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Energy Water Nexus


Question: What actions can address interdependent water-energy challenges, and drive us toward a secure water and energy future?

Submit proposals:
Rules: All entrants must agree to the Contest Rules and Terms of Use.
Deadline: Monday, May 23, 2016 at 19:00:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
Judging Criteria & Prizes: See below.


Water and energy are vital to sustain human life. The provision of secure, safe, affordable and sustainable water and energy supplies are universal goals in every society. However, even as demands on both energy and water inexorably grow with expanding economies and increases in population, regions around the world already experience vulnerabilities in these resources, impacting both their quantity and quality. Balancing these demands with the complications of climate change will require sustained technological, political and governance innovations. Recognizing that energy is “water thirsty”, and that the provision of water is energy-intensive is the fundamental insight of the energy-water nexus. It gives us immense opportunities for integrated solutions that address both issues simultaneously.

Key Issues

First we must understand the deeper reasons why water and energy are inextricably intertwined.

Water has extraordinary physical properties that enable it to absorb and transport energy.  It has the highest latent heat of all fluids (allowing it to store and transport energy when it changes from liquid to steam) and the second highest heat capacity (allowing it to absorb enormous amounts of heat with small changes in temperature). These physical properties make water indispensable to the production of energy.  About 80 percent of the world’s electricity is generated in thermal power plants (IEA 2013) in which water cools (high heat capacity!) the steam that spins the electricity-generating turbines (high latent heat!). In addition to producing electricity at power plants, water is also used to extract, refine, and process the fuels that go into them. At the same time, given the central importance of clean water to sustaining life, a lot of electricity is used to extract, treat, pump or heat water. Access to clean water and sanitation can thus be jeopardized by insufficient electricity, protection of water against contamination can save energy, while rising temperatures and droughts can disrupt electricity production. These complex interdependencies between the two systems have been termed the "energy-water nexus."

Climate change has already affected the energy-water nexus. Heat waves curtailed French nuclear power production in 2003 and 2009 due to lack of sufficiently cool water while California’s hydroelectric production in 2015 has fallen by over 30% due to drought (US EIA 2015). In the future, the relationship between energy and water systems will continue to evolve, driven by mitigation measures affecting energy portfolios and technologies, and adaptation measures addressing floods, drought and heatwaves.Moreover, the dynamics of the energy-water nexus imply that challenges, constraints and opportunities in one create tradeoffs and synergies in the other; innovative strategies for conserving, reusing or recycling water will definitely alter energy use, and vice versa. This contest seeks high-impact proposals providing an immediate, feasible action that can be taken at any local, national, regional, and international scale that can drive us towards a sustainable and secure water and energy future.

Participants could consider the strategic opportunities outlined in the US Department of Energy’s 2014 Water-Energy Nexus report:

Picture Credit: World Bank “Thirsty Energy”


Judging Criteria

Judges will be asked to evaluate proposals on the following criteria: feasibility, novelty, impact and presentation quality.  Winning proposals will be especially strong in at least one of the first three dimensions, and also well presented.  

For details about the judging criteria, click here.

You can find the proposal template here, and contest schedule here.


Top proposals in each contest will be awarded…

Judges’ Choice Winner – Strongest overall

Popular Choice Winner – Received the most votes during the voting period

Impact Award – Largest impact and highly feasible

Novelty Award – Most innovative

The Judges’ and Popular Choice Winners will be invited to MIT to present their proposal, enter the Climate CoLab Winners Program and be eligible for the $10,000 Grand Prize. All award winners will receive wide recognition and visibility by the MIT Climate CoLab.

All Finalists are asked to submit a 3-minute video outlining their proposal.  Videos will be featured on the MIT Climate CoLab website and Winners will show their videos at the conference.

If your proposal is included in a top global climate action plan, you will receive CoLab Points, which are redeemable for cash prizes.

Resources for Proposal Authors

  1. United Nations Water Program
  2. World Bank Group: “Thirsty energy”
  3. International Energy Agency (IEA)
  4. U.S Department of Energy
  5. US Geological Service, The water-energy nexus—An earth science perspective
  6. National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  7. Energy Water Nexus
  8. Union of Concerned Scientists: The Energy water collision
  9. Sandia National Laboratories
  10. Asian Development Bank