Future electricity: the challenge of reducing both carbon and water footprint

Mesfin Mekonnen, Winnie Gerbens-Leenes, Arjen Ysbert Hoekstra

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71 Citations (Scopus)
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We estimate the consumptive water footprint (WF) of electricity and heat in 2035 for the four energy scenarios of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and a fifth scenario with a larger percentage of solar energy. Counter-intuitively, the ‘greenest’ IEA scenario (with the smallest carbon footprint) shows the largest WF increase over time: an increase by a factor four over the period 2010–2035. In 2010, electricity from solar, wind, and geothermal contributed 1.8% to the total. The increase of this contribution to 19.6% in IEA's ‘450 scenario’ contributes significantly to the decrease of the WF of the global electricity and heat sector, but is offset by the simultaneous increase of the use of firewood and hydropower. Only substantial growth in the fractions of energy sources with small WFs – solar, wind, and geothermal energy – can contribute to a lowering of the WF of the electricity and heat sector in the coming decades. The fifth energy scenario – adapted from the IEA 450 scenario but based on a quick transition to solar, wind and geothermal energy and a minimum in bio-energy – is the only scenario that shows a strong decline in both carbon footprint (− 66%) and consumptive WF (− 12%) in 2035 compared to the reference year 2010.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1282-1288
JournalScience of the total environment
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • METIS-317611
  • IR-101118


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