Energy And Water: A Call For An Integrated Policy

The twin pillars of water and power have caught the attention of two non-profit industry groups. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and the Alliance for Water Efficiency teamed up to study and present recommendations for addressing the "nexus" of water and energy.

"...Every drop of water saved in the United States saves energy, and every unit of energy saved saves water," the report starts out.

Calling itself a "blueprint" for action, the white paper - produced with the help of financing from the Turner Foundation - makes the case for a collaborative policy of water and energy conservation. "The two communities have not historically worked together," the report states..."and instead generally created separate but parallel efforts."

A concerted effort could reap major benefits. The report cites a 2009 study by the River Network that estimated water-related energy accounted for 13% of the nation's total electricity consumption.

A separate 2005 report by the California Energy Commission found that "sourcing, moving, re-treating, heating, collecting and disposing of water" accounted for 19% of the state's electricity, 30% of its natural gas and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually.

The report uses the words "energy" and "electricity" interchangeably, and notes "water" refers to wastewater and treated water. It is no coincidence that more cities, including some in the San Joaquin Valley, are using solar, fuel cells and other renewable power sources in their water-treatment facilities. check out our recent blog post on that topic.

The study presents eight broad themes as recommendations:

1/ Increase cooperation between water and energy communities in planning solutions;

2/ Achieve a deeper understanding of the water embedded in energy and energy embedded in water;

3/ Learn from and replicate the best practices integrated water-energy programs;

4/ Integrate water into energy research and vice versa;

5/ Consider regulatory structures that provide an incentive for investing in integrated programs;

6/ Build upon existing programs that address water and energy as a package;

7/ Implement codes that mandate combined improvements;

8/ Pursue training, awareness and educational campaigns.

Those recommendations sound simple on the surface, but actually require some major policy shifts. "The two communities frequently operate under different regulatory business models and existing structures that do not recognize the benefits of both energy and water savings," the authors stated.

One of the most interesting challenges involves what the study calls antiquated methods of collecting water-utility revenue. It contends that common pricing methods discourage conservation and urges a revamp.

The authors say the report is a good first step, but suggests the process will be long. "This blueprint is...direction setting, and we hope that the energy and water conservation communities will learn from it and be motivated to act."

Photo of fuel cell at city of Tulare's water-treatment plant