The Nexus of Water and Energy

Energy and water are interrelated.  When you conserve water, you’re also reducing the strain on the electricity grid, and when you reduce your electricity usage less water is used.

In Texas, we’ve been hearing a lot about this year’s extreme drought affecting 14 states, which the New York Times likened to the 1930’s Dust Bowl.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that 55% of the country was in a moderate, severe, or extreme state of drought in July.

Texas has been especially hard hit by the drought, with Stage 2 Watering Restrictions set in place in many cities to help ensure adequate water supply for all. Watering our lawns is no trivial matter.  Texans use about 150 gallons of water per person every day, and in the summer 60-70% of residential usage is for landscape irrigation.

However, there is another significant source of water usage that we don’t usually hear about – electricity generation. The largest user of water in the U.S. is the thermoelectric power sector – accounting for 48% of water withdrawals and 39% of freshwater withdrawals.  Nuclear and coal plants in particular consume a lot of water.  The drought has already had an impact on electricity production in Texas – at least one North Texas power plant has had to reduce how much it generates because the water level in its cooling reservoir had fallen significantly.

So, water is required to produce energy.  It also turns out that quite a bit of energy is required to collect, treat, and distribute clean water.  Energy and water are interrelated.  With a serious drought, which requires more of water treatment facilities, and a serious heat wave, which requires more of electricity plants, it seems like we’re in the midst of a vicious cycle.

The flip side is that conserving water = conserving energy, and vice versa.  When you conserve water, you’re also reducing the strain on the electricity grid, and when you reduce your electricity usage less water is used.  Water Conservation = Energy Conservation.

We can each do our part, whether it’s using less water on our lawns or turning the thermostat up a couple of degrees during the day while we’re gone.  The good news is that Green Mountain Energy Company customers are already doing their part by purchasing Pollution Freesm electricity, which is generated using 100% wind power without consuming any water.  To accelerate that impact, consider xeriscaping your lawn or using rainwater collection barrels. Or, simple changes like turning off the water when brushing your teeth – every little bit helps!