Analytical methods and strategies for using the energy-water nexus to achieve cross-cutting efficiency gains



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Energy and water resources share an important interdependency. Large quantities of energy are required to move, purify, heat, and pressurize water, while large volumes of water are necessary to extract primary energy, refine fuels, and generate electricity. This relationship, commonly referred to as the energy-water nexus, can introduce vulnerabilities to energy and water services when insufficient access to either resource inhibits access to the other. It also creates areas of opportunity, since water conservation can lead to energy conservation and energy conservation can reduce water demand.

This dissertation analyzes both sides of the energy-water nexus by (1) quantifying the extent of the relationship between these two resources and (2) identifying strategies for synergistic conservation. It is organized into two prevailing themes: the energy consumed for water services and the water used in the power sector.

In Chapter 2, a national assessment of United States' energy consumption for water services is described. This assessment is the first to quantify energy embedded in water at the national scale with a methodology that differentiates consistently between primary and secondary uses of energy for water. The analysis indicates that energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial, and power sectors for direct water and steam services was approximately 12.3 quadrillion BTU or 12.6% of 2010 annual primary energy consumption in the United States. Additional energy was used to generate steam for indirect process heating, space heating, and electricity generation.

Chapter 3 explores the potential energy and emissions reductions that might follow regional shifts in residential water heating technologies. Results suggest that the scale of energy and emissions benefits derived from shifts in water heating technologies depends on regional characteristics such as climate, electricity generation mix, water use trends, and population demographics. The largest opportunities for energy and emissions reductions through changes in water heating approaches are in locations with carbon dioxide intensive electricity mixes; however, these are generally areas that are least likely to shift toward more environmentally advantageous devices.

In Chapter 4, water withdrawal and consumption rates for 310 electric generation units in Texas are incorporated into a unit commitment and dispatch model of ERCOT to simulate water use at the grid scale for a baseline 2011 case. Then, the potential for water conservation in the power generation sector is explored. Results suggest that the power sector might be a viable target for cost-effective reductions in water withdrawals, but reductions in water consumption are more difficult and more expensive to target.