Skip to main content

2014: The year of the Energy-Water nexus

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Exchange Blog, 2014 is shaping up to be the year of the energy-water nexus. First, the UN’s World Water Day centred on the topic and then the US Department of Energy (DOE) released a 250 page report on the energy-water nexus and indicated that it will be included in its Quadrennial Energy Review. Now, this week, the biggest international water conference, World Water Week is taking place.

Held every year in Stockholm, Sweden, World Water Week is led by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and serves as a platform for over 200 collaborating organisation and 2500 participants from 130 countries around the world to discuss global water and development issues.

The Defense Fund’s blog claims that in choosing the energy-water nexus as this year’s theme, SIWI and its supporters are affirming what policy experts have been saying for years: energy and water are inextricably linked, and the best way to set the energy-water system on a sustainable course is to plan for both resources holistically.

Asymmetries between water and energy

However, while the connection between energy and water sectors is clear, there are considerable asymmetries in how the two are priced, regulated and managed. Furthermore, it is no longer possible for each sector to simply talk about the other, they must work together to address the nexus.

For example, much of the electricity market is deregulated and run by large private companies participating in regional, national, or global markets, whereas the water sector is generally run by small public utilities operating in highly regulated markets at the local level.

Also, although energy efficiency is a central part of the energy sector, inefficient use of water seems to be the norm, Finally, energy is clearly priced and there is an awareness of pricing in the market and among customers, especially at the industrial level. Water, on the other hand, is typically not something we worry about: Not only is customer awareness of water prices low, but the way water is priced in the US is not reflective of its true value.

This disparity lies at the heart of what makes the energy-water nexus so challenging.

Cities may face conflict over the energy water nexus

The Blog explains that we often hear bout the water needs of agriculture, but with urban population expected to double globally by 2050, we will face conflict over whether cities or power plants get the water if we are not careful.

To some extent, this problem is locational. For example, Southern California has a very high water-associated energy demand because its water has to be pumped in from Northern California – a problem that could intensify as northern water sources are constrained by the state’s historic drought. As climate change exacerbates water shortages, particularly in areas that are already water-stressed, cities may be forces to pursue a similar approach, looking outside if their own districts for water resources. This additional transportation of water may increase energy demand overall, which would, in turn, increase demand for water, creating a vicious cycle in the energy-water nexus spiral.

A more systematic approach to the water and energy needs of a city could help maximise efficiencies in both sectors and manage the scarce existing resources. The City of San Antonio offers a good example of effective energy-water co-management; San Antonio Water System (SAWS) prioritises energy management and has won numerous awards for its energy savings. The water utility’s most innovative project to date is Dos Rios, a combined sewage treatment and biogas plant that reduces harmful air pollution and generates revenue from the sale of biogas. CPS Energy, the city’s progressive, municipally-owned electric utility, even installed a large, 20 MW solar farm at the facility to further cut harmful pollution and water use.

The Environmental Defense Fund accentuates that each sector must view the other as a vital component of their collective futures: water is an energy resource and energy is a water resource. Equalising the way that regulations and prices are made is a step toward approaching these problems in a more systemic way.

Adapted from a press release by Emma McAleavey.

Read the article online at:


Embed article link: (copy the HTML code below):