Can’t have one without the other
By Kathy Wythe
Just as Frank Sinatra once sang about love and marriage, when it comes to water and energy, "You can't have one without the other." Water is needed to produce most energy, and energy is needed to develop and use water.
Water is used to extract and process oil, gas, and other fuels, and is an integral part of electric-power generation. Energy, in turn, is needed to pump, treat, heat, and move water, and extract "new" water from desalination, reuse, and other sources.
As the United States develops new energy sources to replace imported petroleum and natural gas, the demand for water to produce these energy sources will grow significantly. And as the population grows, so does the need for more water and energy.
With the increased need for both, this water and energy nexus or interdependence is beginning to capture attention of policy makers and researchers throughout Texas and the nation.
"Water and energy are the two most fundamental ingredients of
modern civilization," wrote Dr. Michael Webber in a Scientific
American article in October 2008. Webber is an assistant
professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas and
associate director of the Center for International Energy and
Environmental Policy. "Without water, people die. Without energy, we cannot grow food, run computers, or power homes, schools, or offices."
In an interview, Webber said: "We use a lot of energy for water
and we use a lot of water for energy, so constraints in one become
constraints in the other. If we don't have enough energy in some
situations, we might not have enough water, and if we don't have
enough water, we might not have enough energy.
These interconnections or relationships present important opportunities, but they also present vulnerabilities or constraints."
David Burnett, director of technology for the Global Petroleum Research Institute within Texas A&M University's Department of Petroleum Engineering, agreed.
"Two of the most critical problems facing Texas, the United States, and indeed the world, are providing adequate energy and ensuring adequate clean water resources for society and doing so in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner," he wrote in a white paper on water and energy.
After agricultural production of food, feed, and fiber, energy withdraws the largest amount of freshwater in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all freshwater withdrawals, although not all the water is consumed.
"Texas represents a significant part of that use," Burnett said. "Such technologies as coal to electricity, coal to liquid, coal to hydrogen, natural gas to electricity, natural gas to liquids, nuclear, biofuel feedstocks, biofuel refining, oil production, oil refining, oil and gas petrochemicals all require copious amounts of water."
Recognizing the growing demand for both energy and water, in 2004 the House and Senate Subcommittees on Energy and Water Development Appropriations asked the Department of Energy for "a report to Congress on the interdependency of energy and water focusing on threats to national energy production resulting from limited water supplies…"
The resulting report, Energy Demands on Water Resources published in 2006, gave an overview of the connections between energy and water, identified concerns regarding water demands of energy production, and discussed science and technologies to address water use and management in the context of energy use and production.
The report recommended the federal government collaborate with regional and state agencies, as well as with industry and other stakeholders, on energy and water resource planning. The report added that science- and system-based natural resource policies and regulations need to be developed, as do energy-water infrastructure synergies such as coordinated infrastructure development.
In 2005 the Department of Energy began developing a National
Energy-Water Science and Technology Roadmap "to establish a
long-range research, development, and demonstration program to
efficient use of water and energy resources and sustainable and cost-effective future energy production
and electric power generation in the U.S." To date the final Roadmap report is not published.
In March 2009, U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska introduced a bill, titled Energy and Water Integration Act of 2009. The bill would authorize several studies to analyze water use in the production of transportation fuels and electricity, as well as other mechanisms to improve the understanding of the nexus between energy and water, according to a Murkowski news release. The bill would also direct the Department of Energy to complete the Roadmap.
For Webber, the recommendation of having collaboration or integration of water and energy planning into one planning process is key.
"The most important thing is to recognize the relationship of water to energy," Webber said, "and ntegrate that relationship into policy making to have a more integrated approach. We need to have water and energy planners sitting together, making decisions together."
"Many people are concerned about the perils of peak oil - running out of cheap oil," Webber wrote in the Scientific American article. "A few are voicing concerns about peak water. But almost no one is addressing the tension between the two: Water restrictions are hampering solutions for generating more energy, and energy problems, particularly rising prices, are curtailing efforts to supply more clean water."
On the state level, this need for coordination of energy and water planning is beginning to be discussed.
In September 2008, the Texas Senate Committee on Natural Resources had a hearing that in part focused on the energy-water nexus. During the meeting, Sen. Kip Averitt said he would like to see energy planning handled in much the same way as water planning is done by the Texas Water Development Board.
"I wish this state had some vision for energy like we do for water; that way it would make your job [the Texas Water Development Board] a lot easier and more effective if we had some kind of hint of what is going to happen in the future," he said.
That vision is Texas' state water plan, updated every five years, which provides water use projections, water availability, and water management strategies to meet state's water estimation needs.
For the Texas Water Development Board, the energy-water nexus becomes a reality when the board is planning for enough water to meet the state's electricity demands.
"The issue is, with the increase in electric demand, we are going to see increases in water used to produce electricity," said Carolyn Brittin, deputy executive administrator in charge of water resources planning and information for the Texas Water Development Board.
Brittin testified at the September 2008 natural resources
committee meeting on the incorporation of steam-electric water
demands in state and regional water planning. She also presented
results from the study, Water Demand Projections for Power
Generation in Texas, conducted by the University of
Bureau of Economic Geology.
Brittin agreed that having more knowledge of electric and other energy demands would help the board in its water planning. When the state water plan is updated every five years, she said, "We look for changed conditions and adapt the process to that. If we get better information on power demands in the next cycle, we will incorporate that in the planning process.
"At the end of previous regional water planning in 2006, some water providers came to the board saying we are having requests for water for power generation that are greater than what is projected in the plan," Brittin said. "In one basin, the inquiries were greater than the total demand in the state. That is why we did the study, to see if we could get a better handle on what those projections were going to be in the state."
In the current legislative session, Rep. Charles Anderson introduced House Bill 366 that calls for a task force to study the state's long-term demand for electric generation capacity.
In addition to integrating energy and water planning policies, conservation of both energy and water is vital, experts said.
Webber suggested water-conserving solutions, such as research to develop more sophisticated ways to cool power plants with less water; use of power generators that use less water, such as wind or solar; and development of biofuels that do not require much water.
"We also need to develop less energy-intensive ways to clean water," Webber said.
Energy and water expert Bob Gary, who previously worked for TXU, now Luminant, agreed that more innovative research is needed. He said more engineers specializing in water are also essential for the necessary innovation.
Gary pointed to desalination of oil field wastewater and other saline water as one innovation that holds promise. "There is a lot of saline water scattered throughout Texas," Gary said. "If we could clean it up and use it, we would be in great shape."
He gave an example of the West Texas farmer with too little water and the West Texas oil and gas company with too much produced water. "The economics of the state needs to have the technology linked between these two industries to keep them both healthy."