Author Archives: Kate Zerrenner

Texas State Climatologist on Politics, Weather, and Setting the Facts Straight on Climate Change

Source: TAMU Times

Source: TAMU Times

John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist, is a tried and true Texan. As a professor in the Atmospheric Sciences Department at Texas A&M University, he observes Texas weather patterns, monitors the state’s multi-year drought and air pollution climatology, and makes improvements to the climate data record. I recently had the chance to pick his brain over weather, climate change, and the state of affairs in Texas.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Lone Star State, Texas is a state of extremes. We have a history of extreme weather patterns and extremes between our climate zones. We also have extreme views about Texas’ climate and whether it is changing. Unfortunately, polarized views can distort perceptions on important issues. Regardless of the scientific data that confirms our changing climate, the subject has become so politicized that it’s nearly impossible to discuss. However, there shouldn’t be a debate over whether to use all of the available data to ensure that Texas is appropriately planning for its viable economic, natural, and demographic future.

Here is what Dr. Nielsen-Gammon had to share: Read More »

Posted in Climate Change, Drought, Environment, Extreme Weather| Tagged , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

The Cheapest Way to Cut Climate Pollution? Energy Efficiency

This blog post was written by Lauren Navarro, Attorney and California Senior Manager, Clean Energy, and co-authored by Kate Zerrenner.

On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a historic announcement that will change how we make, move and use electricity for generations to come.

For the first time in history, the government proposed limits on the amount of carbon pollution American fossil-fueled power plants are allowed to spew into the atmosphere.

There are two clear winners to comply with the plan while maintaining commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response.

We’re already seeing pushback from some of our nation’s big polluter states, such as West Virginia and Texas. But the truth is that while the proposed limits on carbon are strong, they’re also flexible.

In fact, the EPA has laid out a whole menu of options in its Clean Power Plan – from power plant upgrades, to switching from coal to natural gas, and adopting more renewable energy resources. States can choose from these and other strategies as they develop their own plans to meet the new standards.

That said, there are two clear winners on the EPA’s menu that offer low-cost options for states that seek to comply with the plan while maintaining their commitment to electric reliability and affordability: energy efficiency and demand response. Read More »

Posted in Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| 1 Response, comments now closed

Desalination can Help Solve our Water Woes, but not without Clean Energy

Source: Prodes Project

Source: Prodes Project

As drought continues to grip Texas and many other Western states, one of the solutions often discussed (and pursued) to overcome water scarcity is desalination. Simply put, desalination, or desal as it is most commonly called, is a process that removes salt and other minerals from salty (brackish) or seawater to produce freshwater for drinking and agriculture. This technology seems like a no-brainer option for addressing the state’s water woes, but the problem is that desalination uses a lot of electricity and the majority of Texas’ electricity comes from coal and gas power plants, which require copious amounts of water to generate that electricity. It doesn’t make much sense to use water to make water, especially when there’s an alternative in Texas’ abundant renewable energy resources.

Texas is the national leader in wind energy and has the greatest solar energy potential in the U.S., yet neither of these resources are being widely deployed for desal plants despite recent studies pointing to vast opportunities. Not only do these energy resources produce negligible carbon emissions, but they also consume little to no water, unlike fossil-fueled power plants. Furthermore, if we look at where brackish water sources are located compared to where the wind and solar energy potential is in this state, the overlap is pretty clear. This synergy should not be ignored.  Read More »

Posted in Drought, Energy-Water Nexus, Renewable Energy, Solar, Wind| Tagged , | 1 Response, comments now closed

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 »

Posted in Climate Change, Drought, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Extreme Weather, Texas Energy Crunch| Comments closed

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 »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus| Tagged , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Will Texas Step Up to the Plate on Energy Efficiency and Carbon Pollution Standards?

rp_Kate-Zerrenner-200x300.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about energy efficiency and the Clean Air Act section 111(d) provisions in anticipation of the SPEER Second Annual Summit, a gathering of top energy efficiency industry leaders from Texas and Oklahoma. At the Summit, I co-led a session on Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) push to regulate power plant emissions. Session attendees agreed that Texas would be an unlikely leader in developing innovative ways to comply with carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

