Category Archives: Energy-Water Nexus

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 »

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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 »

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We Can't Expect a Reliable Energy Future Without Talking Water

Kate Zerrenner

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

It’s no secret that electricity generation requires substantial amounts of water, and different energy sources require varying amounts of water. Nor is it a surprise that Texas and other areas in the West and Southwest are in the midst of a persistent drought. Given these realities, it is surprising that water scarcity is largely absent from the debate over which energy sources are going to be the most reliable in our energy future.

Recent media coverage has been quick to pin the challenge of reliability as one that only applies to renewables. The logic goes something like this: if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, we won’t have electricity, making these energy sources unreliable. But if we don’t have reliable access to abundant water resources to produce, move and manage energy that comes from water-intensive energy resources like fossil fuels, this argument against the intermittency of renewables becomes moot.

Moving forward into an uncertain energy future, the water intensity of a particular electricity source should be taken into consideration as a matter of course.  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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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.

Read More »

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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.

Read More »

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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.

Read More »

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