffs.