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Senate Testimony on the Energy Water Nexus

Nate Hagens, The Oil Drum
Below the fold is the 3/10 testimony to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources United States Senate by Professor Michael Webber, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Director, Center for International Energy & Environmental Policy at The University of Texas at Austin (hat-tip Debbie Cook).

Dr. Webber explains the intricate and increasingly vital links between energy and water, both in the United States, and the world. As previously mentioned, I have a paper (finally after nearly 3 years) in press on the Energy Return on Water Invested – a statistic that further adjusts a technologies unit energy return for each associated water unit (consumption or withdrawal). How we choose/optimize between limited and limiting natural resources will be the central policy challenge in the decades ahead. I am encouraged that government is hearing about not only about scarcity of low cost vital inputs, but their inter-relationships.
– TOD Editor Nate Hagens

Trends and Policy Issues For The Nexus of Energy and Water
Testimony of Michael E. Webber, Ph.D.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you so much for the invitation to speak before your committee on the nexus of energy and water. My name is Michael Webber, and I am the Associate Director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. I appear here today to share with you my perspective on important trends and policy issues related to this nexus.

My testimony today will make four main points:
1. Energy and water are interrelated,
2. The energy-water relationship is already under strain,
3. Trends imply these strains will be exacerbated, and
4. There are different policy actions that can help.

I will briefly elaborate on each of these points during this testimony.

Energy and Water Are Interrelated

Energy and water are interrelated: we use energy for water, and we use water for energy.

For example, we use energy to heat, treat and move water. Water heating alone is responsible for 9% of residential electricity consumption in the U.S. And, nationwide, water and wastewater treatment and distribution combined require about 3% of the nation’s electricity. However, regionally, that number can be much higher. In California, where water is moved hundreds of miles across two mountain ranges, water is responsible for approximately 15% of the state’s total electricity consumption. Similarly large investments of energy for water occurs wherever water is scarce and energy is available.

In addition to using energy for water, we also use water for energy. We use water directly through hydroelectric power generation at major dams, indirectly as a coolant for thermoelectric power plants, and as a critical input for the production of biofuels. The thermoelectric power sector—comprised of power plants that use heat to generate power, including those that operate on nuclear, coal, natural gas or biomass fuels—is the single largest user of water in the United States. Cooling of power plants is responsible for the withdrawal of nearly 200 billion gallons of water per day. This use accounts for 49% of all water withdrawals in the nation when including saline withdrawals, and 39% of all freshwater withdrawals, which is about the same as for agriculture. On average, anywhere between 1 to 40 gallons of water is needed for cooling for every kilowatt-hour of electricity that is generated. However, while power plants withdraw vast amounts of water, very little of that water is actually consumed; most of the water is returned to the source though at a different temperature and with a different quality. Thus, while power plants are major users of water, they are not major consumers of water, which is in contrast with the agriculture sector, which consumes all the water it withdraws.
(24 March 2009)

Drought Turns Water Into a Cash Crop

Peter Sanders, Wall Street Journal
As Don Bransford prepares for his spring planting season, he is debating which is worth more: the rice he grows on his 700-acre farm north of Sacramento, or the water he uses to cultivate it.

After three years of drought in California, water is now a potential cash crop. Last fall, the state activated its Drought Water Bank program for the first time since 1994. Under the program, farmers can choose to sell some of the water they would usually use to grow their crops to parched cities, counties and agriculture districts.

Water — or the lack of it — has been costing the state dearly. According to Richard Howitt, a professor at the University of California, Davis, the drought and resulting water restrictions could cost as much as $1.4 billion in lost income and about 53,000 lost jobs, mostly in the agriculture sector.

In the water market, demand is already outstripping supply. Water agencies, worried about being left high and dry in the hot summer months, are expected to request at least twice the amount of water as the bank will have to sell.
(24 March 2009)

Water meters in every home ‘will prevent shortages’

Louise Gray, The Daily Telegraph
Already half of households in England and Wales suffer “water stress”, where demand for fresh drinking water could soon outstrip supply.

The crisis is greatest in the South East where at least 10 million people have less water available per head than those living in Egypt and Morocco.

In a new report, the Environment Agency warns that the problem is going to get much worse in the future because to the growing population and global warming.

Although climate change is likely to lead to more frequent heavy downpours and increase the risk of flooding, overall it could reduce the amount of water available in rivers in England and Wales by 10 to 15 per cent by 2050, and up to as much as 80 per cent during summer months.

In order to prevent shortages, the agency in charge of protecting natural resources expects most households to have meters by 2035, although in areas where water is scarce they are likely to be brought in by 2015.
(29 March 2009)