The Realization of the Energy-Water Nexus

The Realization of the Energy-Water Nexus

Water is the most frequently cited sector in all of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the adaptation chapter, and energy is a critical means through which we can reach the Paris goals. However, the true scope of these issues extends beyond simply their interactions within the Paris agreement.

The saying “one only understands the value of water when the well is dry” is the perfect depiction of the situation facing many of us in terms of water. Speakers on Water Action Day at COP23 noted that, “around 40 percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering conflict, while some regions could lose up to six percent of their economic output, unless water is better managed.” A side panel at COP23 stated a similar occurrence in regard to energy highlighting how access to reliable, clean and affordable energy is a necessary condition to reduce poverty and to support human development.

These impacts are not as thoroughly researched and understood as other impacts from climate change, and certain regions of the world that feel these types of issues won’t affect them may tend to disregard their importance. But the facts are that over 1 billion people lack access to electricity, about 850 million live without access to safe water, and another 800 million are undernourished.

It is only once water and energy resources are in a state of emergency that the world may be truly awakened to the extent of these issues, and that’s what makes the collaboration between energy and water so important.

“There is an urgent need to develop and enhance capacity and partnerships in relation to understanding three underpinning elements of a sustainable society: food, energy and water security.”  -Simon Langan, Director of the Water Future and Solutions Initiative at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

If we are able to develop these partnerships now through integrated approaches, a variety of tools and sustainable methodologies, we will create a more resilient future for the world, not only in terms of climate change but also other related factors such as poverty, human development, and hunger.

These initiatives are addressed in an interrelated manner because tackling one sector, indirectly and sometimes directly, impacts aspects of the other sectors. This is especially seen with the interdependent nature of energy, water and agricultural resources:

“The production of food and energy are both highly dependent on the access to water and may compete for this resource, water supply and agriculture are major users of energy. Energy system and land-use change are the biggest emitters of GHGs. There is thus a high likelihood that pursuit of policy goals in one area could have impacts on other areas.” -IAEA

Initiatives that address the interconnectedness of these topics make it easier to find solutions for the others. This was seen with a number of the outcomes of COP23, especially solutions such as the nature-based solutions for water management, which form a crucial part of the “toolbox” for addressing climate change through conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems, as discussed at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s COP23 event: Nature-based Solutions for a Climate Resilient Europe.

“Healthy, well-functioning ecosystems improve the resilience of nature and society and often have a high return on investment rate.” -IUCN

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) described water as a connector, an enabling resource for sustainable development. They state that water-intensive investments should assess and reduce climate risk even if they are not “water sector” projects. This similar result is seen with a number of other integrated solutions and methodologies.

Among the tools developed by the IAEA and other UN organizations, the Climate, Land, Energy and Water (CLEW), methodology helps countries analyze complex interactions between these key resources, together with climate change. The methodology supports policy and planning for sustainable development.

When all of these solutions, partnerships and tools are considered together, the picture that emerges is promising for the future of the energy-water nexus. We must work together in an innovative and optimistic manner. Maybe we won’t have to learn what happens when the well runs dry after all.


The Energy-Water Nexus Outcome @COP23

COP23 raised thoughtful and innovative discussions surrounding the many issues of the energy-water nexus. While there were few large decisions or policies made addressing energy and water, there were several important outcomes that will be key in reaching the goals set for these resources and responding to related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  1. Nature-Based Solutions for Water

SDG 6 relates to water being more of a local issue but stresses that the consequences how water is managed have global impact  The need for an equally global solution was emphasized by the launch of a plan that will integrate nature-based solutions into water management strategies worldwide:

The declaration defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

  1. Water Financing

Prime Minister of Fiji Accepting Aid from the EIB

SDG 6 addresses water and sanitation, prioritized in many countries’ climate action plans submitted under the Paris Agreement. However, water agencies at COP23 estimated that $295 billion (USD) would be needed for countries to fully develop water management strategies and take action as part of adaptation to climate change—a number that is three times the levels of investment prior to COP23.

In other progress, Fiji received the largest European Investment Bank grant for water management ever received by a small island state:

  • The EIB pledged $75 million (USD) toward a $405 million Fiji investment program to strengthen resilience of water distribution and wastewater treatment following Cyclone Winston.

