Energy Exchange

The energy reality behind Cape Town's water crisis – and why the U.S. should care

In Cape Town, South Africa, the countdown is on for Day Zero when water taps in the city of 4 million people are expected to run dry.

Yet, while this water crisis has been making headlines worldwide, nobody’s talking about the connection between water and energy. In a rapidly changing climate, we should.

Cape Town may be the first major city staring down a water scarcity crisis, but it’s not alone. One-quarter of the world’s large cities, including at least two in the United States, are “water-stressed,” a 2014 study found.

As it turns out, many of them also happen to rely on the world’s thirstiest energy source: coal. Read More »

Posted in Energy-Water Nexus / Read 2 Responses

3 things my climate-skeptic dad taught me about clean energy advocacy

Kate Zerrenner and her dad.

As an advocate for the air, water, and economic benefits that clean energy provides, I find some of my most challenging – and maybe most rewarding – work is trying to engage climate-skeptic lawmakers at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

To facilitate that work, I use lessons I’ve learned from my dad, who lives in San Antonio and with whom I don’t often agree when it comes to our approach on the environment. In the spirit of the holidays, I want to thank him for all those conversations in which we didn’t see eye to eye. Little did I know then, he was teaching me the tools of my trade.

Here are three lessons my dad taught me that I use daily in my work as a clean energy advocate. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Equity, Texas / Comments are closed

If we don’t talk about water, are we really talking about resiliency?

It’s time to rely on water-smart power

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is trying to prop up coal and nuclear companies under the guise of enhanced “resiliency.” The Department of Energy’s (DOE) proposal does not define resiliency, nor does it even make clear what resiliency means in the context of the electric grid.

Resiliency in the energy sector generally, however, depends on water. The majority of the electricity that powers our world runs on century-old technology, guzzling down our most precious resource: water. Depending on the type of technology, generating just one megawatt-hour of electricity could use anywhere from 500 to 50,000 gallons. Solar and wind, on the other hand, use negligible amounts of water, and energy efficiency uses none.

Yet neither the DOE’s proposal nor its recent study on grid reliability touches on climate and water. Specifically, there is no mention of how climate change affects water availability or what that means for electric reliability. If Secretary Perry is really concerned about resiliency, water should be a key focus. And as a former governor from a drought-stricken state, he should know better. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Energy-Water Nexus, Grid Modernization / Read 1 Response

How utilities can enter the energy-saving business this Energy Efficiency Day

Today is Energy Efficiency Day in the U.S. As someone who’s advocated for energy efficiency for nearly a decade, I’m glad to see the resource celebrated. Efficiency, from LED lightbulbs to insulation, is the most critical energy resource we have – energy we don’t use is our cleanest and cheapest option.

So, why isn’t everyone jumping on the efficiency bandwagon? In part it’s because utilities don’t usually encourage customers to save electricity. Electric companies make money by selling more electricity, so they’re reluctant to reduce use and their profits.

Nevertheless, utilities are logical places for energy efficiency programs, given their electricity relationships with customers.

Many states have efficiency goals that require utilities to invest in efficiency programs for customers, but much more could be done if the utility business model were reformed to align utility incentives with customer energy efficiency. Fortunately, several states across the country are reimagining the role of electric utilities in America’s 21st-century energy system, which could unlock efficiency’s potential. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency / Comments are closed

Historic buildings or energy efficiency? Texas gets both, with innovative financing.

When it comes to the history and DNA of a city, new buildings have nothing on century-old ones. Yet the reverse can be said in regard to water and energy efficiency. Older buildings reflect the culture and history of a community, but typically are highly inefficient.

Such was the case with the Butler Brothers Building in Dallas, a previously-abandoned 1910 structure that was often referred to as an eyesore. So when the real estate developer Alterra International decided to turn the building into a mixed-use complex with apartments, hotel rooms, and retail space, a lot of work was needed to improve its water and energy efficiency – work that required up-front capital investments.

Through the Texas PACE Authority’s “PACE in a Box” model, Alterra International was able to secure $23.9 million in PACE financing for upgrades that will slash carbon pollution, cutting energy use by about 40 percent and annual water use by almost 700,000 gallons.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a financing model that helps local governments and the private sector back energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades for homes and businesses. Texas is the only state that includes water in its PACE programs and could serve as a model for other water-strapped states. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy Financing, Texas / Comments are closed

El Paso Electric should protect the city’s water and let solar power shine

Resiliency is a hot button word right now. Ten years ago, advocates focused on “adaptation,” or the idea of adapting to the coming effects of climate change. Now the focus is on “resiliency,” the ability to bounce forward – not backward – when something disastrous happens.

For El Paso, a city on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, resilience is critical. A huge city in the middle of the desert with an average rainfall around 8 inches per year, El Paso needs to be hardy, especially when it comes to water. Read More »

Posted in Energy-Water Nexus, General, Texas / Read 4 Responses