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Renewable Energy

Photo courtesy Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch

The dry landscape of the American Southwest stands at the frontlines of the conflict between energy production and water demand in the United States. Climate change is steadily diminishing snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, while the Colorado River transports less water than it did a decade ago. Lake Mead, which stores water from the river and is one of the largest reservoirs in the country, is 41 percent full, a low not seen since 1956. Power generation in the region is declining in tandem with the falling water levels, prompting federal managers to reduce Hoover Dam's hydroelectric generating capacity to 33 percent below its production capabilities. If the lake drops 25 feet more, it will not have enough water to power the dam's generators, shutting down one of the largest power plants in the West.

Meanwhile, in the competition between energy and water, California, Nevada and Arizona are grappling with the uncertain scenarios and tradeoffs of solar power. Developers have proposed nearly 200 solar plants, raising concern that if the plants use conventional cooling systems, billions of gallons of water will be needed. Solar generating plants that use conventional cooling technology use two to three times as much water as a coal-fired power plants. Newer technology that relies on air for cooling uses much less water but is also less efficient in generating power, thus requiring more land. The Congressional Research Service recently estimated that solar power plants cooled with water could generate electricity equal to more than 50 large coal-fired utilities, but would also require 164 billion gallons of water annually, an enormous amount in the driest region in the country.

Feature Stories

Economics and Water Concerns Alter the Solar Landscape in the US West

The falling price of photovoltaic panels and public concerns about aquifers and rivers in the western United States are boosting solar energy technologies that save water.

Visions of Solar Energy’s Future Compete in Colorado’s San Luis Valley

The U.S. government is in the process of designating more than 6,000 hectacres of federal land for solar energy development. As companies line up to submit projects, some valley residents are questioning the centralized model of energy generation and are, instead, trying to shape an independent energy future.

In Solar Power Lies Path to Reducing Water Use For Energy

California’s latest proposed desert solar power plant could compromise desert habitat.


EPA Releases Draft Assessment of Environmental Effects of Biofuels

Preliminary report describes an infant cellulosic biofuels industry with a mandate to grow up fast.

Infographic: Biofuels 101 — Water Use from Plant to Power Source

Production of ethanol, the most commonly used biofuel, has prompted concerns about water use and food supply.

Infographic: Water Use Per Mile Driven — Biofuels vs. Fossil Fuels

A breakdown of gallons of water used by transportation fuels per mile.

In Solar Power Lies Path to Reducing Water Use For Energy

California’s latest proposed desert solar power plant could compromise desert habitat.

Biofuels that Save Water and Land

Flushing For Fuel: Wastewater grows energy-rich plants and algae.

Renewable Stories

Digital Controls Improve Energy Efficiency at Colorado River Dams: Davis, Hoover, Parker

Mechanical parts from the 1950s are being replaced with digital controls at three dams.

North vs. South—Carolina States Settle Water Dispute Without Supreme Court

A negotiated agreement ends a three-year conflict between North Carolina and South Carolina over the Catawba and Yadkin rivers.

Arizona’s Gamble — Conserve Water Now, Prevent Deeper Cuts Tomorrow

For years, the state took as much water as it could from Lake Mead; now it plans to leave some in the reservoir.

Report Urges 10-Year Freeze in Mekong Hydropower Projects

The study responds to the growing private sector interest in the Lower Mekong Basin.

Scotland Advances Renewable Energy Development

The country’s first minister says Scotland could become the ‘world’s first hydro-economy.’

India Cancels Hydroelectric Project on Ganges Tributary

The 600 MW project is the third on the river scrapped because of environmental and religious pressure.

Kyrgyzstan Launches Controversial Hydropower Plant

The country’s energy ambitions could intensify water competition in Central Asia.

Water Scarcity Constrains Food, Energy Security in Vietnam

As the Southeast Asian country battles with climate change, it looks to use less hydropower.

India and Pakistan Dispute Water Use for Hydropower, Agriculture

India strives to redirect water, currently used for Pakistani agriculture, on the Kishanganga River for 330 megawatts.

China Looks to Increase Hydropower to Meet Clean Energy Goals

While the superpower announces ambitious sustainability goals, it faces droughts and intensive energy needs.

Peter Gleick: Improving Water Infrastructure with Dam Building, but for Whose Benefit?

Whether, where, and how to build new dams: the old Western debate.

Drought in Philippines Forces Blackouts

Low reservoir levels have caused several hydroelectric plants to shut down or cut operations in the Southeast Asian country.

Drought, Climate Change Jeopardize Global Hydropower Policies

Less precipitation + more extreme droughts = electricity shortages.

The Price of Hydropower Pursuits in Patagonia

In Chile’s Trackless Mountain Wilderness, A Clash Between Pristine Rivers and Hydropower Prospects

Brazil Approves Construction of Controversial Dam in the Amazon

Brazil’s government issued an environmental license for the Belo Monte dam on an Amazon tributary.

Chile Considers Constitutional Reform of Freshwater Rights

New legislation could extend government control over private freshwater resources.

Saudi Arabia to Use Solar Energy for Desalination Plants

New initiative will decrease the country’s reliance on oil for its electrical needs.

Hidden Waters, Dragons in the Deep: The Freshwater Crisis in China’s Karst Regions

Yunnan Province is a microcosm of China’s freshwater challenges.

Chavez Suspends Electricity Rationing in Venezuelan Capital after One Day

Severe drought is squeezing the country’s energy supply.

New Bank Loans Revive Controversial Ilisu Dam Project in Turkey

The Turkish government plans to move forward with the dam despite international opposition.





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