Need Energy? Just Add Water

Jonathan Strickland

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Where will we get our energy in the future? We've covered the topic quite a few times on Fw:Thinking - in videos, podcasts and blog posts. It's a really complicated topic. That's not just my opinion -- it's science. Some researchers at MIT did a study on energy and found that there are many different pathways we could take depending upon what we decide is important.

For example, if we decide the financial cost of generating electricity is the most important factor, expect coal to stick around for a long time (and greenhouse gas emissions will come along for the ride). If we decided that the most important thing would be to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, coal goes away and we end up using really expensive, less efficient alternative power sources.

The researchers threw in a third major factor: water. Many of the ways we generate energy use lots of water. Water is used to generate steam and turn turbines and in cooling systems. But one future concern is that access to water isn't a guarantee -- climate change could shift resources and make it significantly more difficult to use traditional energy plants.

So if water is a big concern, we'd want to invest in technologies like wind farms and solar cells. The researchers pointed out that you can't really settle on one philosophy and put all your effort behind it. Instead, you need to take all the factors into consideration and make choices today that will affect us in the next few decades.

I don't think these challenges make the problem too big to handle. My opinion is that by knowing what hurdles we have to overcome, we can better prepare ourselves for success. It's going to take a lot of effort not just in innovation but in convincing everyone that this is something worth doing. And part of that means being honest about how complicated and challenging it's going to be.