Virtual water transfers of the US electric grid

Christopher M. Chini, Lucas A. Djehdian, William N. Lubega, Ashlynn S. Stillwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water is consumed in the generation of electricity and then transmitted, virtually, across the electric grid, creating a network of water transfers. Virtual water transfers of electricity are an understudied area of the energy–water nexus, with important policy and conservation considerations. Here we analyse the virtual water flows of the US electric grid and the changes in network structure from 2010 to 2016 using electricity transfers between power control areas and power-plant-level water for electricity. Transfers of blue water were 9.21 km3 in 2010 and 11.21 km3 in 2016. Transfers of grey water were 50.18 km3 in 2010 compared to 71.64 km3 in 2016. The change in blue water transfers are despite national trends of lower freshwater demands of thermoelectric power generation. We provide a mapping of virtual water transfers through the US electric grid over time, including blue and grey water, and network analysis of the system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1115-1123
Number of pages9
JournalNature Energy
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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