Need a perfect paper? Place your first order and save 5% with this code:   SAVE5NOW

Clean Water and Clean Energy Sustainability Challenges


This literature review addresses the interconnection between clean water and clean energy. Energy and water are interconnected global challenges in terms of sustainability. Water is required in all stages of energy production and generating electricity. Energy is needed to extract, distribute and deliver water of proper quality for multiple human uses. Energy is also used in treating wastewaters before it is returned to the environment. The literature review reveals a strong link between clean water and clean energy. Policymakers like the UN have created sustainable development goals which involve the generation of clean energy and access to clean water for all individuals. Clean energy is required to produce energy, and the existing and potential clean energies include solar, wind, and biofuels. Clean energies have limitations, including the huge amounts of water needed to produce the energy. Ultimately, the research proposes that clean energy for clean water is a potential area of improvement. Governments and policymakers should focus on creating clean energy that doesn’t require much water. Technologies should be created to ensure that the energy produces low-carbon emissions and consumes minimal water.

1.0 Introduction

Water and energy are significant global challenges that affect people’s daily life.

The challenges are strongly interlinked, such as water supply depends on energy and energy generation and extraction needs water. Energy generation requires water as a critical ingredient. Water is required for fossil fuel extraction, moving, and power generation processing. Energy is utilized for the entire urban water cycle, including water abstraction, water treatment, and water collection and treatment. A massive amount of energy used in water is used in pumping, which is expected to rise due to the rising water scarcity. Policymakers, including the UN, the World Bank, and other stakeholders like scientists have recognized the interdependencies between energy and water. The United Nations (UN) developed sustainable development goals (SDG) involving clean water, sanitation, and affordable energy for all individuals (Olsson & Lund, 2017). It is impossible to eliminate hunger problems without adequate energy and water access. Energy and water are closely linked to climate change and action. Life on land and in water cannot exist without clean water. Some of the main risks related to energy include failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change, serious energy price shift, and water crises. In 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) raised concerns about water requirements in the energy sector (Olsson & Lund, 2017). In 2015, IEA addressed how water scarcity affects the choices of cooling technology in coal power plants in China and India. The close relationship between water and energy and its significance as a global challenge led to the creation of the Water-Energy Nexus, which provides different perspectives on the challenge. Hydropower generation is influenced by water availability. Hydropower is essential in raising the share of non-conventional renewable electricity like solar and wind. The new renewables require small amounts and will lead to a massive impact on the water supply. Water-energy nexus aims to address the water scarcity issue caused by energy production. The supply of clean water and clean energy has become a fundamental problem due to the rise in population, industrialization, and variation in global warming. The interrelationships between energy and water are apparent and should be approached in an integrated manner.

2.0 Search Strategy

This study’s literature retrieval method includes identification, screening, bibliometric analysis, review, and results. The research retrieves articles using the keywords clean energy and clean water from the Web of Science database from 2014 to 2022. The articles were manually screened and validated, and 15 articles were retrieved. Manual checks to select relevant articles were implemented, leading to 3 articles being removed. The study applied bibliometric strategies to identify and visualize current and emerging research themes. The research validated and triangulated the research themes, which involve clean water and clean energy. The inclusion criterion was discussing the interconnection between clean water and clean energy. Ultimately 12 articles were included in the final research results.

3.0 Results

3.1 Energy and Access to Clean Water

Walton (2018) stipulates that over 2.1 billion individuals consume contaminated water. Approximately one-third of the world population experience water scarcity and 80% of wastewater is released untreated, leading to problematic water pollution levels. Energy can be a solution in dealing with the water problems. It is essential to look at water and energy in an integrated way to achieve the SDGs on water which involves the availability and sustainable management of water for all individuals. The energy sector contributes to about 10% of total water extraction and 3% of water consumption globally. Water is a vital aspect of energy supply, including electricity production, oil supply, and biofuel cultivation (Walton, 2018). Energy is needed in water treatment and transporting water to where it is to be consumed. Energy and water needs are expected to rise, and the interconnection between water and energy will increase. The study reveals that the water used in the energy generation, i.e., used and not returned to the source, could increase to about 60% by 2040 (Walton, 2018). The energy utilized in the water sector is set to increase two times. Technology is creating ways to manage potential strains on water and energy through creative strategies that are way better that those applied in the past. An example is building a new wastewater capacity that utilizes energy recovery and efficiency opportunities. The solution would help in the rising energy demand by providing sanitation and minimizing the untreated wastewater. Optimizing the energy existing in wastewater can meet over half of the electricity needed in a plant for treating wastewater.

