Unlocking the Impacts of COVID-19 Lockdowns: Changes in Thermal Electricity Generation Water Footprint and Virtual Water Trade in Europe

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Drastic changes in electricity demand have been observed since March 2020 in Europe, after several countries implemented lockdown-like measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. We investigate the sensitivity of the electricity–water nexus in the European electric grid to large-scale behavior changes during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown-like measures. We quantify changes in the blue virtual water trade between five European countries heavily affected by COVID-19 during the same period. As a result, the consumptive water footprint of thermal power plant operations in Europe decreased by 1.77 × 106 m3/day during the COVID-19 lockdowns, compared to the average of the past four years. Reduced electricity demand accounts for 16% (0.29 × 106 m3/day) of the decrease, while the remainder is attributable to changes in the electricity generation mix toward less water-intensive technologies before 2020 and during lockdowns. Virtual water transfers associated with electricity were also affected: Italy, a hotspot of COVID-19, reduced its water footprint by 8.4% and its virtual water imports by 70,700 m3/day. Germany and France slightly reduced their domestic water footprint of electricity but increased their virtual water imports. These findings improve our understanding of the impacts of large-scale behavior and technological changes to the European electricity–water nexus.


Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society.
From the publisher:
This article is made available via the ACS COVID-19 subset for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

Supporting information: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00381



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Environmental Science & Technology Letters