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3 energy-water nexus lessons from the state of Texas

With summer just around the corner, I – like many Texans – intend to spend as much time as possible in or near water when it’s scorching outside. But, even though we’ve had a wet winter, I can’t help but think of the terrible drought that plagued Texas for years. Just a few short years ago, my dad had to sell his motorboat because there was no water in nearby Lake Travis. Then floods pummeled many parts of Texas, and some of those same lakes are full for the first time in 15 years. And, it’s not just Texas watching the pendulum swing from historic drought to heavy rains.

Following a five-year drought, California’s winter was one of the snowiest and wettest on record. Plus, regions of the Southeast and Northeast have experienced unprecedented droughts recently.

Many fear these extremes are the new normal as climate models suggest drought and floods will be intensified under a changing climate. This data supports why it’s critical to ensure the stability of our future water supply. Fortunately, there is an inextricable link between energy and water that presents untapped opportunities to conserve water.

Known as the energy-water nexus, the link refers to the water embedded in energy and the energy embedded in water. Consider the amount of water it takes to produce and distribute electricity. As well, consider the amount of electricity used to treat, pump, and distribute water. And, while many clean energy resources are virtually water-free, traditional sources—such as coal, nuclear, and natural gas— require a significant amount of water to generate power. Read More »

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Energy-Water Nexus Around the World and the Missing Link

IEA blog

Source: Chenected

As we have highlighted before, Texas is experiencing significant population growth, adding around 1,000 people a week to the state, which increases the need for both water and electricity. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that electricity demand in this region will increase by more than 30% by 2035, yet, like many states in water-strained areas, it is not taking full advantage of new policies to address the energy-water nexus, such as increased use of solar PV, wind and energy efficiency. 

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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Energy-Water Nexus Spans Across Western United States

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

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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The Long Journey of an Energy-Water Bill in Texas

tx state capitol flickrBeing an environmental advocate in Texas may seem like an uphill battle, and I make no bones about the fact it most certainly is. Plus, the Texas Legislature only meets for 140 days every other year, so the frenzy of activity during the Legislative Session (in local parlance, “The Lege”) is intense.

While my Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) colleagues may be able to make impressive strides in protecting their respective states against climate change, we in Texas must take pride in all of our legislative achievements, both big and not so much. It’s these small steps that add up to change in the right direction.

In addition to the many small steps that made up the 2015 Legislative Session, I say with great pride we also had a big win: On June 17, Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill (SB) 991 into law, requiring the General Land Office and the Texas Water Development Board to study the economic and geophysical potential of using solar and wind energy to desalinate brackish groundwater. From concept to law, SB 991 has involved the input and energy of numerous stakeholders – and it paid off.   Read More »

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

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog

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

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

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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