Over the past two years, Texas’s changing energy landscape has been a focus of EDF’s work. In our Texas’ Energy Crunch report from March 2013, we highlighted that Texas has a peak capacity constraint – meaning that the power grid becomes strained when, for example, everyone is using their air conditioning units on hot summer afternoons. This challenge, coupled with increased climate change and drought, signal the need to prepare by adopting a smarter grid and cleaner resources.
The Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) have been engaged in this conversation and various proposals have been laid on the table to determine what Texas’ energy future will look like. EDF maintains the position that, whatever reforms are made, customer-facing, demand-side resources – defined here as demand response (DR), renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage – must play a key role to ensuring reliability, affordability, customer choice and environmental improvements.
Energy-Only Status Quo or Capacity Market or…?
Texas’ current energy-only market structure pays power plants only for the energy they produce. This is beneficial in that generators are not overcompensated, but the downside is that energy companies aren’t incentivized to build in Texas and energy management providers (DR companies) are not viewed as equal players. Energy prices are low due to an upsurge in cheap, abundant natural gas and wind – and without a guarantee for a high return on investment, companies will not take the risk of constructing costly new power plants. Read More
Posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, General, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Texas, Texas Energy Crunch, Water
Also tagged Capabilities Market, Capacity Market, ERCOT, PUCT, Texas Energy Market, Texas Public Utilities Commission, Third Way
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
As we’ve highlighted in previous posts, water and energy regulators often make decisions in silos, despite the inherent connection between these two sectors. Texas is no exception.
Two very important and intertwined events are happening in Texas right now.
First, the state is in the midst of an energy crunch brought on by a dysfunctional electricity market, drought, population growth and extreme summer temperatures. An energy crunch signifies that the available supply of power barely exceeds the projected need (or demand) for electricity. Texas’ insufficient power supply makes the whole electricity system vulnerable to extreme weather events. An especially hot day (with thousands of air conditioning units running at full blast) could push the state over the edge and force the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the institution charged with ensuring grid reliability, to issue rolling blackouts.
Second, Texas is still in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought, forcing state agencies to impose strict water restrictions throughout the state. The drought has already had a devastating impact on surface water and many communities are facing critical water shortages.
Although Texas has always had to deal with extreme weather events, we can anticipate even more intense weather as climate change advances. The new climate ‘normal’ makes extreme heat waves, like the historic 2011 Texas summer, 20 times more likely to occur. These extreme weather events heighten the urgency of the energy-water nexus. Read More
Posted in clean energy, Climate, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Texas, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities, Water
Also tagged Demand Response, energy, Energy Efficiency, Texas Energy Crunch, Water
If you’re like so many conscientious consumers, you’ve experienced the disappointment that comes when you realize the lean turkey breast you bought has 300% of your daily value of sodium, negating the benefits of its high-protein and low-fat content. Instantly, food choices feel more complex; you’ve learned the hard way that the pursuit of a low-fat diet is not the same as a healthy diet.
The Energy-Water Nexus shows us that our energy choices are much like our food choices: The environmental benefits of an energy diet low in carbon emissions might be diminished by increased water consumption (or waste), and the unforeseen tradeoffs between the two resources (i.e. more sodium in lieu of less fat, can hurt us in the long run).
As we have mentioned before, roughly 90% of the energy we use today comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which require 190 billion gallons of water per day, or 39% of all U.S. freshwater withdrawals (water “withdrawal” indicates the water withdrawn from ground level water sources; not to be confused with “consumption,” which indicates the amount of water lost to evaporation.)
Posted in clean energy, Energy Efficiency, Natural Gas, Solar, Texas, Water
Also tagged energy, Energy Policy, environment, Resource Efficiency, Solar, texas, Water, Water Policy
When I tell people that the best way to conserve energy is to conserve water, I am often faced with a confused response. I’m not surprised really. Energy and water policies are rarely discussed in the same forum. For a long time, we’ve overlooked the inextricable relationship between water and energy use. Coal, nuclear and natural gas plants use enormous amounts of water for cooling purposes. In 2005, 41% of all freshwater withdrawals in the nation was used in the thermoelectric power industry for cooling.
Connection between energy and water
The longstanding division between energy and water considerations is particularly evident in the case of energy and water management. These resources are fundamentally intertwined: Energy is used to secure, deliver, treat and distribute water, while water is used (and often degraded) to develop, process and deliver energy. Despite the inherent connection between the two sectors, energy and water planners routinely make decisions that impact one another without adequately understanding the scientific or policy complexities of the other sector. This miscommunication often hides joint opportunities for conservation to the detriment of budgets, efficiency, the environment and public health, and inhibits both sectors from fully accounting for the financial, environmental or social effects they have on each other.
This lack of collaboration between energy and water planners is especially dire considering Texas is in midst of an energy shortage that is exacerbated by the multi-year drought. Without adequate planning, we could someday have to choose between keeping our lights on and turning on the faucet. Read More