Energy and Water

Water-Energy Nexus

The interdependencies between water and energy, the water-energy nexus, is becoming more prominent. Water is used in all phases of energy production and energy is required to extract, convey, and deliver water. Yet, several trends are adding stress to the water-energy nexus, namely climate change and population growth. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities report, power generation and agriculture-related are the largest users of water in the U.S. However, water withdrawals have been steadily decreasing due to a number of factors, predominantly reduced supplies, while growth in the two fore-mentioned sectors have been steadily increasing.


Homes to Recycle Water

Droughts have pushed cities, especially in the American Southwest, to strengthen efficiency mandates at every point in the water system. According to a recent Energy Collective article, Lancaster, California was one of the first municipalities to require homes to be not only solar-ready, but have recycle-ready plumbing. Innovative companies have developed systems that recycle the gray water in the home for non-potable uses (e.g., outside irrigation, toilet water, etc.). According to the article, more than 80 percent of the water used in the typical home is not used for drinking, and technology is now available that can recover 2 of every 3 gallons of a home’s gray water. Generally, these types of systems can cut the total amount of water used by a home by about one-third. 


USGS Study Points to Fracking’s Thirst

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in partnership with the American Geophysical Union, indicates that hydraulic fracking operations in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the last 15 years, consuming more than 28 times the water they did a mere decade and a half  ago.


Hydropower Uncertainty

As investments in wind and solar power climb, backing major hydropower projects may be seen as a risky bet in a warming world. Studies indicate that climate change could make rain and snowfall less certain in some regions. An indicator of where renewables investors are focusing their attention, large hydropower was left out of a recent and major United Nations and Bloomberg report showing that global investments in renewables spiked 17 percent in 2014.


Power Production Cuts of California Dams Due to Drought

According to a mid-May Los Angeles Times article, Shasta Dam, looming more than 600 feet tall and gatekeeper of the largest man-made lake in California, was designed to perform two crucial functions: Store water and generate power. And for decades, the massive concrete structure has channeled water to cities and farms while generating up to 710 megawatts of hydropower, enough to provide electricity for more than 532,000 homes. But amid four years of drought, the reservoir is drained to 50% of capacity, cutting the dam's power production by about a third, according to federal reclamation officials.


PV Across Canals

Two major advantages to building photovoltaic (PV) plants atop irrigation canals are: efficient and cheap land use and reduced water evaporation from the channels underneath. Leading the way in these type of projects is India. According to the Indian government agency that administers PV irrigation projects, a 10 megawatt plant saves 40 acres of land and will potentially prevent 24 million gallons of water from evaporating each year. In addition, lower temperatures due to the water body below the canal-top plants boosts PV panel efficiency by approximately 7 percent. Disadvantages include higher construction costs, long-term exposure to environmental stresses, ingress of water into the panels which could reduce their performance, and questions about keeping long stretches of PV panels secure. Another problem is that PV panels are usually mounted facing southwards for optimal performance, but canals generally curve and change directions. Additional research into overcoming some of these disadvantages could help to address multiple water and energy challenges. 


Colorado Agricultural Hydropower Projects

In January the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA), based in Telluride, announced a $1.8 million grant awarded to the Colorado Department of Agriculture by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support the development of agricultural hydropower projects in the state. The COSHA indicated that the grant will be important in stemming energy costs for area farmers. A COSHA report indicated that Colorado farmers spend an average of $33,000 each year on electricity, mostly to power irrigation pumps. A 2013 analysis by the Colorado Energy Office found that farmers in Colorado report energy expenses around 7 percent of total operating costs. Through the newly established Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), the USDA is investing $370 million in the implementation of conservation projects in all 50 states. According to COSHA, the new hydro projects won’t result in any new dams or water diversions, but will instead rely on existing untapped water pressure. COSHA estimates 500 new jobs could be created by the new hydro development in Colorado. The new agricultural hydropower program will facilitate the conversion of flood irrigation systems to pressurized irrigation systems with integrated hydropower.


US-China Pact Includes Water-Energy Research Provisions

In November, President Obama and President Jinping of China announced new targets for reducing the amount of heat-trapping gases that their countries release into the atmosphere. This was a historic move that both sides hope will catalyze a global climate agreement in Paris next year to rein in carbon emissions and avoid harmful ecological changes. The two powers will work together in several areas of shared interests. They will collaborate to develop technology that pulls carbon out of the air, work on urban planning ideas, welcome trade delegations for green technology, and test new solar energy facilities. The agreement also expands the mission of a joint energy research program to include, for the first time, investigations of the connections between water and energy use.

Global: New Water and Energy Nexus Report

Two new reports that focus on the global water and energy nexus were published in July. According to the reports, three years of research show that by the year 2040 there will not be enough water to quench the thirst of the world population and keep the current energy and power solutions going if we continue doing what we are doing today. It is a clash of competing necessities, between drinking water and energy demand.


Colorado River Basin: Energy Production in Times of Drought and Effects on Prices

The Colorado River Basin has been experiencing below average river flows for 11 of the last 14 years. In response, water officials are planning for the potential that continued drought conditions could leave too little water to generate electricity.


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