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Renewable energy: water-land
nexus, food-biofuels tradeoffs
Claudia Ringler
Environment and Production Technology Division
International Food Policy Research Institute
April 19, 2022 | Penn State University WEF Nexus 597 (003 LEC, Class 27525)
The ‘dark’ side of renewables
On the origin of the NEXUS
1) Growing natural resource scarcity→ existing interdependencies
between natural resources and human development increase
food or energy prices or water scarcity
2) Biofuel development using maize in the United States under the
US Energy Policy Act of 2005 has led to a direct competition for
land, water, energy, capital and labor between food and energy
production; accounted possibly for around 30% of the 2007/08
food price hike
3) Energy as a requirement for agricultural intensification and to
support nutrient-dense crops (irrigation, mechanization,
fertilizer)
Ringler et al. (2013)
Source: Obadi (2014).
Energy and food price trends
Total energy use
US Energy Consumption
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2021) Monthly Energy Review May 2021.
Unit costs of some renewables has come down
Source: IPCC WG3, AR6 2022.
Energy consumption (MTOE), 2020
https://yearbook.enerdata.net/renewables/renewable-in-electricity-production-share.html
The role of biofuels
1) Promoted as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels as they
could help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and
climate change impacts from transportation
2) Large-scale development using maize in the United States
under the US Energy Policy Act of 2005 has led to direct
competition for land, water, energy, capital and labor between
food and energy production; accounted possibly for around
30% of the 2007/08 food price hike
3) Three generations: 1st: corn ethanol or soy biodiesel, sunflower
oil; 2nd: perennial grasses; 3rd: algae under development
Jeswani et al. (2020)
The role of biofuels
1) If no land-use change (LUC) is involved, first-generation
biofuels can—on average— have lower GHG emissions than
fossil fuels
2) Second-generation biofuels have, in general, a greater potential
to reduce the emissions, provided there is no LUC.
3) Third-generation biofuels do not represent a feasible option at
present state of development as their GHG emissions are
higher than those from fossil fuels
Jeswani et al. (2020)
The role of biofuels- important environmental impacts
1) Land use and biodiversity impacts [EU palmoil story]
2) Food security impacts
3) Water use impacts
4) Water pollution impacts
5) Human health impacts
6) Larger greenhouse gas emissions if LUC is considered
Jeswani et al. (2020)
Source: IPCC WG3, AR6 2022.
EU palmoil imports by end use
https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/almost-two-thirds-palm-oil-consumed-eu-burned-energy-new-data/
The role of biofuels- important environmental impacts
IPCC WG3 AR6, April 2022
Africa
9.8
MW
p
India
511.9
MWp
B’desh
22.3
MWp
RoW
5.6
MW
p
Source: IRENA Off-grid RE Statistics 2020
https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Dec/Off-
grid-renewable-energy-statistics-2020
Thanks to Shilp Verma, IWMI
Solar energy: Large, global potential
Advantages/challenges of solar
▪ Improved ‘water control’
▪ Higher land and labour productivity
▪ Higher gross and net returns
▪ Improved food and nutritional security
▪ Improved climate resilience
▪ Lower carbon footprint
▪ If extra energy is fed back to the grid, some
incentive to reduce depletion
▪ In most cases, increased water depletion
▪ Often expansion of irrigated area
▪ Solar irrigation is taking off, BUT still only
only 0.3 m in India, compared to 5-10 m
diesel pumps
Hydropower
▪ 85% of all renewable energy in 2015, down to 60% in 2020
(IEA)
▪ Hydropower can constrain or support irrigation (Zeng et al.
2017)
▪ Development of multipurpose reservoirs, including for
hydropower and irrigation can expand irrigated area into arid
and hyper-arid areas that grow vulnerability during drought and
climate change (WB 2016)
▪ Particularly affected by climate change, “battery” function if
combined with wind and solar
▪ Large known adverse impacts on the environment
War in Ukraine: further strengthened the Nexus between
energy and food prices, implications for water and the
environment yet to be assessed
Source: How Bad is U.S. Inflation? The February 2022 Consumer Price Index in Plain English | Investing.com CA
Consumer price index 01/2021-01/2022, USA
War in Ukraine: Russian exports of natural gas account for
about 20% of global trade and Russia supplies about 40%
of the EU’s current imports
War in Ukraine: Russia account for 15% of global trade in nitrogenous
fertilizers
War in Ukraine: Russia accounts for 17% of global potash fertilizer exports,
Belarus accounts for 16% of global potash fertilizer exports
NEXUS Results of the war in Ukraine
Renewable transitions are important, but wider
impacts need to be better assessed and factored into
assessments
▪ Access to clean energy for all reduces pressure on deforestation which in turn
supports agro-ecosystems, gendered time allocation and—through affecting
climate change—everyone on the globe
▪ Energy access not only increases agricultural productivity, but reduces pressure
on natural resources through enabling precision-agriculture practices (laser land
leveling, soil moisture sensors, etc.) and reduces postharvest losses through
cooling, storage and transportation of perishable products
▪ Access to clean/renewable energy, without a strong policy environment, can
lead to further environmental degradation (unchecked irrigation development,
groundwater depletion, overapplication of chemicals)
▪ Renewable energy solutions are important but are either highly water intensive
(biofuels) or increase the risk of water depletion and degradation (solar-
irrigation) or have other environmental impacts (hydropower/ wind)
→ NEXUS assessments are important

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Renewable energy: water-land nexus, food-biofuels tradeoffs

  • 1. Renewable energy: water-land nexus, food-biofuels tradeoffs Claudia Ringler Environment and Production Technology Division International Food Policy Research Institute April 19, 2022 | Penn State University WEF Nexus 597 (003 LEC, Class 27525) The ‘dark’ side of renewables
  • 2. On the origin of the NEXUS 1) Growing natural resource scarcity→ existing interdependencies between natural resources and human development increase food or energy prices or water scarcity 2) Biofuel development using maize in the United States under the US Energy Policy Act of 2005 has led to a direct competition for land, water, energy, capital and labor between food and energy production; accounted possibly for around 30% of the 2007/08 food price hike 3) Energy as a requirement for agricultural intensification and to support nutrient-dense crops (irrigation, mechanization, fertilizer) Ringler et al. (2013)
  • 3. Source: Obadi (2014). Energy and food price trends
  • 5. US Energy Consumption Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2021) Monthly Energy Review May 2021.
