Author Archives: Kate Zerrenner

New ‘Smart Cities’ Guide Helps Leaders Plan for a Sustainable Future

Kate ZerrennerOn November 18th, the Smart Cities Council released the Smart Cities Council Readiness Guide at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. I am privileged to be a member of the Smart Cities Council Advisory Board, and in such a capacity, served as a review for the Guide.

The Smart Cities Council Readiness Guide is the first of its kind—a comprehensive, vendor-neutral handbook for city leaders and planners to help them assess their current state of technology and give them a roadmap for developing a smart city.

It was produced in collaboration with some of the world’s top smart city experts and includes technology recommendations for a city’s most important responsibilities: buildings, energy, telecommunications, transportation, water and wastewater, health and human services, public safety and payments.

My reviews were solely of the energy and water chapters, but the Guide as a whole offers a collection of guidelines, best practices and more than 50 case studies as well as 27 proven principles that will enable cities to achieve a smart city status. City planners will be able to identify the best path forward for their particular city, creating a customized plan that will work, even if development of the plan is gradual. Read More »

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Energy And Water Utilities’ Unique Perspectives Uncover Joint Cost-Saving Solutions

In the past, I’ve written a lot about the inherent connection between energy and water use and the need for co-management of energy-water planning. Most of the energy we use requires copious amounts of water to produce, and most of the water we use requires a considerable amount of energy to treat and transport. Despite this inherent connection, it’s actually uncommon to see energy and water utilities collaborating to identify best practices to save energy and water and even lower costs. Think of it this way: If energy and water utilities worked together, their unique perspectives could uncover joint cost-saving solutions, customers would save more money and utilities could share data to better understand their holistic energy-water footprint.

Identifying why there is a lack of collaboration and how to overcome these barriers was the motivation behind the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE’s) recent report.  The report goes beyond citing discrepancies, though, and provides solutions for energy and water utilities to create better, more resource-efficient programs for themselves and their customers.

The report highlights a number of ways U.S. energy and water utilities have collaborated to identify mutually-beneficial energy and water savings. It lists successful energy and water utility programs from a variety of different sectors, including residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and municipal. Read More »

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Texas Universities Exhibit At The Solar Decathlon And Drive Clean Energy Research

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matter blog.

Source: Architect Magazine

The Solar Decathlon, a competition that challenges colleges across the nation to design and construct efficient, affordable and attractive solar powered-home, is taking place October 3-13 at Orange Country Great Park in Irvine, California. The bi-annual event, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), awards the team that excels in combining cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and energy efficiency into a state of the art home. But like many competitions, the real winners are those that pursue the challenge long after the bout ends, and this decathlon is no exception. Year after year, students graduate and form the next wave of clean energy entrepreneurs, engineers and architects looking to advance energy efficient homes.

This year, the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College have joined forces to create Team Texas. The last time a Texas university participated in the Solar Decathlon was in 2007, when the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University competed as two separate teams.

This year Team Texas has submitted ADAPT, a house that reflects the nature of the two universities’ homestead, El Paso. Its design maximizes the use of solar energy, an abundant resource in the Southwest, and is meant to feel natural on a mountain plateau, high desert or green farmland.  ADAPT embraces the belief that “a home is not just a location or state of mind but a place where the heart is”. Read More »

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Hawaii Races To The Top For Award In Energy And Water Efficiency

Hawaii recently topped the national rankings for energy saving initiatives for the second year in a row. In August, the Energy Services Coalition (ESC) granted the state its ‘Race to the Top’ award for modeling excellence in energy and water efficiency. ESC’s Race to the Top challenge ranks states based on investment per capita in energy savings performance contracting. Hawaii leads with $132.25 per capita, followed by Ohio with $108.58 and Kansas with $97.77. The national average hangs at a low $37.20.

Hawaii sets a strong example for outstanding, innovative energy savings performance contracting. Performance contracts are commonly used for public-sector buildings, especially schools, which often cannot afford the upfront costs attributed to energy and water efficiency upgrades. Under many performance contracts, contractors pay the upfront costs and even guarantee net energy savings for the building owner. The contractor then recoups the investment through a portion of the resulting energy savings. This payment structure enables school districts and other public-sector entities to upgrade existing buildings with improved energy efficiency and without the worry of high upfront costs.  To see why upgrades are so important for school buildings, see my other blog post here.

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Two Powerhouse Texas Cities Lead Country In Energy Efficiency

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently released its inaugural City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which ranks cities on their energy efficiency efforts, specifically on initiatives for buildings, transportation, energy and water utility efforts, local government operations and communitywide projects.

Austin placed in the top ten at #6, followed by Houston (#13), Dallas (#14) and San Antonio (#16) in the top 20 and El Paso (#23) and Fort Worth #26 falling just below that mark. Austin and San Antonio probably don’t surprise too many people, especially in light of my previous posts, but Houston, the nation’s oil and gas capital, and Dallas, a high-powered business center, probably don’t spring to mind for most people. However, these two cities have recently turned the tide and are gearing up for a big Texas clean energy showdown.

I think it’s worthwhile to mention that these two cities are impacted by the drought, although Houston feels the strain less due to its location in the Gulf Coast flood plain. But this locational drought-buffer carries its own problems, namely the threat of rising sea-levels, which are predicted to significantly affect Houston.

On top of that, both cities are in non-attainment with ozone standards, meaning their air quality is worse than the minimum threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Therefore, there is a great need to improve the cities’ air quality in order to protect local citizens from health hazards. This gives them a further incentive to undertake clean energy initiatives. Read More »

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The Nuts And Bolts — Or Rather Watts and Volts — Of The Energy-Water Lingo

A glossary of energy and water terms

In recent posts I’ve discussed the need for energy and water planners to co-manage resources more comprehensively. But another significant barrier exists: language. Water and energy planners use different terminology and a lack of understanding for these distinctions hampers true coordination. Also, it prevents customers from understanding how to make sense of their own usage patterns and maximize energy and water efficiency.

