Author Archives: Kate Zerrenner

Forget Taco Wars – the Real Competition is Over Who is Using Water More Wisely

Guadalupe_river_Hunt_TXSan Antonio and Austin just called a cease-fire on a taco war over which city invented the breakfast taco. Both make excellent tacos: from the traditional chorizo and egg taco in San Antonio to a free-range egg and organic spinach taco in Austin. But this debate was about more than just tacos – it was about the history and culture of these two neighboring cities.

Only 80 miles apart, San Antonio and Austin have some significant differences. San Antonio is known as “Military City USA” largely due to its huge military bases, but it’s also known for other industries like biotech, military medical centers, and a dynamic business relationship with Mexico. The capital city’s economy, on the other hand, is based on high-tech, entertainment, state government, and the behemoth University of Texas at Austin. San Antonio is one of the largest Hispanic-majority cities in the country (at 63 percent in 2010), while Austin’s diversity comes in large part from people flocking to the Capitol from all over the state and country. As someone with roots in both San Antonio and Austin, I appreciate both – I’m an equal opportunity taco lover.

But both cities share an important commonality: exploding population growth. The population of the 13 counties that make up the Austin-San Antonio corridor is estimated to increase by 77 percent by 2050, to 6.8 million people. Extreme growth brings intense pressure on resources and services, particularly water in this drought-prone region. Both cities are standing up to that challenge through careful water conservation measures and by advancing clean energy. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Renewable Energy, San Antonio, Utilities| Comments are closed

Why Isn’t Texas Saving Energy and Water through Solar Floatovoltaics?

floatovoltaics flickrSymbiosis – in which different species have a cooperative or mutually beneficial relationship – is everywhere in nature: honeybees receive vital nutrients from flowers while delivering pollen (male) directly to the female parts of the flower; pilot fish gain protection from predators, while sharks gain freedom from parasites; and dogs protect their owners, while receiving food and shelter. Cited by some scientists as a major driver of evolution, symbiosis has played an important role in the mutual survival of certain species.

Two elements in nature that are also very symbiotic are energy and water: It takes water to produce and distribute energy, while energy is used to treat, pump, and distribute water. This inextricable link is knowns as the energy-water nexus. Yet, energy and water planners do not treat these important resources as symbiotic “species,” resulting in a lot of waste – something we cannot afford with climate change on the rise.

Floating solar panels atop bodies of water, or the cleverly nicknamed “floatovoltaics,” are a possible solution for both energy and water challenges. The panels help to reduce evaporation of water – critical in hot, dry places like Texas and California – and the water helps to keep the panels cool, increasing their efficiency. Plus, compared to more traditional fuel sources, solar PV requires little to no water to produce electricity. Incorporating more solar energy and relying less on coal or natural gas means greater water savings overall.

Floatovoltaics seem like a win-win solution, but it’s not being deployed on a large scale yet. Some countries and U.S. states have surged ahead in testing this technology. So why isn’t a state like Texas, with big reservoirs, crippling droughts, and lots of solar potential, taking this bull by the horns? Read More »

Posted in Energy-Water Nexus, Renewable Energy, Solar| Read 6 Responses

Saving Texas’ Water through Smart Energy Choices in 2016

Desert-Sky-Wind-Farm wikipedia2015 proved to be another weird weather year around the country, especially for Texas. 80 degrees and dry in Austin on Christmas Day, spring wildflowers in bloom, and kids playing outside in shorts – a surprise ending to a wild ride of drought followed by devastating floods followed by drought and then more floods.

Texas is used to drought-flood cycles and extreme weather, but last year the pendulum seemed to swing wildly from one to the next. And climate models predict intense swings for the future as well: After the next flood is another drought, which will likely be more intense and longer than usual due to climate change.

Unfortunately, it seems like during our brief respites from drought, we also take a break from thinking about water scarcity. After the year we’ve just had, this should not be the case – water security should be at the top of Texans’ minds going into 2016. But there are two promising developments for our water future: the Clean Power Plan and examples that cities in other water-stressed Western states are setting. Read More »

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy-Water Nexus, Renewable Energy| Read 1 Response

Why Should Moms (and Dads) Care about Climate Change?