  • 6. Unit costs of some renewables has come down Source: IPCC WG3, AR6 2022.
  • 7. Energy consumption (MTOE), 2020 https://yearbook.enerdata.net/renewables/renewable-in-electricity-production-share.html
  • 8. The role of biofuels 1) Promoted as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels as they could help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change impacts from transportation 2) Large-scale development using maize in the United States under the US Energy Policy Act of 2005 has led to direct competition for land, water, energy, capital and labor between food and energy production; accounted possibly for around 30% of the 2007/08 food price hike 3) Three generations: 1st: corn ethanol or soy biodiesel, sunflower oil; 2nd: perennial grasses; 3rd: algae under development Jeswani et al. (2020)
  • 9. The role of biofuels 1) If no land-use change (LUC) is involved, first-generation biofuels can—on average— have lower GHG emissions than fossil fuels 2) Second-generation biofuels have, in general, a greater potential to reduce the emissions, provided there is no LUC. 3) Third-generation biofuels do not represent a feasible option at present state of development as their GHG emissions are higher than those from fossil fuels Jeswani et al. (2020)
  • 10. The role of biofuels- important environmental impacts 1) Land use and biodiversity impacts [EU palmoil story] 2) Food security impacts 3) Water use impacts 4) Water pollution impacts 5) Human health impacts 6) Larger greenhouse gas emissions if LUC is considered Jeswani et al. (2020)
  • 11. Source: IPCC WG3, AR6 2022.
  • 12. EU palmoil imports by end use https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/almost-two-thirds-palm-oil-consumed-eu-burned-energy-new-data/
  • 13. The role of biofuels- important environmental impacts IPCC WG3 AR6, April 2022
  • 14. Africa 9.8 MW p India 511.9 MWp B’desh 22.3 MWp RoW 5.6 MW p Source: IRENA Off-grid RE Statistics 2020 https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Dec/Off- grid-renewable-energy-statistics-2020 Thanks to Shilp Verma, IWMI Solar energy: Large, global potential
  • 15. Advantages/challenges of solar ▪ Improved ‘water control’ ▪ Higher land and labour productivity ▪ Higher gross and net returns ▪ Improved food and nutritional security ▪ Improved climate resilience ▪ Lower carbon footprint ▪ If extra energy is fed back to the grid, some incentive to reduce depletion ▪ In most cases, increased water depletion ▪ Often expansion of irrigated area ▪ Solar irrigation is taking off, BUT still only only 0.3 m in India, compared to 5-10 m diesel pumps
  • 16. Hydropower ▪ 85% of all renewable energy in 2015, down to 60% in 2020 (IEA) ▪ Hydropower can constrain or support irrigation (Zeng et al. 2017) ▪ Development of multipurpose reservoirs, including for hydropower and irrigation can expand irrigated area into arid and hyper-arid areas that grow vulnerability during drought and climate change (WB 2016) ▪ Particularly affected by climate change, “battery” function if combined with wind and solar ▪ Large known adverse impacts on the environment
  • 17. War in Ukraine: further strengthened the Nexus between energy and food prices, implications for water and the environment yet to be assessed
  • 18. Source: How Bad is U.S. Inflation? The February 2022 Consumer Price Index in Plain English | Investing.com CA Consumer price index 01/2021-01/2022, USA
  • 19. War in Ukraine: Russian exports of natural gas account for about 20% of global trade and Russia supplies about 40% of the EU’s current imports
  • 20. War in Ukraine: Russia account for 15% of global trade in nitrogenous fertilizers
  • 21. War in Ukraine: Russia accounts for 17% of global potash fertilizer exports, Belarus accounts for 16% of global potash fertilizer exports
  • 22. NEXUS Results of the war in Ukraine
  • 23. Renewable transitions are important, but wider impacts need to be better assessed and factored into assessments ▪ Access to clean energy for all reduces pressure on deforestation which in turn supports agro-ecosystems, gendered time allocation and—through affecting climate change—everyone on the globe ▪ Energy access not only increases agricultural productivity, but reduces pressure on natural resources through enabling precision-agriculture practices (laser land leveling, soil moisture sensors, etc.) and reduces postharvest losses through cooling, storage and transportation of perishable products ▪ Access to clean/renewable energy, without a strong policy environment, can lead to further environmental degradation (unchecked irrigation development, groundwater depletion, overapplication of chemicals) ▪ Renewable energy solutions are important but are either highly water intensive (biofuels) or increase the risk of water depletion and degradation (solar- irrigation) or have other environmental impacts (hydropower/ wind) → NEXUS assessments are important