Electricity measurements

Getting into the nuts and bolts — or watts and volts — of the issue can get very dry very quickly, so let’s go over some basic units of measurement to set the stage.

Electricity is measured in watts, usually represented as kilowatts (kW), megawatts (MW), but often discussed as megawatt-hours (MWh). One MW is roughly equivalent to ten running cars engines. A MWh is the total amount of electricity produced by a power plant in one hour, roughly the amount of energy used by 330 homes in one hour. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in May 2013, Texas generated 12,261 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity from coal-fired power plants (1 GWh = 1,000 MWh) and only 4,116 GWh from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

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A Future Of Hotter Summers Will Stress Energy And Water In Texas

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

With Labor Day behind us, Texans can look forward to a welcome respite from the hundred-degree days of August. The pending arrival of fall may signal milder temperatures for now, but the latest report from John Nielson-Gammon, Texas’ state climatologist, tells a different story about Texas’ long-term climate trend. The study released last month indicates that peak summer temperatures may increase by up to five degrees by 2060. What we once thought of as a unique heat wave (think back to 2011) are likely to become the new normal, and will eventually – according to Nielson-Gammon – be replaced by even hotter temperatures.

At the same time, increasing temperatures would place further severe stress on the state’s energy and water systems. Texas’ recent extreme summers have already plunged much of the state into drought. The latest data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor predict water emergencies could occur in at least nine U.S. cities—five of which are in Texas. And experts expect the drought will persist for years to come as climate change intensifies.

Texas lawmakers must take these grim projections into account as they plan the state’s energy and water futures. Some Texas decision makers are already calling for more fossil-fuel power plants to cover the need for more power (to run all those air conditioners) in light of 2011’s historic summer highs, which will emit more carbon pollution into the air and add to the warming. These same Texas lawmakers insist we should keep our heads in the sand, ignore the mounting evidence pointing to a new climate normal and do nothing to alleviate or adapt to the problem. Read More »

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Local Energy-Water Solutions Should Be A Model For The Nation

Over the past several weeks, I've written a lot about the intimate and inextricable connection between energy and water. The energy-water nexus involves a number of technologies, environmental factors and stakeholders. Thus, it’s no surprise that water and energy’s fundamental connection has eluded policymakers for so long. With this post, I review the lessons discussed so far, so that policymakers can understand the key issues surrounding the energy-water nexus and what’s at stake if we fail to act now.

The Bottom Line

Conventional electricity sources, like coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, require an abundance of water — about 190 billion gallons per day. Because the majority of our electricity comes from these sources, high energy use strains the water system and contributes to Texas’ prolonged drought. Coincidentally, extreme drought could force power plants to shut down.

Climate change is having a profound effect on our weather patterns, making extreme heat and drought more common in Texas and throughout the Southwest. If we don’t set the energy-water system on a sustainable course, we risk a compounded problem.

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Rural Communities Need Extra Support In Light Of Energy And Water Constraints

Source: Winning Communities

Around 20% of the US population lives in an area that is classified as “rural.” The US Census Bureau defines an urban area as a territory with a population of at least 50,000, or a cluster of 2,500 to 50,000 people. Rural is then defined as anything outside of that definition. Rural areas face particular challenges when it comes to energy and water use. For example, utilities are met with higher costs and often find it harder to implement new clean technologies to modernize their energy infrastructure because of the great distances between customers and an irregular patchwork of reliable resources. Besides, many system planners and thought leaders for innovative energy technologies live in urban or suburban areas and may find it harder to relate to the specific challenges of rural settings.

It’s likely that climate change will impact rural communities in different ways than it will urban areas, due to a number of factors including the types of common occupations, poverty levels and demography. Of particular concern is the “climate gap”, which refers to the lower economic and physical adaptability of rural communities.  It will vary based on region, but research indicates that rural communities in the Southeast and Southwest could face particularly dire circumstances due to changes in electricity prices and water scarcity.

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Energy-Water Nexus Spans Across Western United States

Source: feww.wordpress.com

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a number of posts to help shed light on the fundamental connection between energy and water. Because many of our energy sources gulp down huge volumes of water, it’s imperative that we break down the long-standing division between energy and water planning — especially in drought-prone states like Texas. I’d like to take a step back and look at how Texas’ neighbors are addressing energy and water co-management. While Texas may be an extreme example, looking toward its immediate neighbors could provide ideas and best practices to improve the state’s situation.

A number of western states are facing many of the same challenges as Texas. Electricity production is a major drain on the region’s water supply. A study co-authored by Western Resource Advocates and EDF showed that thermoelectric power plants, such as coal, natural gas and nuclear, in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah consumed an estimated 292 million gallons of water each day in 2005 — roughly equal to the amount of water consumed by Denver, Phoenix and Albuquerque combined (and we’re talking water consumption, not just withdrawals). Like Texas, the western states face a future of prolonged drought. Scientific models predict climate change will increase drought throughout the Southwest, placing greater stress on the region’s delicate water supply.

Additionally, electricity production, numerous thirsty cities and widespread agricultural activity all strain the water system, too. Because so many flock to western states for fishing, kayaking, rafting and other recreational water activities, setting the region’s water system on a sustainable path is a critical economic issue. The exceptional challenges facing western states have already prompted some states to consider the energy-water nexus when planning to meet future water and electricity needs. Read More »

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