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April 13, 2015
Water Energy - joint utility programs, water efficiency, water energy, water energy programs

The water-energy nexus is a critical concept in California today, due to increasingly stressed water supplies and state greenhouse gas reduction goals. The nexus is described as the interaction between water services and energy services: energy services rely on reliable access to water and water delivery services depend on access to energy. In short, saving water saves energy and vice versa. In California, water is one of the state’s largest end uses of both natural gas and electricity. Of the state’s water-related natural gas use (30% of overall natural gas use), the vast majority goes to residential, commercial, and industrial end uses, at 98.5%. Of the state’s water-related electricity use (19% of overall electricity use), 40% goes to water extraction, conveyance, treatment, distribution, and wastewater systems.

At the 2013 Utility Sustainability Roundtable, conducted by the California Sustainability Alliance and Southern California Gas Company, participants from utilities, water agencies, and cities expressed strong interest in a joint water-energy efficiency program collaboration guidebook to support and enhance coordinated efforts towards a sustainable water-energy nexus. Though progress is being made within the water and energy industries already, a guidebook was envisioned to help fully realize the synergy between these systems.

In late 2014, the California Sustainability Alliance completed the Water-Energy Program Collaboration Guidebook in response to this interest. The intended audience of this guidebook is energy utilities and water agencies in California. The goal is for readers to come away with a better understanding of how energy utilities and water agencies can work together on joint water conservation and energy efficiency programs, and apply this knowledge to new initiatives at their own organizations. The guidebook offers insight and real-world examples along the following joint program development and implementation process:

From research, interviews, and industry experience, the guidebook identifies the top nine collaboration strategies to include:

  1. Establish measurable, specific goals at the beginning of a program and conduct periodic evaluations.
  2. Dedicate a staff member/champion – someone passionate about efficiency partnerships, who actively seeks ways to overcome barriers and come up with creative solutions.
  3. Establish a clear decision-making process and rules of operations, and back this up by drafting legal documents.
  4. Effectively communicate between partners – keep in regular contact with representatives at partner organizations to stay informed and involved.
  5. Be persistent and pro-active. Sometimes a legal agreement will have to be reviewed by the legal department dozens of times – but don't give up on it.
  6. Play to partners' strengths: assume leadership roles and responsibilities based on areas of expertise and/or ability to contribute to the program (e.g., one partner has the expertise to lead program design and implementation oversight while the other has the resources to handle program administration).
  7. Use a “one-stop-shop” approach where feasible so customers can find all of their efficiency opportunities and information in one place. More generally, always simplify things for the customer – this will help increase market adoption.
  8. Simplify internal joint program processes – this will reduce expenses and staff time. This includes approval, cost-sharing, and data-sharing processes. When possible, use an umbrella memorandum of understanding to formally establish these process improvements.
  9. Monitor legislation while designing programs; for example, stay current on appliance code changes that will impact rebates.

Readers are encouraged to use the guidebook as a foundation for further independent reading and conversations, as the water-energy collaboration effort must extend far beyond these pages. Additionally, stay tuned for further work in this area, as the California Public Utilities Commission is developing tools to assist energy utilities and water agencies in determining the cost effectiveness of joint water-energy efficiency programs. Download the full guidebook here.