Policymakers are taking a harder look at the state’s water-energy relationship. The California Energy Commission’s (CEC) primary finding in its 2005 report was that saving water saves energy. The underlying premise is that reducing water consumption avoids the amount of energy used “upstream” in the water use cycle (to collect or produce that water, to transport and treat it, and to deliver it) and “downstream” (to treat wastewater and safely dispose it). The CEC used the term “energy embedded in water,” or “embedded energy,” to represent the value of energy savings accumulated upstream and downstream of reduced water consumption.
At the crux of the state’s water-energy initiative is the question: should investor owned energy utilities recognize water conservation as an energy efficiency measure due to the embedded energy saved, thereby making it eligible for energy efficiency incentives?
California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is conducting several embedded energy in water studies to help answer this question and come to a policy decision. A number of water-energy pilot projects that demonstrate the potential energy savings from water conservation are currently undergoing evaluation, measurement, and verification.
One of the barriers to answering this question is the disconnect between the locations in which water is conserved and energy is reduced. Conserved water saves energy both upstream (all the way to the source) and downstream of the end user. This means water savings in Southern California can save energy at pumps in Northern California often crossing energy utility service areas. It’s unclear which energy utility should fund water conservation or gets credit for associated energy savings in this scenario.
A broad state-wide perspective and valuation of the benefits of conserving water and embedded energy could add additional impetus to water efficiency programs. However, stakeholders need not wait for such a policy – there are many opportunities for water agencies, energy utilities, and consumers to collaborate now on innovative ways to save both energy and water.