Here in SoCal discussions on water conservation are a regular occurrence. We all know the management of water resources in California is critical given increasing populations, increasing strains on our enormous agricultural ‘breadbasket’, and ever-decreasing precipitation as the effects of climate change worsen. However, how many of us think about energy in terms of water conservation?
According to the International Energy Agency, energy production accounts for 15% of the world’s water withdrawal – water withdrawn from groundwater. Thermoelectric power plants account for over one third of the fresh water withdrawn in the US. Shockingly that volume is greater than the water used to grow our food!
So which energy sources are hogging our precious water and how? Actually, most energy generation technologies — including coal, nuclear, biomass and even concentrating solar power – consume astounding amounts of water. It is necessary primarily for cooling thermal power plants, as well as fuel extraction, transport and processing. This results in both the depletion of available freshwater resources and affects the quality of our remaining resources downstream due to the polluting effects of energy-related outputs.
Sunlight, on the other hand, is an infinitely abundant resource in most water-stressed parts of the world, including here in California. The World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency reported that photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is one of only two electricity generation technologies with negligible water consumption.
PV energy systems provide a sustainable solution to the water-energy nexus by generating clean electricity with little to no water use. With the smallest carbon footprint, lowest life cycle water use, and fastest energy payback time in the industry, thin-film PV modules provide a sustainable solution to water scarcity and energy security.
Water conservation must be a priority in water-stressed parts of the world. While PV solar is unlikely to provide enough power for the entire state any time soon, individuals and businesses installing roof-top solar can make a positive difference. It turns out, not only in reducing air pollution from dirty energy but also in saving our water resources!
It is important to note the other half of the energy-water nexus. Energy is required to produce, treat, and distribute water. So, even if solar is providing your electricity, the water you use is still linked to polluting energy sources. Combining smart water conservation techniques, such as those suggested in this EPA list of household water saving methods, with going solar is the best bet for ensuring our planet’s resources will continue to provide for our future.
California Governor Jerry Brown’s inauguration was historic in more ways than one. After all, this is his fourth term - despite the legal limit of just two (the term limit was imposed in 1990 after his earlier terms in the 70’s). But perhaps even more historic was the content of his exciting inaugural speech. Among many plans for a healthier and more economically viable state, Brown proposed ambitious green energy goals including growing renewable energy to 50% by 2030. Coincidentally, on Tuesday we posted a blog encouraging readers to support the policies and politicians defending and expanding solar opportunities.
Gov. Brown described California as an environmental policy trendsetter. We already lead the nation in solar energy usage, energy efficiency overall, cleaner cars and energy storage. However, with the majority of scientists agreeing that we must limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, much more comprehensive measures are necessary.
If we have any chance at all of achieving that, California, as it does in many areas, must show the way. We must demonstrate that reducing carbon is compatible with an abundant economy and human well-being.
He outlined the following three goals to accomplish by 2030:
California is already on track to reach its goal of one third energy derived from renewable sources by 2020. So, although 50% by 2030 sounds bold because no one else is doing it, it is actually feasible. This could mean the continuation of tax breaks and other financial incentives for homeowners to go solar. Given that transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, incentives and infrastructure to get drivers in electric cars are also likely.
I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.
It won’t be easy accomplishing Brown’s goals with the oil industry leaders and some politicians opposing anything green. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, we must remain diligent in supporting policies and politicians fighting for a cleaner world. By his speech, Governor Brown once again demonstrated that he is such a politician, with his practical and no-nonsense stance:
Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.
We are at a crossroads. With big and important new programs now launched and the budget carefully balanced, the challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative, as our forebears have shown and our descendants would expect.
In a dramatic joint announcement coming out of the APEC summit in China, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have committed to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. (H/T climatecrocks.com)
The agreement calls on China to peak its GHG emissions by no later than 2030 and increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20% by that date. Meanwhile, the US will cut its GHG emissions by 26-28% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2025. For the two largest emitters of GHG, these steps by the US and China are historic and much needed.
“As the world’s two largest economies, energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change,” Obama said Wednesday in a joint press conference with Xi.
UPDATE - We noted that this was a really big deal, but the graph below is truly the picture worth a thousand words:
While the impact of the actions from the US and China alone are significant, as the graph shows, their greatest benefit is in serving as an example for other countries to follow.
Beyond the practical significance in helping to combat climate change, China’s commitment - coming as it does from the head of the Communist Party - takes away the deniers’ favorite argument: that it is meaningless for the US to act since China never will. Well guess what, China is acting.
Sorry deniers, what else have you got?
The folks over at NASA are reporting something that folks out here in the West will not find at all surprising: 2014 is on track to contend for the title of warmest year ever. (No doubt this will come as a shock to folks who regularly watch Fox News.) (H/T Climate Crocks.)
The chart shows the temperature anomaly for 134 years with the zoom in on the five warmest. 2014 is the heavy grey line; 2010 (the hottest year on record) is in red. (Oh, and contrary to the Fox canard about a global cooling trend, in fact of the five warmest years ever, two were in the past five - 2010 and 2013.)
Of course, 2014 isn’t over yet so the dotted lines provide a number of possible scenarios. To give you a sense of how far “ahead” we are so far this year, if the remaining months simply hit their 21st century averages, 2014 will tie 2005 for the second warmest year ever.
Hang on to this link, you may need to refer to it next month over Thanksgiving dinner!
Solar got a shout-out by President Obama in last night’s State of the Union speech and a well deserved one at that. Here’s what the President had to say:
…we’re becoming a global leader in solar too. Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do. (Cheers, applause.)
We were applauding, too, as we listened to the President’s speech. Of course, we are a long way removed from legislation that would actually redirect those subsidies from dirty fossil fuels to the clean energy we need for the future. And the President also touted his “all of the above” energy policy in noting that we have greatly expanded oil and natural gas production under his watch—a fact that prompted one wag to remark that he was fine with an all of the above policy, it was the stuff underground that causes all of the problems.
And let’s be clear, we are facing a major problem in climate change. Nearly two-thirds of California has been downgraded to extreme drought status and our snow pack today is 20% of what it should be at this time of year. While deniers point to freakishly cold temperatures in the nation’s heartland, they ignore the temperatures in Alaska where it rained in January for the first time in recorded history.
Check out this great summary video from our friends over at Climate Denial Crock of the Week:
So the President was right to give a shout-out to solar, as it is an important part of the solution. But a lot more needs to be done and we need a greater sense of urgency about the task ahead.