Smart project technology solutions and designs can help minimize the water needs in the energy sector. Water availability is an essential measure for evaluating energy projects’ economic, physical, and environmental viability (Olsson, 2015). The energy sector prefers other water sources and recycling to minimize freshwater challenges. There is a massive scope to reduce water use by enhancing the power plant efficiency and using highly advanced cooling systems for thermal production. The attainment of SDGs related to energy, including dealing with climate change and offering energy for all, depends on knowing the integrated nature of energy and water (Olsson & Lund, 2017).

Leading a low-carbon future may not entirely cause a reduction of water requirements. More water is consumed in the decarbonization of the pathway, which depends on biofuels production, increased solar power concentration, and carbon capture. A lower carbon pathway could increase water stress when it is not well managed. Many individuals who don’t have access to energy usually don’t have access to clean water. Integrating renewable energy systems with filtration technologies can offer electricity and safe water access. Also, connecting a toilet to an anaerobic digester can generate biogas for lighting and cooking. Using renewables instead of diesel-powered generators to power water pumps leads to lower energy costs. However, when not properly managed, it could cause inefficient utilization of water, like the case of the agricultural department in India.

3.2 Water-Energy Nexus

Hamiche, Stambouli, and Flazi (2016) stipulate that electricity and water are fundamentally connected. The production of electricity requires water, and water transportation and treatment require electricity. Historically, people didn’t have reasons to understand the connection between energy and water since water was not viewed as a risk to energy security, and electricity was not considered a risk to water security. However, due to industry reforms, a rise in demand, and climate change, there has been an emphasis on the link between electricity and water (Hamiche, Stambouli, & Flazi, 2016). Society’s ability to handle the uncertainties and challenges due to the link between electricity and water is limited by the minimal understanding of the nature of the links and the lack of policy tools to analyze them effectively.

Peterson (2017) stipulates that the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus involve resource trade-offs. Water is a vital input in producing energy and food while serving many uses. In the short term, when technologies and water allocation for multiple uses are handled, using more water in the food production means less water is available for energy. Also, more water for energy leads to less water for food, and gaining more water for other uses leads to less water for energy and food. The trilemma of FEW is predicted to increase due to long-term worldwide trends such as income, population rise, and climate change (Peterson, 2017). The nexus view supports the need for research and investment that can lead to resource conservation using highly efficient technologies.

In the U.S. and Europe, water allocations naturally rely on the institutions particular to water resources, but they engage with the institutions of energy and agriculture. Ahuja et al. (2014) stipulate that people’s choices in creating energy supplies can lead to a serious strain on water quantity and quality. The study agrees that the energy-water nexus implies that an individual needs massive water supplies when new energy resources are being developed. Also, when one intends to create new water resources through water reuse, reverse osmosis for saline groundwater and desalination, considerable energy resources are required (Ahuja et al., 2014).

Biofuels impact water quantity and quality. There is a strong interconnection between energy generation and water resources, including oil production from tar sands, utilization of water for nuclear power, and recovery of natural gas from coal. Energy generation often uses a substantial amount of water or degrades water quality. Producing biofuels, mainly corn as feedstock in bioethanol, has enormous implications for water. Ahuja et al. (2014) state that corn used as feedstock for biofuels needs substantial water to grow the crops, whether the irrigation water is from groundwater or direct rainfall. Irrigation water is substantially used through evapotranspiration, and an equivalent volume of rainfall is utilized in rainfed agriculture. Schaible and Aillery (2017) agree that the energy sector for biofuels and renewable energy sources is predicted to increase water resources demand. An expansion of the biofuel sector needs water for feedstock production and processing. Water needed in a biofuel plant with a specific processing capacity is usually known and commonly managed through purchase agreements between biofuel firms and local farms (Schaible & Aillery, 2017). The water needed for feedstock irrigation during biofuel production is expected to be highly significant.

