Author Archives: Kate Zerrenner

New Graphics from DOE Illustrate the Energy-Water-Land Nexus

Energy-Water-Land NexusI’ve talked a lot about the inextricable link between the energy and water sectors, but land is a third component in this nexus that’s starting to gain recognition – and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is taking note. In fact, they recently released a 250-plus page report on the energy-water nexus (which I explore in-depth in a recent blog post) with accompanying visuals to illustrate the connection between these three sectors.

What is a Sankey diagram?

The primary graphic used to illustrate the connection between these three resources is the Sankey diagram. At first glance, it may make your head spin, but Sankey diagrams are commonly used to visualize energy transfers (although they are also used for other things, such as migration flows).

For example, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) uses Sankey diagrams in its Annual Energy Reports to illustrate the production and consumption of different energy sources. Since the width of the arrows corresponds with quantity, the viewer can easily see where the biggest impacts lie. In this case, it’s clear to see which energy resources are gulping down our water. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy-Water Nexus| 2 Responses

Landmark Report from DOE Highlights New Challenges, Opportunities for the Energy-Water Nexus

Source: Department of Energy

Source: Department of Energy

If we can send a man to the moon, we can ensure the viability of essential resources – such as energy and water – in an unpredictable future affected by climate change.

A recent report released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities, attempts to plan for this uncertainty by providing a landmark review of the US energy-water nexus – the first report of its kind from DOE.

Although there were many compelling findings in this 250-plus page report, for me there were two compelling themes worth noting: 1) energy and water are fundamentally intertwined, but so is land in this nexus, and 2) the Federal Government has an important role to play in providing support and leadership to the entities that govern these resources so that they may begin planning for the effects of climate change more holistically and collaboratively.

The energy, water…and land nexus

The DOE report affirms that the energy and water sectors are highly interconnected, but it also sheds light on a third component that’s becoming increasingly difficult to isolate from the energy-water nexus: land. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy-Water Nexus| 1 Response

The Energy-Water Nexus Faces an Up-Hill Battle…But at Least it’s on ‘The Hill’

Source: Argonne National Library

Source: Argonne National Library

The energy-water nexus has been gaining traction around the globe, including serving as the theme to this year’s World Water Day, and now we are finally seeing some movement on Capitol Hill.

In January, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) introduced S. 1971, the Nexus of Energy and Water for Sustainability Act of 2014, or NEWS Act of 2014. Foremost, the bill would establish an interagency coordination committee focused on the nexus between energy and water production, use, and efficiency. The NEWS Act of 2014 also proposes a cross-cutting budget mechanism to allow policymakers to see where funding is needed across various energy-water initiatives.

While the bill faces a particularly steep slope to passage (7% compared to an average overall 11% passage rate, according to GovTrack, a government transparency tracker), that it has been introduced at all is the first sign of a more comprehensive approach to the energy-water nexus at the highest levels. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Energy-Water Nexus, Renewable Energy, Utility Business Models| 1 Response, comments now closed

Desalination can Help Solve our Water Woes, but not without Clean Energy

Source: Prodes Project

Source: Prodes Project

As drought continues to grip Texas and many other Western states, one of the solutions often discussed (and pursued) to overcome water scarcity is desalination. Simply put, desalination, or desal as it is most commonly called, is a process that removes salt and other minerals from salty (brackish) or seawater to produce freshwater for drinking and agriculture. This technology seems like a no-brainer option for addressing the state’s water woes, but the problem is that desalination uses a lot of electricity and the majority of Texas’ electricity comes from coal and gas power plants, which require copious amounts of water to generate that electricity. It doesn’t make much sense to use water to make water, especially when there’s an alternative in Texas’ abundant renewable energy resources.

Texas is the national leader in wind energy and has the greatest solar energy potential in the U.S., yet neither of these resources are being widely deployed for desal plants despite recent studies pointing to vast opportunities. Not only do these energy resources produce negligible carbon emissions, but they also consume little to no water, unlike fossil-fueled power plants. Furthermore, if we look at where brackish water sources are located compared to where the wind and solar energy potential is in this state, the overlap is pretty clear. This synergy should not be ignored. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Renewable Energy, Texas| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Showtime Brings Realities of Texas Drought Home to Millions

Source: Jack Newton

Source: Jack Newton

It may seem like only yesterday that Texans were asked to conserve water after another scorching summer, but in reality it was four, dry years ago. The drought, which began in 2010 after La Niña altered sea level temperatures in the Pacific, continues to persist in the Lone Star State and promises to surpass the state’s record-setting multi-year drought from the 1950s. Ranchers have been forced to sell off cattle, town water supplies continue to go dry, and power plants struggle to provide a reliable supply of electricity due to water scarcity and long stretches of hot weather. Given these bleak conditions, it should not come as a surprise that 70 percent of Texans believe global warming is happening—and 52 percent said they have personally experienced the effects of global warming.