My daughter on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

My daughter on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

I am a mom. It’s not the only descriptor I use for myself, but it’s up there at the top. My daughter is three years old. She loves to play outside and hug trees and chase birds and go fishing with her daddy.

I am also a clean energy and climate advocate. My weekdays consist of trying to convince Texas policymakers to take action on climate change, and I sometimes think negotiating with statewide officials is harder than negotiating with a “threenager.”

As parents, our daily lives consist of a million things we have to do to keep the kids fed, dressed, and out of harm’s way. Can’t someone else worry about climate change? The problem with that perspective is, although moms and dads may differ politically, our desire to see our kids grow up happy and healthy is universal. But if enough of us make small changes in our lives and raise our voices on climate and clean energy issues, those actions can add up to a big solution.

Climate change and life as we know it

When a problem seems overwhelming, as climate change often does, it’s helpful to break it down into relatable pieces. Let’s think about how climate change affects our everyday activities with our children. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Climate Change, Ozone| Read 3 Responses

Real Energy and Cost Savings. Right Now. Here, in Texas.

2015 Climate Corps fellow Phoebe Romero and her supervisor sitting near a solar-powered phone charging station on the Huston-Tillotson campus.

2015 Climate Corps fellow Phoebe Romero and her supervisor sitting near a solar-powered phone charging station on the Huston-Tillotson campus.

We are nearing the end of another successful season of EDF Climate Corps, the 8-year-old program run by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that “embeds” grad students inside companies to find ways to save energy and money and lower carbon emissions.

Over the course of its history, EDF Climate Corps has developed into something of powerhouse from both sides of the energy sector: enterprising students (called “fellows”) discover a passion for sustainability through the act of finding efficiencies in the energy systems of their host organizations, and the hosts benefit from these energy savings while jumpstarting or contributing to their sustainability goals.

This year, 12 Texas companies and public sector entities hosted fellows, and this got us to thinking, what kind of evolution and impact has the Climate Corps program had in Texas over the years? We decided it was worth a closer look and turns out, fellows have been saving Texas schools, businesses, and other organizations a lot of energy – and a lot of money.

Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus| Tagged | Comments are closed

Texas vs. France: A Look at Who’s Bigger, Hotter, and More Prepared for Climate Change

wikimedia solar furnace

A solar furnace in the Pyrenees, France.

If you drive around the Lone Star State, you’re sure to see bumper stickers that say, “Texas: Bigger than France.” It references an ongoing debate about which “country” is bigger (something Texans feel very strongly about), but a closer look (aka, a quick Google search) reveals Texas and France are roughly equivalent in size. This, however, is where the similarities end – at least until recently.

Earlier this summer, France and the rest of Western Europe were in the grips of a record-breaking heatwave. Texans are certainly no strangers to crippling heat, even if we have been enjoying a relatively mild summer (so far) with regular spring and summer rains. But one year of El Nino climate patterns does not mean Texas is in the clear. Nor does it mean one abnormally hot summer in France is the last one they’ll see.

Global climate change predictions show that extreme heat and drought are on the rise, meaning both Texas and France increasingly need to consider water in their energy decisions. Why? Because as temperatures increase, so will our energy demand, which means an increase in demand for water, too.

Both France and Texas are facing some tough times ahead based on climate models, but their responses are very different. Read More »

Posted in Climate Change, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Renewable Energy| Tagged | Comments are closed
  • About the author

    Project manager
    Kate Zerrenner develops and implements strategies to promote energy and water efficiency and climate change solutions in Texas, as well as leads EDF’s multi-year campaign to influence and enact state and national energy and water efficiency policy, including breaking down financial, regulatory and behavioral barriers.

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    Confluence of SJR, Old, and Middle rivers

    Advocating for healthier air and cleaner energy in Texas through public education and policy influence.

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