The Energy-Water-Food Nexus

Energy, water, and food are vital resources for life and civilization. So critical, these resources often make the top three spots on lists of humanity’s greatest challenges. Beyond their individual importance and significance, they depend on one another. Water is required to extract, generate, refine, and transport energy, energy is needed to treat and convey water, and water and energy are necessary inputs for food production. The Webber Energy Group’s research analyzes these relationships from all directions and their implications for society. 

Recent extreme weather events and cascading infrastructure failures have demonstrated in real time the inextricable connection between energy and water systems. Understanding the root cause of these failures is the first step in designing cross-cutting solutions for more resilient energy and water infrastructure ready for the weather of the future. As water resources become more constrained, reducing energy systems reliance on water can help reduce vulnerability in the energy sector. As water scarcity increases, we look to utilizing more degraded forms of water such as brackish, wastewater, saline, and produced water to fill the gaps. These forms of water require more energy to treat to standards necessary for agriculture and municipal purposes. Understanding the potential impact this trend has on energy and water systems is critical in avoiding introducing additional vulnerabilities. Our research helps understand and inform the connections between these systems and to plan for future resilient energy and water systems.

Energy and water are key inputs for the food system, along the entire supply chain from farm to fork. Therefore, wasting food is wasting energy and water. However, there is also the potential to use the energy in food waste for beneficial purposes. Our research explores ways to reduce and use food waste and better plan for a future energy-water-food system that continues to provide these necessary resources to a growing global population while minimizing waste and negative environmental impacts. 

Ongoing and recent projects include:

  • Integrated Water and Power Utility Resilience
  • Water and Energy Infrastructure Impacts due to Winter Storm Uri
  • Biogas from Food and Yard Waste in US Cities as Part of a Decarbonized Future
  • Hydrogen’s Role and Risks in the Food, Energy, Water Nexus
  • Water LCAs for Biofuels and Renewable Technologies
  • Energy Needs of the Water System (with temporal and qualitative fidelity)
  • Incorporating Water into Grid Planning
  • Water Treatment and Pumping as Dispatchable Load
  • Commercial Water Footprinting for the IT Sector
  • Integrating Renewables (Wind & Solar) with Desalination
  • Energy Industry’s Needs as a Driver for Water Markets
  • Modeling Water in Maui as a Tool for Achieving Sustainability
  • The Water Wedge: An Engineering Analysis of the Carbon Mitigation Potential of Direct and Indirect Changes to the U.S. Water System
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