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Research project WANDEL

Water Resources as Important Factors of the Energy Transition at the Local and Global Level


The availability of water and energy is of central importance for sustainable development. Energy needs water (for energy supply), and water needs energy (for fresh water production and treatment). Often, the supply of energy from renewable sources requires less water than the supply of energy from fossil raw materials. Water scarcity could therefore accelerate the switch to renewable energies and energy sources. However, certain renewable energy systems, e.g. solar-thermal power plants in low-water regions, could create conflicts with other water-use sectors and hinder further sustainable or economic expansion.

Therefore, the collaborative project WANDEL focuses on the question whether a restriction of water availability by climate change and / or demographic and economic changes limit or even facilitate the use of conventional energy systems.

The project WANDEL

WANDEL explores the extent to which the available renewable water resources accelerate the transition towards renewable energies or influence their global implementation negatively. A decisive tool for these investigations will be the water footprint. It indicates how much water consumers or producers use directly and indirectly from certain regions for the production of their product. For this reason, the research project will for the first time consider the effects of energy production not only locally and regionally in the respective water catchment area but also the long-term impacts on other regions around the world, taking into account water availability.

Depending on the type and region, energy and water supply influence each other quite differently. Whether a particular power station has a negative impact on the local or regional water safety or whether vice versa the water conditions jeopardize energy security depends strongly on local conditions. In Osnabrück, the IUSF is investigating on how to depict these relationships in a measurable way. For this purpose, the IUSF creates indicators that combine water and energy security. In addition to physical and quantitative aspects, the local regulatory framework is also examined. Too often, there are modern technology or sound laws, but lacks in administration and implementation – that is why certain regions suffer water scarcity where it actually should not be an issue.

The detailed analyses are carried out in four case studies involving regional actors. Two case study areas are located within Germany and two outside Europe: The Upper and Middle Weser, the Upper Danube (Germany), the catchment area of the Rio dos Patos (Brazil) and the Wadi Draa (Morocco). The selection of the catchment areas was carried out in such a way that both the water-related energy systems (coal, hydropower, biomass, solar thermal energy) and a range of climatic and economic conditions are covered. This strategy also allows an adequate transfer of the results to other catchment areas of a similar nature.

A key point of WANDEL is the development of applicable problem solving approaches. With this aim in mind, the project will present regulatory and technical solutions to reduce the effects of energy systems on water resources. Solutions will be developed and mediated specifically for each case study. In addition to a consortium of science and practice, regional and international practitioners (decision-makers) are actively involved in the project. This provides a solid foundation for theoretically sound and at the same time practical analysis of water-energy conflicts.

Further Information

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the joint project "Wasserressourcen als bedeutende Faktoren der Energiewende auf lokaler und globaler Ebene (WANDEL)" as part of the "Global Ressource Wasser" (GRoW) initiative.