An all-star team of producers, including James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger, intends to bring the Texas drought home to millions of televisions across the nation in the Years of Living Dangerously series premiering Sunday. Through this series, a host of celebrities, activists and journalists share the stories of those impacted most by our changing climate and what’s being done to save our planet. What is clear right now, in Texas and beyond, is that as climate change intensifies, we must adapt to more extreme weather conditions and make resilient changes that mitigate further stress. Read More »

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Energy-Water Nexus Around the World and the Missing Link

IEA blog

Source: Chenected

The energy-water nexus is gaining traction with diverse stakeholders around the world and it is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot plan for our planet’s future if we do not consider energy and water together.

Most recently, the United Nations celebrated World Water Day, launching a yearlong effort to highlight the global energy-water nexus, the chosen theme for 2014. In honor of World Water Day, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual World Energy Outlook report, the first analysis of its kind to look at the impacts of water scarcity on the global energy sector. This signals a big step in the global understanding of the importance of the energy-water nexus, and reveals important insights on how regions, nations, and industries must cope with less water in a changing climate. Read More »

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On World Water Day, Why Talk About Energy?

Source: UN Water

Source: UN Water

The theme of this year’s World Water Day on March 22nd is the “energy-water nexus,” and the timing couldn't be better. According to the United Nations (who first established World Water Day in 1993):

  • 780 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water.
  • 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity.
  • 90 percent of the power generation in the world comes from water-intensive fossil fuels.
  • As countries progress and develop, there is an increased risk of conflict between power generators, other water users, and environmental concerns.
  • By 2035, global water withdrawals for energy are predicted to increase by 20 percent, and water consumption for energy is expected to increase by 85 percent.

For the past year, I’ve been trying to bring awareness to the connection between energy and water in Texas, but this issue is much bigger than a single state. Energy and water are both basic components of life and economic progress, and they are also inextricably linked. Energy is used to secure, deliver, treat, and distribute water, while water is used (and often degraded) to develop, process and deliver energy. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Utility Business Models| Tagged | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Will Texas Step Up to the Plate on Energy Efficiency and Carbon Pollution Standards?

Coal-Plant-225x3001A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about energy efficiency and the Clean Air Act section 111(d) provisions in anticipation of the SPEER Second Annual Summit, a gathering of top energy efficiency industry leaders from Texas and Oklahoma. At the Summit, I co-led a session on Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) push to regulate power plant emissions. Session attendees agreed that Texas would be an unlikely leader in developing innovative ways to comply with carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

This is a missed opportunity on Texas’ part, as states will get the first crack at drafting plans to comply with new federal standards. This is an important opportunity because individual states are in the best position to craft frameworks that enable maximum flexibility and are appropriately tailored to local circumstances. So, this begs the question: is there an alternative, more constructive path that is most beneficial to Texas? Read More »

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World Bank’s Announcement of ‘Thirsty Energy’ Initiative Signals Growing Importance of Energy-Water Nexus

Kate ZerrennerEnergy and water, two of our most important global resources, are inextricably linked. And yet when it comes to planning, the regulatory agencies in charge of managing these precious resources are often separate and uncoordinated in their decision-making. With the World Bank’s recent unveiling of its Thirsty Energy initiative, it seems that the energy-water nexus is finally being taken seriously- and on a global scale.

This new initiative aims to address the interconnection between energy and water head-on by providing countries with “assessment tools and management frameworks” to help governments “coordinate decision-making” when planning for future energy and water infrastructure. Fortunately, this kind of guidance couldn’t come soon enough. Here’s a cool infographic from the Thirsty Energy website to illustrate where we are and where we’re headed: Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Energy Financing, Energy-Water Nexus, Utility Business Models| 3 Responses, comments now closed

Energy Efficiency Is Key to Achieving Carbon Pollution Standard

Kate Zerrenner

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

Right now, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, even though these facilities were responsible for  roughly 40 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is crafting greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for new fossil fuel-fired power plants by setting a limit on how much CO2 the plants can emit. Later this year, EPA will issue proposed CO2 “emission guidelines” for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants using various Clean Air Act tools to protect human health and to clean up our air.

To achieve significant and cost-effective emission reductions from existing power plants, EPA should look to leading states that are already implementing successful measures to reduce emissions. These measures include investing in renewable energy, harvesting energy efficiency, and utilizing more efficient and lower-emitting fossil fuel-fired units. Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, Clean Energy, Climate, Energy Efficiency, Texas| Tagged , | 3 Responses, comments now closed