Office of Policy

The Water-Energy Nexus: Capturing the Benefits of Integrated Resource Management for Water & Electricity Utilities and their Partners

August 4, 2015

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On May 28th and 29th, a joint workshop organized by Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis (EPSA) and University of California - Irvine’s (UCI) Water UC Irvine was held at the UCI campus. The workshop participants, which included university researchers, utility providers, state and federal agencies, and non-profit organizations, distilled lessons from Western U.S. states and developed recommendations to enable water & electrical utilities, regulators, and other stakeholders to enhance effectiveness and efficiency in both water and electricity use.

While integrally related, water and energy resources have historically been studied independently, regulated by separate oversight agencies, and delivered to customers by separate utilities.  Yet it is undeniable that there are strong interdependencies between water and energy. Water, in its many forms, has a direct relationship with the fulfillment of energy demands. Energy production typically requires water. Conversely, it takes energy to treat, convey, and purify water. A confluence of factors, including the ongoing drought across much of the Southwest United States, is driving change at the intersection of energy and water.

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In California, there is a small, but growing, number of coordinated end-use water and energy efficiency programs. A recent survey by the Pacific Institute highlights barriers to coordination of water and energy efficiency programs which range from inconsistent funding and staffing, to insufficient guidance regarding cost estimation and allocation policies between potential partners. Promising tools for optimization at the energy-water nexus were discussed, including the development of higher fidelity data on energy needs of water systems and the CPUC’s Water-Energy Cost Effectiveness Calculator, which can help determine how much energy is embedded in water at different locations in the state.  The next steps should go beyond conservation towards a framework that allows for flexible household and utility management at the water-energy nexus.

At the conclusion of the workshop, participants prioritized a set of forward-thinking next steps to integrate innovation by water and electrical utilities, regulators, and the general public, thus achieving greater effectiveness and efficiency in the joint use of water and electricity. These steps include better data and model integration; technology development and adoption; infrastructure financing; and public engagement, communication and outreach to communicate water and energy needs.

The workshop provided an invaluable exchange of knowledge, insight and tools for participants to make both an individual and a collective difference in shaping opportunities and overcoming challenges posed at the intersection of water and energy. A summary of the prioritized recommendations will be issued later this summer.

For more information, contact Diana Bauer (U.S. DOE) or David Feldman (U.C. Irvine).