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

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journal contribution
posted on 23.07.2020, 18:36 by Mario Roidt, Christopher M. Chini, Ashlynn S. Stillwell, Andrea Cominola
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.