Kumar (2022) states that the initial water-energy nexus include water used in energy production through multiple energy sources, including non-renewable and renewable, and energy requires for water purveying, particularly on distributing, pumping, and desalinating sea water. Multiple scholars have examined the withdrawal and consumption of water for energy production during the extraction, conversion, processing, and refining phases of energy generation. Biofuels are a viable alternative energy source as they meet low carbon emissions. However, there are huge concerns due to the need for vast amounts of water in implementing bioenergy (Kumar, 2022). Water consumption and withdrawal are vital indicators for water managers working in power plants. Using carbon-reduction technologies increases the demand for water leading to an extra fuel use to compensate for energy penalties and the demand for carbon capture systems.

According to Stephenson (2018), water is used for energy activities, including gas and oil drilling, refining and growing biofuel crops, and producing electricity in most power stations. Energy activities generate wastewater from the drilling processes, leading to the removal of high saline water. The wastewater might be too saline, warm, and polluted to be easily disposed of without proper treatment. The treatment requires energy, and energy is needed to desalinate seawater and pump groundwater. Ahuja et al. (2014) suggest that wastewater contains many contaminants, including toxins and pathogens. The wastewater also has many recoverable resources like chemical and thermal energy. The water-energy nexus looks at the opportunities in wastewater treatment to attain an energy-neutral water cycle. The nexus looks at ways of treating wastewater properly and separately to optimize resource recovery and reduce the energy needed for treatment.

Water demands will rise due to the rise in technical innovation forecast for energy-related uses such as the U.S.’s utility-scale solar and thermoelectric generating capacity (Schaible & Aillery, 2017). The expansion of fracking for natural gas exploration will continue to raise the water demand used in the energy sector particularly in central and eastern U.S. Fracking consist of pumping sand, water, and chemicals at high pressure into the shale formation to produce fractures that allow natural gas and oil to get out from the rock and get into the well. Water demand in fracking doesn’t involve long-run water resource use as it happens during every well’s drilling and completion stages. However, the practice is challenging for groundwater use and quality (Schaible & Aillery, 2017). A rise in evaporative cooling technology for solar and thermoelectric power massively raises water use needs for the energy sector.

3.3 Clean Energy, Clean Water, and Climate Change

The World Bank stipulates that climate change will further pressure energy and water management leading to more outages. The bank argues that the current methods of producing energy and offering clean water are on a collision course. Fifteen percent of water drawn from the environment is used in energy production, and the amount will increase to 20% if there is no change to sustainable energy forms (Olsson, 2015). The Union of Concerned Scientists argues that fossil and nuclear fuel plants require a huge and steady supply of water to function, and during dry summers, water is increasingly becoming difficult to secure. The water required to cool conventional power plants is warmed up, putting additional pressure on the ecosystems. Clean energy like wind and solar installations require minimal water to run. Governments agree that increasing clean energy is important in maintaining the global temperature and are actively searching for ways to increase the use of renewables and energy efficiency (Gao et al., 2019). Renewable energy systems can be created to produce electricity and clean water. Climate change requires zero-polluting technologies, and renewable energy is necessary. Combining natural resources like solar and wind through a water purification system to address human needs could be a solution to achieving clean water and energy. Parkinson et al. (2019) argue that energy systems help fulfill SDGs with impacts on future energy demands and emissions of greenhouse gases. The energy sector consumes substantial water; thus, meeting water efficiency targets stipulated by SDGs is an essential constraint for long-term energy (Olsson & Lund, 2017).

Scientists state that droughts will increase and be more severe in the future, leading to violence in water-stressed regions (Ahmadi et al., 2020). Desalination technologies to remove salt from water are essential. The desalination must be more energy-efficient to make it more viable and easy to use. The process should not require chemicals that could have unintended environmental and health impacts. Desalination is an effective and practical alternative to meet the rising water demand. Desalination is one of the most viable solutions to the water problem, but it is an energy-intensive process. The use of renewable energy in water desalination systems is increasingly attractive because of the rising demand for energy and water.

4.0 Evaluation

The engagement with this topic shows that flows of water and energy are interconnected mainly due to the properties and characteristics of water that make it highly useful in producing energy and energy requirements. Energy generation withdraws huge water quantities for cooling and emits massive energy because of the inefficiencies in converting energy to electricity. A lot of water is used in biofuels production, particularly in agriculture. The connection between energy and water can raise concerns over water quality and availability. Additionally, water distribution and treatment for drinking and wastewater requires energy. Biofuels affect water quantity and quality. There is a strong interconnection between energy generation and water resources, including extracting natural gas and oil, transporting, cooling, and processing coal. Energy is also required in the water supply chain, including pumping, distribution, recycling, and treatment.

