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Energy-Water Nexus

A cartoon showing the nexus of water and energy using red and blue arrows to indicate the flow water and energy through generation, fuel production, and consumption.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2006
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Water is required to produce energy. Energy is required to pump, treat, and transport water. The energy-water nexus examines the interactions between these two inextricably linked sectors. NREL helps policymakers, researchers, and investors understand and evaluate energy choices within this complex web of connections between energy and water. NREL's analysis, datasets, and advanced integrated modeling capabilities help illuminate the connections between energy, environment, economy, security, and quality of life.

Highlights of Energy-Water Nexus Activities

NREL holistically addresses the energy-water nexus from a variety of different angles. NREL evaluates energy-water tradeoffs via four interconnected pathways: energy-water modeling and analysis, technology development and demonstration, and energy-water systems solutions.

Find out more about NREL's energy-water nexus analysis:

A numbered map divided into regions. Each region has four scenario results for 2030 and 2050 in bar charts showing the impacts of higher renewable energy technologies use on water consumption.
Regional scenario results for 2030 and 2050 showing the impacts of higher renewable energy penetration on regional water consumption
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Energy-Water Modeling and Analysis

NREL's energy-water modeling and analysis activities analyze the interactions and dependencies of water with the dynamics of the power sector and the transportation sector. A variety of models and tools are utilized to consider water as a critical resource for power sector development and operations as well as transportation fuels.

Key Activities

Power Sector

  • Electricity Capacity Expansion Modeling (ReEDS)
  • Production Cost Modeling and Valuation (PLEXOS/REPRA)
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Unconventional oil/gas development
  • Resources/climate impacts

Transportation Sector

  • Biomass feedstock analysis
  • Biomass to biofuel conversion analysis
  • Transportation fleet/system analysis
A schematic of a seawater desalination system powered by concentrating solar power.
Schematic of a seawater desalination system powered by concentrating solar power.
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Technology Development and Deployment

NREL has extensive experience and expertise related to energy-water technology research all along the supply chain. NREL has designed alternative cooling systems to reduce water needs on-site, developed anti-soiling coatings to reduce wash water needs for solar technologies, explored desalination opportunities utilizing renewable energy technologies, investigated marine hydrokinetic technology opportunities and characteristics, and evaluated manufacturing systems for various technologies.

Key Activities

  • Low-water cooling system designs
  • Anti-soiling coatings for PV and CSP solar collectors to reduce water needs
  • Desalination with renewable energy technologies
  • Marine hydrokinetic research
  • Manufacturing
  • Biofuels
Diagram of an active indirect solar hot water heater.
Schematic of energy-water system tradeoffs and connections for the Navajo Generating Station and the Central Arizona Project
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Energy-Water System Solutions

NREL has been a pioneer in the development of energy-water system solutions that explicitly address and optimize energy-water tradeoffs. NREL has evaluated energy-water system solutions for Department of Defense bases, islands, communities recovering from disasters, individual buildings and campuses, and large-scale water treatment and transport facilities.

Key Activities

  • Department of Defense Forward Operating Base (FOB) analysis
  • Emergency response/disaster recovery and island rebuilding
  • Building/campus-scale energy-water analysis and optimization
  • Water management with renewable energy technologies
  • Energy-water synergies
  • International platforms

NREL is exploring a unique system-of-systems concept to energy systems integration (ESI). This approach considers the relationships among electricity, thermal, and fuel systems and data and information networks to ensure optimal integration and interoperability across the entire energy system spectrum. This ESI framework can be adapted to evaluate energy and water system interactions. To learn more about NREL's energy system integration research, visit the Energy Systems Integration Facility website.

For questions, contact Jordan Macknick.