Friday, December 28, 2012

The Energy-Water Nexus: It's a Thirsty World and the Stakes Are High

“All the water that will ever be is, right now.” With this simple sentence in 1993, National Geographic summed up the challenge: How do we continue to supply 7 billion people with enough water from a finite supply and satisfy the needs of modern society with increasing population and demand?
Water and energy are the life’s blood of industrialization. These resources are inextricably intertwined and work together to quench our thirst for power. Water is integral to resource extraction, refining, processing, transportation and electric power generation. Conversely, significant amounts of energy are needed to extract, transport, treat, and use water in urban areas. The collision of these two resources is often referred to as the energy-water nexus.
It’s a thirsty world and the stakes are high. However, using no energy uses no water at all and consumers and businesses alike can take advantage of new technology to minimize energy use. According toSandia National Labs, “coal, the most abundant fossil fuel, currently accounts for 52% of U.S. electricity generation, and each kWh generated from coal requires withdrawal of 25 gallons of water. That means U.S. citizens may indirectly depend upon as much water turning on the lights and running appliances as they directly use taking showers and watering lawns.”

Fortunately, many new and proven critical technologies with real solutions are currently jockeying for position to strategically target market opportunities to reduce power use in the building sector. These technologies can chip away at building power consumption and improved policy could dramatically speed this process. For example, mandated efficiency targets or on-bill recovery for retrofits could transform the industry across the board.

Many of these technologies address multiple problems. For instance, SolaRover, a Colorado company, offers a rapidly deployablecritical-output mobile solar power generator system that properly configured, can deliver up to 50 kW of continuous power. These generators can be plugged directly into a facility and be used to reduce facility energy use and cost during times of peak load demand—the time when energy costs are highest. At the same time, these units reduce water use by reducing the facility’s power needs generated off-site. In the event of an emergency, like Hurricane Sandy, these mobile generators can be simply and quickly moved to where they are needed – without the need for fuel. Thus, mobile solar generators can provide a lifetime of energy and water savings.

The Green Power Resource Management multifaceted solar powered air conditioning unit can be further adapted to function as a virtual power plant can further minimize building energy use by combining PV technology with DC engineered air conditioning innovation.

More and more businesses are recognizing the potential to turn their company building, previously a pure expense, into a power generation asset that can generate abundant and clean electricity. Pythagoras Solar, a company focused on building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), provides building owners the opportunity to achieve “ubiquitous solar” via integration of solar windows and solar skylights. The Pythagoras Solar window is a solar panel built around two panes of glass which allows it to function as both a window and an electricity generating source.

New innovations can further facilitate production of potable water without using fossil fuel powered energy to power filtration.  

Modern society is characterized by growth: Demand for energy and water is increasing while our water resource is finite. We are at a crossroads and the challenges that we need to address are daunting. Fortunately, with challenge comes opportunity and policy makers, businesses and consumers can take steps to reduce use by incentivizing a harmonized approach to energy-water planning and by incentivizing deployment and integration of technology that can reduce energy use and create a sustainable energy-water infrastructure. 

As a lead-up to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, January 13-17, Masdar is sponsoring a blogging contest called “Engage: The Water-Energy Nexus.” The winner will be invited to Abu Dhabi as VIP media to cover the week’s high-profile events. Please vote for me here:






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