From the observations, the water and energy issue is yet to be resolved entirely. The world faces risks of water shortages in the future and climate change due to a lack of clean energy. Many individuals are experiencing water shortages today, and governments and policymakers are developing plans to create solutions. However, the potential solutions have their limitations where there is a collision in the trade-offs between clean energy and clean water (Gao et al., 2019). The potential efficient energy sources such as biofuels require vast amounts of water, which would lead to water shortages in the future. The energy production and distribution consumers a lot of water where the water extracted is not returned. When focusing on clean water, energy is required to produce clean water that is accessible to all. A lot of energy is needed to pump and distribute the water, which would increase greenhouse gas emissions. Developing technologies that produce clean energy that doesn’t adversely affect water availability is essential. The technologies should optimize the energy that exists in wastewaters and ensure that there is minimal wastage of water and energy. It is important to ensure that the world can efficiently produce clean energy and clean water with the predicted rise in population and estimated temperatures.

Future researchers should use the information in the study to understand the relationship between clean energy and clean water. The information in the study can inform their future studies, which could focus on renewable energy sources that require minimal water consumption. The study has revealed that the existing renewable energy sources, including thermal energy and biofuels, consume a lot of water which may add to the existing water problems. Future researchers may expand the knowledge on renewable energies that consume less water during extraction and processing and lead to low-carbon production. Biofuels, as indicated in this study, are a viable alternative energy source that meets low carbon emissions but has concerns due to the massive amount of water required to implement bioenergy. Clean energy for clean water could increase the efficiencies needed to curb the predicted climate change. Water is a requirement in energy generation, and energy is also essential in the abstraction, distribution, and treatment of water. Future researchers should expand on the literature regarding the necessary trade-offs that balance the production, distribution, and consumption of clean water and clean energy. The study has explored the interdependence between clean water and energy but fails to focus primarily on renewable energy sources that lead to clean energy and consume minimal water.


Ahmadi, E., McLellan, B., Mohammadi-Ivatloo, B., & Tezuka, T. (2020). The role of renewable energy resources in sustainability of water desalination as a potential fresh-water source: An updated review. Sustainability12(13), 5233.

Ahuja, S., Larsen, M. C., Eimers, J. L., Patterson, C. L., Sengupta, S., & Schnoor, J. L. (Eds.). (2014). Comprehensive water quality and purification (Vol. 1). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Gao, M., Zhu, L., Peh, C. K., & Ho, G. W. (2019). Solar absorber material and system designs for photothermal water vaporization towards clean water and energy production. Energy & Environmental Science12(3), 841-864.

Hamiche, A. M., Stambouli, A. B., & Flazi, S. (2016). A review of the water-energy nexus. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews65, 319-331.

Kumar, A. (2022). Sustaining life below water. Journal: Ecosystem-Based Adaptation, 417-501.

Olsson, G., & Lund, P. D. (2017). Water and Energy–Interconnections and Conflicts. Global Challenges1(5).

Olsson, G. (2015). Water and energy: threats and opportunities. IWA publishing.

Parkinson, S., Krey, V., Huppmann, D., Kahil, T., McCollum, D., Fricko, O., … & Riahi, K. (2019). Balancing clean water-climate change mitigation trade-offs. Environmental Research Letters14(1), 014009.

Peterson, J. M. (2017). Water–energy–food nexus—commonalities and differences in the United States and Europe. In Competition for Water Resources (pp. 252-258). Elsevier.

Schaible, G. D., & Aillery, M. P. (2017). Challenges for US irrigated agriculture in the face of emerging demands and climate change. In Competition for water resources (pp. 44-79). Elsevier.

Stephenson, M. (2018). Climate Change Adaptation: Geological Aspects. Energy, 123-146.

Walton, M. (2018). Energy has a role to play in achieving universal access to clean water and sanitation.


Don't have time to write this essay on your own?
Use our essay writing service and save your time. We guarantee high quality, on-time delivery and 100% confidentiality. All our papers are written from scratch according to your instructions and are plagiarism free.
Place an order

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Need a plagiarism free essay written by an educator?
Order it today

Popular Essay Topics