The energy-water-food nexus

Publication date
Monday, 16 Apr 2012

A greater understanding of where conflicting and synergistic interactions exist between energy, water and food is essential

Energy production requires massive quantities of water, and most water distribution processes use large amounts of energy. Both sectors have undergone major reform in recent decades, though despite the links between the two sectors energy and water policies are developed largely in isolation from one another.

If policy makers want to improve the efficiency of energy and water utilities, while simultaneously adapting to a changing climate, then the two areas cannot be tackled in isolation. Nor can they be divorced from other policy domains such as agriculture and urban development. The need for better integration between these sectors will become increasingly important as climate changes and water supply becomes more variable.

According to Dr Karen Hussey from the Fenner School of Environment & Society, more research is needed to examine the interdependencies between energy and water to better inform policy makers how to improve the integration of these vital resources. “There has been very little research into how even the most dominant relationships between energy and water can be incorporated into regional, national and international policy development,” she says, “and once you throw food security into the mix the challenge is immense.” Hussey chairs the ANU Water Initiative with Professor Quentin Grafton and is the program director of the Australia ‐ United States Climate, Energy and Water Nexus Project. A major part of her research focuses on the policy and institutional arrangements necessary to achieve greater integration across the three domains.

The European Cooperation in Science and Technology and ANU are supporting one such research project. Hussey is part of an international and interdisciplinary team, which is examining the links between water and energy – from the impacts on first generation biofuel generation on water resources and food security in Italy, to the regulatory challenges of rapid underground thermal energy expansion in the Netherlands. Hussey says the aim of the study is to develop a comprehensive understanding of these links and the potential trade-offs between energy and water security.

With the research findings, Hussey will inform government decision makers about how best to manage these links in future policies. “In order to make informed decisions which integrate the energy and water sectors, a greater understanding of where conflicting and synergistic interactions exist between energy, water and food is essential.”