It’s no secret that California’s energy and water resources are inextricably linked. While electricity generation itself requires substantial amounts of water, the water infrastructure consumes 7.7% of the state’s electricity to transport, treat, distribute and recycle water.
California’s “water-energy nexus” is complex and subject to many external stresses. During times of drought, surface water supplies dwindle, and we inevitably tap more energy intensive supplies such as groundwater and imported water which increases our electricity demand on the already constrained power grid. To exacerbate the problem, droughts decrease the generation of hydroelectric power which normally provides 20% of the state’s electricity. These problems will only get worse as climate change threatens to alter precipitation patterns in California. As we search for the answers to these problems, a 2005 report by the California Energy Commission reminds us:
“[A] major portion of the solution is closer coordination between the energy and water sectors. A meaningful solution cannot be reached in the current regulatory environment where water utilities value only the cost of acquisition, conveyance, treatment, and delivery; wastewater utilities value only the cost of collection, treatment, and disposal; electric utilities value only saved electricity; and natural gas utilities value only saved natural gas.”
To foster the goal of greater coordination and understanding, the Alliance has updated and re-launched the Water-Energy Program content of its website with new information regarding the critical relationship between water and energy in California. The new content highlights the opportunities California has for reducing the energy intensity of the state’s water use cycle, identifies key measures for both water agencies and end users to reduce their water-related energy use, and discusses the regulatory challenges facing water providers striving to save energy as well as high priority policy strategies for overcoming them.
The Alliance’s Water-Energy Advisory Committee has come to the consensus that like energy efficiency, “water conservation is the most cost-effective and environmentally preferred action to save energy and water.” A second major opportunity, detailed in a recent report by the Alliance, is the expansion of the use of recycled water to safely displace the use of potable water for non-potable uses such as toilet flushing, landscape irrigation, commercial car washing, and fire protection.
The bottom line is that saving water saves energy and saving energy saves water. Meeting California’s aggressive goals to reduce both energy and water-use will therefore require utility mangers, regulators, and policymakers alike to align their efforts.
We hope this new content will provide the public with better information and support a greater understanding and collaboration between water and energy managers as they work to ensure California has a sustainable water and energy supply for years to come.