Water-Energy Pathways

The Falkirk Wheel, an icon of millenial water-energy ingenuity (photo courtesy of Sean McClean)

The world’s first coast-to-coast ship canal, Forth & Clyde, transported ships through 11 locks that required one day and 3,500 metric tons of water to achieve the 115 feet change in elevation. A decision to restore this historic waterway resulted in The Falkirk Wheel – the world’s first and only rotating boat lift that applies well known physical principles in a new and existing way. Instead of using locks, the wheel balances 2 gondolas at opposite ends that rotate to deliver the floating contents of each gondola to either canal. Each lift is now achieved within 4 minutes and uses only 1.5 kilowatt hours!

The water and energy sectors are natural partners: each depends on the other to reliably and economically provide products and services essential to achieving their respective missions. Yet, although numerous studies indicate that considerable incremental resource, economic, and environmental benefits could be achieved through integrated management of water and energy resources, many hurdles will need to be overcome before the multiple benefits of the water-energy nexus can be realized.

There has been no lack of innovation – over the past decade, many stakeholder forums convened across the U.S. to identify creative nexus opportunities. Neither is there lack of interest and commitment – both the water and the energy sectors have willingly come to the table to collaborate on strategies for leveraging the nexus to achieve the next generation of resource efficiency. In fact, the key barriers to implementation lie primarily in well-established traditions of separate planning and management of water and energy resources.

Ultimately, maximizing the joint benefits of water and energy will require new policy and regulatory frameworks that enable optimizing investments across both resources, and potentially also across the multiple utilities, agencies and jurisdictions charged with developing and delivering these resources. In order to do that effectively, new metrics and tools are needed that enable evaluating multiple value streams from cross-cutting programs.

Water Energy Innovations is dedicated to building pathways to implementation that help to achieve the full potential of our nation’s water-energy nexus. Through this website, we will provide information about water-energy initiatives across the country with the goal of helping to foster collaboration. We will also highlight best-in-class policies, programs, practices and projects to help identify and promote proven strategies.

Join the collaboration: send your “best-in-class” water-energy policies, programs, practices, models and tools to: caroline@waterenergyinnovations.com.



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Water Sector Over-Generation Mitigation and Flex DR

California’s next major energy challenge is “over-generation” – a situation in which real-time electric production exceeds real-time electric demand

The challenges of balancing California’s electric grid are presently being addressed through a diverse portfolio of market mechanisms, operating strategies, energy storage, and “smart” grid management technologies. During some hours, however, real-time over-generation exceeds the ability of these remedies to solve the imbalance. When that occurs, some real-time energy production must be curtailed to keep power flowing throughout the State. Presently, most of the energy being curtailed is solar, since over-generation occurs predominantly during daylight hours when solar PV generation is highest.

This report examines the significant potential to increase grid integration support for carbon-free renewable energy resources by leveraging water storage facilities as “flexible balancing resources.” Candidate opportunities include pumped storage hydropower (open and closed loop), groundwater banks, surface reservoirs, and ponds, tanks, and other types of seasonal and diurnal water, wastewater, and recycled water storage facilities.


Accelerating Drought Resilience Through Innovative Technologies

This project focused on drought-challenged Tulare County, the largest milk producing county in the U.S. where more dairy cows reside than people

The project goal was to identify technologies that can build drought resilience while also saving energy, supporting electric reliability, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The key finding: “Distributed energy resources” are already recognized by the State as essential to California’s future; its counterpart – “distributed water resources” – is equally critical. Many technologies exist today, and more are on the horizon, that can build drought resilience. Customers of water utilities have the pivotal role in drought-proofing the State.

Every drop of water saved, and water recycled and reused by customers, creates public benefits by reducing the amount of water needed and the amount of wastewater produced, thereby also reducing the water sector’s energy use and carbon footprint. Broadening the State’s definition of “public benefits” and transitioning single-purpose State programs – water investments for water projects, energy investments for energy projects – to comprehensive cross-cutting programs that specifically target multiple benefits would alleviate many of the compliance constraints that currently thwart optimization of public investments in drought resilient technologies.



Download the full report here


Download the full report here



WEI Publications Archive

Natural Gas Intensity of Water

Southern California Edison Water-Energy Pilot with Irvine Ranch Water District, Phase 1 Report

Implementation of the CPUC’s Water-Energy Calculator, Issues and Opportunities

California’s Water-Energy-Climate Nexus

The Role of Natural Gas in California’s Water-Energy Nexus

California’s Water-Energy Nexus: Pathways to Implementation

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