Water–Energy Nexus

Ten-Year Goal

Demonstrate an integrated system of nontraditional water treatment and renewable energy generation sources, and define the feasibility and optimization paths for development of full-scale desalination system(s) with significant cost reductions.

Graphic: Water-Energy Nexus Initiative

The Challenge

Water Energy Nexus iconDrought, population growth, energy use, land use, socioeconomic changes, and a shifting climate increase water demand and exacerbate pressure on water and energy infrastructure. Though the market has already partially responded to these challenges through adjustments in water and energy management practices and policies, additional action is needed to diversify sources and increase resilience of those systems. Historically, interactions between energy and water have been considered on a regional or technology-by-technology basis. Despite their interdependency, energy and water systems have been developed, managed, and regulated independently . This approach has proven particularly ineffective in power generation (both traditional and renewable), manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and large urban systems.


Scientist working in the lab

Research Summary

At Berkeley Lab, the mission of the Energy Technologies Area’s (ETA’s) Water–Energy Nexus Initiative is to lead and contribute to the U.S. transition to more resilient coupled water–energy systems. Water research can take over a decade to be commercialized, and widespread adoption of infrastructure technologies can take even longer. The ETA seeks to shorten these time frames by leading and coordinating science and technology efforts at the intersection of water and energy, and across the spectrum of technology readiness levels. The goal is to enable the production of cost-competitive clean water from traditional sources and nontraditional water sources such as seawater, produced water from oil and gas, and wastewater from power generation. This work will help transform the energy sector’s produced water from a waste product to a valuable resource, lower freshwater use intensity in U.S. power plants, improve agricultural water use efficiency, expand water reuse and resource recovery, and accelerate the deployment of smart grid-enabled water supplies. Our strategy includes an aggressive science and technology approach that addresses the impacts of demographic stress and extreme weather events on the management of our nation’s water and energy resources.


For more details on this initiative, take a look at ETA's 2021 Strategic Plan.



Short Term (six months - two years)

  • Identify, initiate, and scale-up fundamental materials discovery programs. Better understanding of the underlying scientific principles and innovation in materials sciences are key for successful development of energy-efficient water treatment technologies.
  • Conduct a life-cycle analysis of urban water delivery systems and industrial oil/gas water–energy interdependencies. Establishing key areas for water–energy technology advancements and assessing economic impacts are essential for effective use of R&D resources.
  • Establish meaningful collaboration with industry partners. Provide technical assistance to industry partners to advance and improve existing state-of-the-art water–energy technologies.
  • Build partnerships and collect data needed to address key problems in the water–energy space.

Medium Term (three - five years)

  • Seed one or two novel disruptive technologies in advanced membranes, capacitive deionization, ion sorption, and/or electric field separations. Move breakthrough discoveries into the technology development phase.
  • Demonstrate an integrated system of ion separation/desalination and renewable energy generation sources. Demonstrate feasibility and optimization paths for development of full-scale desalination system(s) with significant cost reductions. Deploy models to address these problems.

Long Term (five years and beyond) 

  • Demonstrate new methods of desalination at half the cost of the current state-of-the-art technologies.

Berkeley Lab leads the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Energy-Water Desalination Hub, a key Strategic Initiative for the nation as we move toward a secure water and energy future. Along with cofounding laboratories Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, NAWI brings together a world-class team of industry and academic partners to examine the critical technical barriers and research needed to radically lower the cost and energy required for desalination.

In addition to the national labs, the research consortium includes 10 industry partners, 19 leading U.S. research universities, a Research Advisory Council, an Industry Advisory Council, and the NAWI Alliance, an open-membership organization.

Developed in 2019, more than $100 million for the project comes from DOE with an additional $34 million in cost-share contributions from public and private stakeholders. The Hub also will support DOE’s Water Security Grand Challenge.