This is a missed opportunity on Texas’ part, as states will get the first crack at drafting plans to comply with new federal standards. This is an important opportunity because individual states are in the best position to craft frameworks that enable maximum flexibility and are appropriately tailored to local circumstances. So, this begs the question: is there an alternative, more constructive path that is most beneficial to Texas?  Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Coal, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Renewable Energy| Tagged | Comments closed

Energy Efficiency Is Key to Achieving Carbon Pollution Standard

Kate ZerrennerRight now, there are no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, even though these facilities were responsible for  roughly 40 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is crafting greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations for new fossil fuel-fired power plants by setting a limit on how much CO2 the plants can emit. Later this year, EPA will issue proposed CO2 “emission guidelines” for existing fossil fuel-fired power plants using various Clean Air Act tools to protect human health and to clean up our air.

To achieve significant and cost-effective emission reductions from existing power plants, EPA should look to leading states that are already implementing successful measures to reduce emissions. These measures include investing in renewable energy, harvesting energy efficiency, and utilizing more efficient and lower-emitting fossil fuel-fired units. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs| Tagged , , | Comments closed

Is Texas the Next Global Leader in Water? It’s Up to State Leaders to Decide.

Source: WATR News

Source: WATR News

The Texas Comptroller, Susan Combs, recently released the Texas Water Report: Going Deeper for the Solution, which proposes a sort of revolution to solve Texas’ water woes. As Combs notes, Texas is a global energy leader, but the state should be a global water leader too. And her initiative couldn’t come fast enough. Texas, already prone to cycles of drought, is facing new water pressures, including population growth and a changing economy, which only make it harder to preserve our diminishing water supply. To rouse the state’s water recovery plan, the report prioritizes water-saving technological innovations (while stressing the need for conservation) and lauds various Texas cities for water management practices. But the report misses some key elements that are essential to keeping our water flowing. In the same way that new energy technologies have brought us closer to a cleaner, more reliable electric grid, innovations in the water arena can seamlessly reduce our water use and set the state on a sustainable path.

The report says conservation is not enough, and it’s right. However, efficiency is the most significant first step and conservation achieved through technology is a welcome counter to the infrastructure-heavy plans typically heard at the Capitol and in the State Water Plan. (What good is a new reservoir, if there’s no water to put in it?) Some of the technologies evaluated in the report include aquifer storage and recovery, inter-basin transfers, low-water fracking technologies and desalinization – what some call “game changers.” These technologies could potentially relieve our future water woes, but these projects are expensive and don’t alleviate our immediate or even mid-term water stresses. Read More »

Posted in Drought, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, San Antonio, Utilities| Tagged | Comments closed

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 »

Posted in Coal, Drought, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Solar, Wind| Tagged , | Comments closed

Cost Savings Aren’t the Only Benefit to Energy Efficiency

Kate ZerrennerI often refer to energy efficiency as being cost effective, and it is. It is always cheaper not to use energy or to get the same result while using less energy. But monetary cost savings are just one of the many benefits associated with implementing energy efficiency measures. Reduced pollution, improved health and reduced strain on our water supply are other notable benefits of energy efficiency, though they are not always taken into consideration when a utility proposes a new energy efficiency project.

At the state regulatory level, Public Utility Commissions or similar entities are required to do a cost-benefit analysis for each energy efficiency project or program that a utility proposes, in order to determine how cost effective it may be. This analysis is called an ‘energy efficiency cost test,’ and although the concept may seem straight forward, its application is based on a varying set of pre-defined criteria that are not always consistent. Furthermore, the subject of cost-effectiveness tests is sensitive in the utility sector, because it’s at the core of how energy efficiency programs are valued.

There are several different types of energy efficiency cost tests that differ slightly and are often customized to reflect a state’s values. Before diving into the options, it’s important to note that a cost-effectiveness test of some sort is a necessary measure as more and more states implement ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs. Customers need to know that the programs they’re paying for are delivering the promised benefits, and regulators need to ensure that the costs paid by the customers are justified. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Environment, Utilities| Tagged , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed
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