The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton



Electric Power Sector…you have a water problem

Our electric sector has a significant water problem. This is not news to much of us in the industry, particularly those of us who think about the energy/water nexus. A couple of my favorite Texas energy/water nexus experts I like to follow are here and here.

I was working on a presentation for a talk at HARC and HTC’s Innovator in the Woods series and was struck by this water dependency. One of the first slides I included was this EIA slide that shows the current US electricity generation source by fuel type.

power generation

It appears pretty uninteresting regarding water at first glance. We see a sliver of hydropower and think that there is not much to see here in regards to water.  However, if you take a closer look and think about what is the one thing that keeps all of these power generation systems operating, you realize that the one thing that 90% of our power sector is dependent upon is water. We talk a lot about the diversity of fuel sources. In this case, we have a diversity of fuel sources, coal, natural gas, hydropower and nuclear, but we have very little diversity in a very key component. Our power supply is highly dependent on water. Water dependency for cooling in regards to coal, natural gas and nuclear and water dependency for actual power production in terms of hydropower. The lack of diversity of our power sector in regards to what keeps it running and humming along is rather frightening.

A better look of our dependency on water can be found in this hybrid sankey diagram provided by Lawrence Livermore National Lab.sankine

This diagram is a few years old and the Lab has actually produced some newer energy specific ones. The reason I use this map is to show not only the tremendous energy waste we have in this country (an argument for more energy efficiency and distributed generation), but also to better show the interconnect between water and our power sector. Here we see that on a daily basis the power sector uses 196 billion gallons of water. Most of us think, it is the agricultural sector is the largest user. They are the largest consumer, not the largest user.

In any case, as we bring it closer to home, we can check out this heat map for water consumption across the United States, what we see here is that one of the more politically red states, is very blue when it comes to water consumption. Texas is the bluest state west of the Mississippi.

blue water map electric

This can be a problem when the Water Sustainability Index looks like this for Texas in the year 2050. This image is brought to you by a joint Tetra Tech and NRDC water risk study. 

drought sust index

Of course, by 2050, the expectation is that we will have a lot more solar and wind and our dependency on water will decrease. According to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance report “New Energy Outlook,” 34% of global power production will be renewables, largely solar and wind. Further, when you look at ERCOT’s  summary of generation interconnection requests as of December 2016, of the nearly 60 MW that are in some part of the interconnection queue, almost 70% are wind and solar interconnects. Of course not all of these will go forward, but that looks pretty promising in regard to the water concerns. In the next couple of decades, we should be out of the woods. Problem solved. Except, when you see this…


This is the Texas drought map in September 2011. For those not familiar with this map, dark red is not good. It is a D4 on the scale,  the highest score you can  get, which means exceptional drought. Exceptional means this…


Much of the reservoirs and rivers that cool our power plants were getting too low to provide cooling or the water that remained was becoming too warm. During 2011, ERCOT, the organization that manages the Texas grid, was concerned about losing “potentially several thousand megawatts” if the drought did not end. There were also plants during this time curtailing operation at night so they would have plenty of water to provide power during the day, as well as plants that were piping water from other sources to ensure they could operate.

Fortunately, we are already moving in the right direction as far as reducing our water dependency in the power sector. We do see growing deployment of solar and wind. Solar installations were up 95% from 2015 to 2016 and wind looks to continue to grow at a considerable rate. Battery prices continue to fall, which will help with the intermittency of our renewable energy resources. We also see increasing deployment of microgrids, which use battery, solar, as well as air cooled combined heat and power. This market is expected to reach 3.71 GW by 2020.

SOURCE: A KNOWLEDGE DISCOVERY IN DATABASES APPROACH FOR INDUSTRIAL MICROGRID PLANNING. Gamarra, C.,Guerrero, J M.,Montero , E. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews. 2016. (doi 10.1016/j.rser.2016.01.091)

In the meantime, as we wait for the deployment of this less water intensive power infrastructure, what we all could be doing is using less of it. Energy efficiency is still the best resource we have to hedge against this problem of water dependency of our power infrastructure. If we do not need the energy, the system does not need to produce it. If less energy is needed, less water is needed. Energy efficiency provides the best bang for the buck for all of these resources. It has the lowest levelized cost of energy, it is proven and it is easily deployable. So, let’s keep building the new sexy renewables and microgrids, but let’s now forget our greatest water saver, energy efficiency.





Quick Tips for Cities – Energy Efficiency and Climate Adaptation

Part two of Quick Tips Series:

There is growing conversation among the public and private sector about what steps need to be taken to improve community resilience in the face of climate change. A very holistic approach must be taken including improving food security, investing in green infrastructure, giving a voice to vulnerable communities,  implementing resilience standards, and reducing risks to public health to name a few.

I would suggest that cities include in this list energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is typically seen as a climate mitigation measure and not as an adaptation measure. It lowers greenhouse gases, improves air quality and lowers water consumption through a variety of energy saving measures. By being more energy efficient we have shown significant reductions in our energy intensity and have saved a tremendous amount of money in the process. There is still significant opportunities for reducing energy consumption. According to recent EPRI report the state of Texas could save an additional 87.3 million MWh in the next 20 years. At the average retail electricity price for Texas, that would reduce costs by about $7 billion. This is great. We need to continue these energy efficiency efforts to mitigate climate change, but we also need to expand its scope and look at it reducing climate risk, particularly to vulnerable communities.

One of the more significant issues we are facing with climate change is the increase of our global temperature. We have seen new record breaking yearly temperature averages every year for the last several years. This has a significant impact on our communities. Through energy efficiency we can reduce these impacts. For example, the weatherization of homes, which can include insulation, weather stripping, caulking, high efficiency lighting, etc, is typically done to reduce a home owners or renter’s housing costs. However, weatherization , and improved building energy codes, also allows households to stay home when the power goes out. The better insulated and sealed homes stay cooler or warmer, depending on the season, when the power goes out. This puts less pressure on our emergency management agencies and reduces risk to our communities. Further, energy efficiency measures such as white or green roofs, not only lower energy costs by keeping buildings cooler, they also lessen the heat island effect in urban areas, thereby reducing ambient temperature and reducing the impacts of extreme heat. Finally, combined heat and power, aka cogeneration, has typically been touted as improving the efficiency of building operations and lowering operating costs of a facility. However, we have witnessed in recent years the significant benefit of CHP in keeping the power on during and after natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy.

There are some great resources to learn more about the benefits of energy efficiency to improve community resilience. You can check them out here: