Energy and Water: Connected and consequential
There are many obvious interdependencies between water and energy. Water is needed for energy production and energy is needed to harvest and transport water, as well as make it potable. Water is a limited resource, as are some of our energy sources, and as our climate changes, water becomes scarcer and more difficult to make drinkable. More energy is needed to extract and clean and heat our water, and more water is then needed to produce the extra energy needed — and there begins the feedback loop that must be disrupted to end or slow the cycle.
To disrupt the feedback loop, we must look at what each resource sector can do to use less of the other resource. The energy sector can have an impact on water health by focusing on renewable energy production as well as reduction through demand side management. The water sector can minimize energy use focusing on reuse, limits on groundwater pumping, and further evaluating how we use and value water.
Together, the two industries can have a great impact on management of water and energy resources by motivating consumers to reduce use and highlighting the true value of those resources. Water organizations and energy organizations may take different approaches, but we are all working toward reducing our collective carbon footprint.
Those who study the energy-water nexus typically say that we collectively place a dangerously low value on water. Water bills are often a household’s lowest, which makes it easy for people to overuse or misuse water. Easy access to water and energy often means we ignore the work that goes into production. This issue is thrown in to sharp relief when you look at potable tap water — which, despite its energy intensiveness, we use to water lawns and flush toilets.
For another highlight of the interdependency of energy and water, we can look to wastewater treatment plants. These plants represent 2 percent of national energy use, and energy represents 25–40 percent of their operating costs. CEE recently completed research work for a state-funded project (led by MnTAP, funded by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources) to help reduce Minnesota’s wastewater treatment plants’ energy use by improving staff training around energy efficiency. This work predicted a 127 million kilowatt-hours and 25 percent cut in energy use in each plant targeted by the project.
Beyond organizational and statewide work, we would like to share some things that individuals can do to act as environmental stewards around water. As a celebration of Earth Day, couple these tips with our recent post on saving energy while working from home.
- Consider your watering source. Do you really need to use potable water from your hose? You can instead use water from a rain barrel or cistern that requires no energy input.
- Water during the early morning or evening to avoid evaporation by the sun.
- Reconsider a lawn altogether! Consider turning some of your lawn into a raingarden or native plantings. Deep roots help stormwater and runoff become harvestable groundwater while keeping surface water pollutants from lakes and streams.
- Storm drains:
- The storm drains on the street direct stormwater as well as the pollutants it carries to nearby lakes or streams. You can clear trash out of your local storm drains to help mitigate this and pledge to keep them clean with Adopt-a-Drain.
- Clean curbs of trash and leaves, grass clippings, and sediment especially before it rains. Organic material is very harmful to water bodies and their wildlife because it is food for algae.
These are just a few of many individual actions you can take around water use to help disrupt the energy-water feedback loop. To explore further, check out the Water Footprint Calculator.
Project page: Driving Wastewater Treatment Energy Efficiency
CEE blog: Keep your energy bills low while working from home