As you know, a couple of weeks ago, I was attended the first annual SXSW Eco in Austin, TX. While roaming the halls of the Hilton Austin, meeting fellow attendees, and planning out my schedule for the event, I decided to stop in on a panel discussion focusing on “tools and techniques that will enable businesses to understand and control their energy and utility costs” to see if water resource management would be on the agenda. After glancing at the conference schedule, I wasn’t too optimistic. Although the conference took place in Texas—a state still in the grips of crippling drought with now end in sight (forecasters predict a less than 5% chance for the drought to break over the next 12 months)—a majority of the conference panels and sessions did not take to opportunity to focus water resource management and its connection to sustainability and energy efficiency, and instead focused on water quality (“Using Carbon Financing to Provide Sustainable Access to Safe Drinking Water”, “Building Cleaner, Safer, and Healthier Communities: A Discussion with EPA and HHS”), landscaping (“The Role and Design of Sustainable Lawns and Urban Prairies”), and infrastructure in the developing world (“Fixing Broken Water Pipes in Africa: Lessons from the Real World”).
I started off my week sitting in on the the panel discussion, “From Site to Corporate: Managing Energy and Utilities in a Global Economy.” The panelists, Paul Allen (Constellation Energy), Alison Taylor (Siemens Corporation), and Karl Van Orsdol (Hewlett Packard) all gamely offered a wide range of perspectives and prognostications on how cities and corporations can manage energy efficiency, but had it not been for one enterprising audience member, water would have been left completely out of the mix.
The Question: how are your organizations taking water into account for power production, manufacturing, and sustainability?
Van Orsdol stepped in to answer first. Explaining that Hewlett Packard is based in California—where water is a big issue—he told the audience that nearly 40% of the state’s energy production is used to transport and disinfect water.
“Water is the biggest energy user in the state, and energy is the biggest water user in the state,” said Van Orsdol.
“Water is such a fundamental human need; we see water as the next energy issue. And it’s the issue that has infrastructure that’s incredibly inefficient; in some cities, up to 50% of the water pumped gets lost.”
According to Taylor, the connection between water and energy is not scarcity issue, but a dollars and sense issue. As such, Siemens took steps to reduced their water footprint, but felt like maybe that wasn't enough.
“Now we’re taking a look at the watersheds where we operate and seeing what we can do to aid those watersheds.”
Other areas of focus for Siemens include focusing on making membrane technologies much more energy efficient and focusing on how to alleviate the nations infrastructure problems.
“US consumers use more water than European consumers,” said Taylor, who went on to say that while water reuse and rainwater harvesting are becoming second nature in many water-scarce parts of the world, “the tougher question is how do we deploy technologies already out there that are more energy efficient and tie them to an infrastructure that is so inefficient.”
Because most of the water used in the energy generation sector is for once through cooling that gets returned to source at a higher temp but not otherwise changed unregulated, Allen focused his answer on the gross over utilization of pesticides, fertilizers, and water in agriculture and residential landscaping.
“The fact of the matter is that because we have enjoyed artificially low energy prices, we have sprawled out across the landscape with lots of shoddy infrastructure. That’s created a lot pressure on certain water bodies that’s going to be hard to reverse. Once you’ve overused a water source, it’s very hard to get it back.”
So what do you think? Why did water resource management have such a poor showing, both during the panel discussion and at the conference as a whole? Are we still suffering from “Green Fever Blues?” And what can we do, as water resource management professionals, to make sure that water is included in all conversations about energy efficiency, infrastructure investment, sustainable urban development, and environmental conservation?