Energy Exchange

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

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.

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The energy reality behind Cape Town’s water crisis – and why the U.S. should care

In Cape Town, South Africa, the countdown is on for Day Zero when water taps in the city of 4 million people are expected to run dry.

Yet, while this water crisis has been making headlines worldwide, nobody’s talking about the connection between water and energy. In a rapidly changing climate, we should.

Cape Town may be the first major city staring down a water scarcity crisis, but it’s not alone. One-quarter of the world’s large cities, including at least two in the United States, are “water-stressed,” a 2014 study found.

As it turns out, many of them also happen to rely on the world’s thirstiest energy source: coal. Read More »

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New study: Better education and data collection can further water (and energy) savings

Can strategic pricing programs motivate people to save water and energy?

Our new paper, Examining conservation-oriented water pricing and programs through an energy lens, suggests the answer is yes – but there are other factors besides pricing at play in programs’ success.

Our findings support the notion that water is conserved through these utility programs, which aim to encourage people to use water wisely. Further, because of the inextricable link between energy and water, known as the energy-water nexus, energy demand and associated carbon emissions lower in tandem with water demand. In other words, programs that save water also save energy, as well as cut pollution.

However, there’s a gap when it comes to awareness of water use and prices in the U.S. (I, for one, have no sense of how much water my roommate and I collectively use, or its cost since water is included in our fixed monthly rent.) The paper concludes that in order to get the most energy savings through water pricing and programs, utilities need to do more to educate customers and promote water conservation: When consumers are aware not only of their rates, but also of their own use, they are empowered to make water-efficient choices. Moreover, the U.S. needs a national standard for collecting and reporting water data, and data needs to be made public for analysis. Read More »

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3 things my climate-skeptic dad taught me about clean energy advocacy

Kate Zerrenner and her dad.

As an advocate for the air, water, and economic benefits that clean energy provides, I find some of my most challenging – and maybe most rewarding – work is trying to engage climate-skeptic lawmakers at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

To facilitate that work, I use lessons I’ve learned from my dad, who lives in San Antonio and with whom I don’t often agree when it comes to our approach on the environment. In the spirit of the holidays, I want to thank him for all those conversations in which we didn’t see eye to eye. Little did I know then, he was teaching me the tools of my trade.

Here are three lessons my dad taught me that I use daily in my work as a clean energy advocate. Read More »

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Who Pays for the Hidden Costs of Coal?

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is still deciding whether to approve bailouts for FirstEnergy’s and Dayton Power & Light’s (DP&L) old, inefficient coal plants. The Ohio-based utilities want their customers to shoulder the costs of keeping these unprofitable coal plants running.

Coal plants aren’t cheap to operate. And as natural gas, wind energy, and solar energy have become increasingly affordable in recent years, coal can’t compete anymore. Moreover, subsidizing coal plants is not just a matter of higher electricity bills. We need to take into account the hidden costs of coal, which we all have to pay. Read More »

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International Women’s Day: Spotlight on a Texas Clean Energy Leader

Center: Debbie Kimberly, Vice President for Customer Energy Solutions at Austin Energy.

In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day we wanted to highlight a clean energy leader in Texas, and we didn’t have to go far from Environmental Defense Fund’s Austin office.

Debbie Kimberly is the Vice President for Customer Energy Solutions at Austin Energy (AE), the municipally-owned electric utility for the City of Austin. Her division is responsible for some of the utility’s clean energy portfolio, including energy efficiency, demand response (a tool that rewards people and businesses for using less electricity when the grid is stressed), and solar initiatives.

Debbie came to AE just over four years ago from an illustrious run at Arizona’s Salt River Project – the electric utility that serves the Phoenix area. I recently interviewed her about her leadership in Texas’ clean energy space. Read More »

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