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From Climate Transition to Market Transformation

Two weekends ago, a Bomb Cyclone and an Atmospheric River converged on California, bringing heavy rains, flash floods, snow in the mountains and 8 Trillion Gallons of rain. Personally, I hadn’t heard of an atmospheric river before, but learned from NOAA that they have the potential to transport 7.5-15 times more water than the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River. This was welcome news to the parched Western U.S., which has been struggling with increasing aridity and drought.

When I checked the U.S. Drought Monitor last Thursday, I expected to see significant relief from this much needed rain. So when I visited the website’s two-week comparison, with October 26th on the left and October 19th on the right, my initial reaction was that there was an error on the site. Looking carefully, there are differences, but it was apparent that even these rainstorms made little dent in the drought. Apparently, the water level at Lake Oroville rose by 26 feet after two days, but it’s still more than 130 feet below the water levels from two years ago.

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that nothing short of a transformation of the water sector in the Western U.S. will be needed to address the changes taking place. Despite consistent decreases in the total amount of freshwater withdrawals (check out this USGS interactive map to see the relative amounts by state by category), water needs for public supply and irrigation are significant, and thermoelectric demands are also high in Texas and Nebraska as well.

Two weeks ago, the Association of Energy Service Professionals hosted a webinar entitled “From Climate Transition to Market Transformation.” The focus of the panel discussion was to explore how energy and water demand side programs can bring about the needed shifts in customer behavior.

Ron Burke, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, described the work of his organization on the water-energy nexus and stated that every million gallons of saved water can also save between 2,000 and 20,000 kWh of energy. This “embedded energy” savings has become the basis for energy utilities to claim energy savings associated with even “cold” water savings in their programs. He also presented an AWE tool containing embedded energy and CO2 emissions factors for individual grid regions across the United States. By collaborating with water utilities, Mr. Burke argued, energy utilities can achieve energy goals and help reduce water demands.

Brad Moore, a Program Engineer with Cascade Energy working with Energy Trust of Oregon customers, then presented on his experience with their irrigation efficiency projects. His project experience highlights how transitions to mobile drip and drip irrigation systems in agriculture can yield big reductions in both water and energy demands.

Finally, Kate Merson, Director of Market Transformation with Resource Innovations, discussed how the energy sector’s work on market transformation provides insights on how to create lasting change and accelerated adoption of water efficient or alternative water products, services and practices. Building on Brad’s presentation on irrigation efficiency, Kate talked about the promise of a long-standing technology, drip irrigation, and its market barriers including low product awareness, higher upfront costs and installation times, and relative product unavailability. Market transformation strategies focusing on brand and product awareness, product promotion and stocking by manufacturers and distributors, and training of farmers and installers can shift adoption timelines and costs. In this case, market transformation can drive both water and energy savings in the agricultural sector.

AIQUEOUS began during a period of significant drought in 2015, and late Spring rains washed away the worry and focus on water efficiency that year. Not until this year have I seen a renewed sense of urgency and concern. Addressing changes in the West will require transformation on both the supply and demand sides of the water sector, and the energy industry has a vested interest in policymaker, planner and customer choices. Rather than staying “in their lane,” energy program staff should be reaching out to their water program colleagues to design and deploy strategies to create a more sustainable future.


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