JUICE: Watt-er

By Published On: March 28, 2014

Editors’ note: It may seem to readers that California Current veers off its core focus on energy when it reports on water and fracking issues. Beginning with water, this is the first in a two-part series to explain how the issues are related and why Current readers should take note. Water and energy flow into our lives. Although they come in via different pipes, you can’t use one without using the other. While I’m idly singing in a hot shower, for example, flowing down the drain with the soapy water are watts and therms. It is why Current covers water use. It is why state regulators and the Energy Commission strive to expand joint water and energy use efficiencies. The importance is not limited to droughts. But, dry spells draw political and public attention to the importance of the water-energy conservation bond. For too long, the use of the two resources has been viewed through separate lenses. That is in no small part because water and energy are developed, distributed, regulated and billed separately. By not widening our efficiency lens to include water conservation across the board, we are missing the forest for the trees. Cut water use and you slash energy requirements. In California, we use loads of power to move water from rivers and wells to the tap. For instance: • Pumping groundwater uses considerable amounts of energy, particularly when it is far below the ground; • Moving surface water from its source to the end user—a few or hundreds of miles—consumes big amounts of power, more so when it has to flow uphill; and • Water has to be treated before it comes out of the faucet to ensure it is potable. It has to be treated at the sewage plant after washing bodies, clothes and silicon chips and being returned to a river or other water body. About 19 percent of our electricity and 32 percent of our natural gas in California are used to move, treat, and heat water (see sidebar). There also are the greenhouse gas emission impacts of water and energy use. While the energy sector is the second largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the state, the water sector is the largest power consumer. Reduce the consumption of both water and energy and the state gets closer to its carbon reduction targets under its climate protection law, AB 32. In fact, under AB 32 the state is seeking to reduce the water sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by 4.8 million metric tons by 2020. To date, however, hefty resources—from financial to political—have and continue to be far more focused on energy efficiency. • The California Public Utilities Commission recently approved spending $10 billion of ratepayer dollars on investor-owned utilities’ energy efficiency programs over a decade. • The voter-approved Proposition 39 directs $2.5 billion over five years to energy efficiency retrofits at schools, as wells as renewable installations. • The California Energy Commission has spent significant time and resources on its efficiency standards for buildings, flat screens, air conditioners and appliances. • Legislation, SB 1121 by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angles), seeks to create a “green bank” to help finance energy efficiency building retrofits. In contrast, far less has or likely will be spent on reducing our water use. Each person in the U.S. uses an average 100 gallons. In contrast, the average daily use per person in Europe is 50 gallons. While energy efficiency is important, the benefits—from financial to environmental—when combined with water savings are far greater. Conserving these two resources avoids the need to build additional supply infrastructure—both water and energy. There have been commendable efforts to tie the two resources together to increase the financial and environmental benefits of efficiency efforts, including: • Legislation enacted this year to spend $50 million of carbon cap-and-trade revenue on joint water-energy use efficiency in the industrial, agricultural, residential and state sectors, which will cut greenhouse gases. • The Department of Water Resources’ upcoming budget includes $5 million over three years for water conservation, recycling and desalination. • The Energy Commission’s pending efficiency rulemaking to slash the water use of faucets, toilets and urinals. The goals are to cut water use by 50 billion gallons a year and reduce peak energy use by 1,400 MW and save 162 million therms of natural gas. • The California Public Utilities Commission, which only regulates private water utilities, is trying to wring out joint water and energy savings. It’s struggling to create a cost-effectiveness test for deciding when combined water-energy saving measures can be funded through energy utility efficiency programs. These are needed steps, but too small and timid to protect our economy and environment. Until water and energy use efficiency are as intertwined as showers and songs, Current will continue to sing both their praises.

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