So, we’re all like: “yeah, I’m all about plug-in hybrids, you know? It’s so cool, emission-free and that. Saving the plant one car journey at a time, right?” and that’s good and everyone’s happy and we’re all cruising about about in our hybrids and congratulating ourselves on our all around brilliance. Well, sort of. But just when we’re settling into this plugged-in happy dream, those pesky academics have to come along and ruin it.
What about the water?
What about all the water we’re going to need to supply these hybrid vehicles?
According to academics over at the University of Austin in Texas, it’s a doozy of a problem. A recent report from two of them notes:
Converting light-duty vehicles from full gasoline power to electric power, by using either hybrid electric vehicles or fully electric power vehicles, is likely to increase demand for water resources. In the United States in 2005, drivers of 234 million cars, light trucks, and SUVs drove approximately 2.7 trillion miles and consumed over 380 million gallons of gasoline per day. We compare figures from literature and government surveys to calculate the water usage, consumption, and withdrawal, in the United States during petroleum refining and electricity generation. In displacing gasoline miles with electric miles, approximately 3 times more water is consumed (0.32 versus 0.07–0.14 gallons/mile) and over 17 times more water is withdrawn (10.6 versus 0.6 gallons/mile) primarily due to increased water cooling of thermoelectric power plants to accommodate increased electricity generation.
Overall, we conclude that the impact on water resources from a widespread shift to grid-based transportation would be substantial enough to warrant consideration for relevant public policy decision-making. That is not to say that the negative impacts on water resources make such a shift undesirable, but rather this increase in water usage presents a significant potential impact on regional water resources and should be considered when planning for a plugged-in automotive economy.