Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

The water resource implications of PHEVs

Posted by Rich Sweeney on March 19, 2008

Today’s NYTimes has a piece on an interesting new paper from Carey W. King and Michael E. Webber of UT Austin. The authors point out that converting our auto fleet from gasoline power to electric power would put substantial strain on our nation’s water resources. Water is used to both mine and process fuels and to cool power plants during the generation process. The study estimates that “For every mile driven by a gas-powered vehicle that is displaced by one driven by an electric vehicle, about three times as much water is consumed (that is, lost to evaporation) and about 17 times as much is withdrawn (used and returned to its source).” However, far from arguing against PHEVs, the authors lay out a series of steps that policymakers should begin taking now in order to prepare for the shift to plug-ins.

Though the paper doesn’t mention how climate change will affect things, it seems obvious to me that things could get even worse. Hotter temperatures mean more cooling for generators, and warmer water to cool with. Several nuclear plants were shut down during the droughts in the southeast last year. The NYTimes also had a long much talked about article on how climate change could affect water supplies.

Finally, the authors do point out that renewable resources like wind and solar use no water, which is yet another reason why we should encourage their development.

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