ACEEE’s interest in the energy–water nexus comes from the fact that a large amount of energy is consumed in the water and wastewater industries, as well as in water end-uses, primarily water heating. Addressing water and energy efficiency together can lead to substantial cost-effective energy and water savings. Other benefits include mitigating and adapting to climate change, and increasing community resilience.
Increased coordination between the water and energy sectors breaks down traditional silos and paves the way for an integrative approach to saving energy and water. ACEEE has been at the forefront of these efforts along with several partners, including the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE), the Water Environment Federation, the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), and a number of national laboratories.
Today we’re releasing a new resource, The Energy–Water Nexus: Exploring the Stream of Opportunities, summarizing our efforts over the past decade and describing opportunities for future ACEEE work.
Looking at past work on the nexus
ACEEE first forayed into the energy–water field in 2005 by convening thought leaders to chart a path forward for research. In 2011, ACEEE and AWE held a workshop with 41 organizations from the water and energy sectors. We released the workshop’s takeaways in Addressing the Energy–Water Nexus: A Blueprint for Action. The blueprint outlined eight ways to advance our understanding of the energy–water nexus and, consequently, change the way energy and water are managed.
Since then, we have pursued research on various aspects of the blueprint. To address its second element—to better understand how energy is embedded in water and water is embedded in energy—ACEEE began conducting research and collecting data to inform program design. Our first effort was the 2014 report, Watts in a Drop of Water: Savings at the Water–Energy Nexus. This study included energy-intensity ranges for water conveyance, distribution, and treatment, and for wastewater treatment and discharge. Our 2015 follow-up report, A Survey of Energy Use in Water Companies, analyzed surveys of NAWC member companies concerning energy use in water processing.
Another element of the blueprint we focused on is the increased collaboration between the energy and water communities. ACEEE’s 2013 report, Saving Water and Energy Together: Helping Utilities Build Better Programs, identified the opportunities and benefits of creating joint programs to save water and energy in the residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, and municipal sectors.
What does the future hold?
We’ve kept busy, but there’s more to do. In addition to disseminating our research to new audiences, we'll consider updating past research, like our work on joint energy and water utility collaboration. We'll also consider new topics, including the connection between climate change and the energy–water nexus, and how efforts to increase efficiency in water end-uses and the water system can increase community resilience. Future research could document how these efforts can reduce community exposure to acute and chronic stressors, including high utility bills for low-income households.
Check out the resource for more details, and stay tuned for our future work. ACEEE will continue to collaborate with our partners to prioritize research areas and deliver insightful, high-quality analysis on ways to efficiently save both energy and water.