Author Archives: Kate Zerrenner

If Israel Can Find Common Ground around the Environment, Why Can’t Texas?’

A solar array at the Arava Institute.

A solar array at the Arava Institute.

Deep in the Israeli desert is an academic institute that is building peace in the region by putting nature at its center. The Arava Institute, in partnership with Ben Gurion University, brings students from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and around the world to find common ground around environmental problems and build trust – and peace – from there.

On a recent trip to Israel, including to the Arava Institute, I was told many times by many people, “Everything is political here.” Water and energy are no exception. In a region where water can be scarce and oil has long reigned as king, the politics of environmental issues are even more extreme than what people in many parts of the world can wrap their heads around.

Of course, environmental issues in Texas – and across the country – can be highly divisive. But polls consistently show Americans want to protect and defend the health of our children and the well-being of our communities. And clean energy can play a critical role: Our nation’s power sector accounts for nearly 40% of U.S carbon emissions – causing health problems such as asthma attacks, heart attacks, and a staggering number of premature deaths every year.

Today, Texas opens its 85th Legislative Session. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if, instead of fighting over taking action on climate change, leaders sat down with a common starting point: to ensure clean, available water and clean air through renewable energy, while maintaining a robust economy? Perhaps we can learn from the Arava Institute and start with our commonalities, like the desire for clean air and clean water, to build cooperation and achieve clean energy progress. Read More »

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Why Strategic Choices – and Water – Could Make People More Energy-Efficient

At my household, a new year means a new energy and water-use baseline. By that I mean, every month, I look at how much electricity and water I used in comparison to the same month the previous year – so I can try to be as efficient as possible. But I work in the energy field, and I know that’s not a typical New Year’s tradition. Most people don’t examine the trends of their energy-use or spend much time thinking about how to reduce it.

So, what motivates the “average” person to take action and be more energy-efficient? It depends.

A recent study by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) looked at the psychology behind individuals’ energy efficiency behavior, and how that information could be used to design more effective programs.

The study came away with some fascinating findings that show electric utilities need to be strategic in the way they create, as well as communicate about, their efficiency programs. Moreover, it led me to believe showing how energy efficiency relates to water – the quality and availability of which many people care about – could help encourage people to be more mindful about their energy use. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus| Leave a comment

Why Water Utilities Need an Energy Plan – and How Texas is Making Progress

water-tower-1420989568vmuWhen you prepare the Thanksgiving meal, do you ask each person to make a dish of their choosing, with no coordination for an overall cohesive meal? Probably not. Most likely, you plan, because you want everything to fit together.

Now imagine a water utility with different departments like water quality, finance, and administration. Most water utilities have high energy costs, so each department needs to manage and reduce its energy use – but typically there’s no plan to synchronize these efforts. With such a piecemeal approach, the utility may get overall energy savings, but it’s not maximizing the potential to meet ambitious efficiency goals or reduce power costs.

Enter the Energy Management Plan (EMP), a tool that sets up an organization-wide strategy for energy use. By creating a coordinated vision, an EMP establishes clear efficiency goals and gives departments the flexibility and direction for meeting them. That’s what this summer’s EDF Climate Corps fellow focused on at Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), which supplies water to 2 million users in the Fort Worth area. The TRWD fellow found opportunities where an EMP could improve the utility’s energy efficiency and management, leading to potential savings and less wasted water. Read More »

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Home Is Where the Smart Is: First-of-its-Kind Study Reveals Importance of Smart Technology and Low-Water Clean Energy

By: Kate Zerrenner and Dustin McCartney, Senior Data Analyst, Pecan Street

Have you ever thought about how much water your dryer needs to dry your clothes? (And no, I don’t mean your washing machine.)

Every appliance in your home has a water intensity, or the amount of water needed to make and send the electricity that powers it. On the flip side, all water – like in your faucet, toilet, and irrigation system – has an energy intensity, the amount of electricity needed to treat, distribute, or heat the water. Chances are, you probably haven’t given much consideration to the water intensity of your home energy, or the energy intensity of your water. There hasn’t been any data at the household level – until now.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently teamed up with Pecan Street, Inc. to examine these combined metrics in a new study. Pecan Street, a research group running the most extensive energy-tracking in U.S. history, analyzed the energy and water costs of a group of Austin homes and their appliances.

By gathering granular data on how much energy and water households use, as well as their associated energy and water intensities, this study reinforces the need for smart technology to help us better understand and manage energy and water. Moreover, in order to safeguard water supplies, the analysis demonstrates the importance of powering our lives with low-water clean energy resources. Read More »

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New Study: Solar, Energy Efficiency Can Help the Texas National Guard Save Money and Water

HeroBannerMain24 croppedThis year has seen historic flooding across the South. In addition to the devastating rains that recently hit Louisiana, severe floods pummeled Texas earlier this year. In both cases, the states’ National Guards were first responders, rescuing families, delivering meals and supplies to survivors, and providing local agencies with high-water trucks, boats, and helicopters.

As the frequency of extreme weather events like these increases, it is imperative that the National Guard can continue devoting resources to critical, first-responder services. But in Texas, those services could be threatened by the state’s dwindling water supplies.

A new study from CNA Analysis & Solutions, funded by Environmental Defense Fund and in collaboration with the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), shows many Texas defense facilities are in water-stressed counties. Over time, this could result not only in higher water costs, but also power production constraints, since it requires a lot of water to produce and move electricity from traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas. Both of these challenges pose a direct threat to the budget and operating capabilities of the TXARNG. Fortunately, the analysis also indicates these same areas have great potential for solar energy, which requires little to no water to meet power needs on-site.

By tapping into that potential and pursuing bolder energy efficiency initiatives, TXARNG could ease pressure on the electric grid and reduce utility bills, all while safeguarding residents and precious water supplies. Read More »

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

Going for the Green: Rio Olympics Show Link between Environment, Economy, Health

OlympicHandOlympic Games are historically about gold, silver, and bronze – not green. Even the “greenest” Olympics, held in London in 2012, used nearly 400 temporary generators, which release harmful pollution, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides among many others. Nevertheless, when Brazil won its bid in 2009 to host the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the country pledged to host the "Green Games for a Blue Planet,” a festival with sustainability at its core.

Brazil, nearly as large as the U.S. and holding 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, currently uses renewable energy to make about 85 percent of its electricity (compare that to the U.S., where only 13 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources). With renewable energy success like that, who better to host the “Green Games?”

Yet, despite Brazil’s ambitious goals, years of planning, and an advantage in existing renewable energy resources, Brazil is falling short of its goal for a cleaner, greener Olympics. This is because serious social, political, environmental, and health challenges tangent to the Olympics have constrained the nation’s ability to realize the sustainability goals Brazil thought achievable in 2009.

Read More »

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  • 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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