While there was not much progress toward acquiring finance on this large scale, there was a call “for the sustainable use of water to be at the center of building resilient cities and human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”      – Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President, Women for Water Partnership

    1. Energy Financing- 

SDG 7 addresses the use of affordable renewable and clean energy, which is continuing to grow with investments in renewables outweighing investments in fossil fuels, especially in developing countries. Finance is a major force to accelerate the global energy transition:

It will “provide cutting-edge technical support to governments whose energy policies will significantly impact the speed of a global transition toward more sustainable energy production and use, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and greater access to energy.” -IEA

Many other outcomes that emerged from COP23 relate to or are reliant on proper management of energy and water resources. One such event was the launch of the global Powering Past Coal Allianceformed to declare a phase-out of coal—led by the UK and Canada, and joined by more than 20 countries and other groups. Unfortunately, emissions rose this year after holding steady for three years, due to increased use of fossil fuels.

“Ending, or at least sharply reducing, the use of coal continues to be a major objective for many NGOs, and many governments as well.” -SDG 7

28 July 2017, Nepal- Village of Bhagawoti Kauledhara. Farmers’ Field School female members working in the fields trying new agricultural techniques.

As agriculture is closely tied to the energy-water nexus, another noteworthy outcome was the parties’ agreement to address issues of agriculture and climate change, which marked the “end of a deadlock on agriculture which had lasted for years.”

  • Leaders agreed that investing more in agricultural climate action and supporting sustainable livelihoods of small-scale farmers will unlock much greater potential to limit emissions and protect people against climate change.
  • The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a new Sourcebook on Climate-Smart Agriculture with guidelines to scale up public and private climate financing for agriculture, encourage partnerships, and build capacity.

“Countries now have the opportunity to transform their agricultural sectors to achieve food security for all through sustainable agriculture and strategies that boost resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change.”     -René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Overall, COP23 was quite focused on setting the stage for COP24, which will hopefully see adoption of the Paris Rulebook. Great strides were achieved for the issues of the energy-water nexus and how they relate to climate change. Not only were these issues brought up more frequently in discussions across the COP, but also steps are being taken to integrate concepts and promote collaboration on these issues across many organizations, countries, and disciplines.


A Vibrant Day Filled with Energy @COP23


Energy featured prominently at COP23 with the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Action Energy Day. Discussions on this day revolved around the energy transition and how to meet the Paris goals through decarbonization of electricity and energy systems in general.

The Sustainable Energy for All campaign forecasted how, “Energy Day at COP23 will tell the story of the ongoing energy transformation, showcase success stories, take stock of commitments made, and offer recommendations on the way forward.”

More than 300 delegates also attended Renewable Energy Day: Action on Climate and Accelerating Energy System Transformation organized by the International Renewable Energy agency (IRENA).

Sustainable Energy for All brings forth four main initiatives universally considered the success stories of the energy sector thus far:

  1. Three years flat carbon emissions
  1. Reduced demand for coal

“Renewable Energy has been the largest majority in terms of capacity addition to the global power sector the last three or four years in a row.”    -Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA

  1. Drop in solar, wind and battery prices

“[In just a few years] we could have PV cells that are ¼ the cost of what we are using today.”     -Alexey Tarasov, Lomonsav Moscow State University

  1. Increase in design and deployment of electric vehicles

 

One area that needs to be addressed further is how to build out energy efficiency measures in all end-use sectors of electricity, but especially in uses where emissions are difficult to decrease.

Sustainable Energy for All identified several courses of action needed:

  • build an evidence base and necessary actions as they relate to renewable energy
  • achieve greater efficiency in energy systems
  • create more connections between power and transport.

Several panelists presented how the discussion on power is basically over, renewable energy is becoming more and more accessible, building a business case for its use over coal and natural gas as it goes. Many countries are recognizing the need of renewable or sustainable energy usage as a means for reaching the Paris Agreement.

It is no longer a question of what do we need to do about energy, now the focus needs to shift to how will we make this transition, and how can we make it faster.

In the GCA Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture, Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, discussed how technology, such as battery storage, will play a key role in the future of sustainable energy and its ability to be transported and made widely available.

Some positives in this discussion included:

  • Energy technology is commonly seen as an investment.
  • Furthering this scenario of investment can lead to more research and development of technological energy solutions.
  • The last key piece to assisting this transition is a better policy framework surrounding renewable and other sustainable energy alternatives.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA, welcomed delegates to the Renewable Energy Day events with this opening statement,

“Renewable energy is good for climate and good for growth, which is the key message that we are bringing to this climate change conference.”

As more and more countries realize the importance and benefits of renewable energy, they are willing to jump on board and help out however they can. This participation could lead to the breakthrough needed to make renewable energy systems readily available for all.

Some countries are already on board as noted in this statement by Sandy Pitcher, the Governor of South Australia, about the solar transition and especially renewable energy access or households,

“We are looking to go as fast as we can because we know its what our communities want.”

Energy Day at COP23 was the perfect opportunity for many different associations, countries and other researchers/activists involved in the energy scene to share ideas of how to make the transition to sustainable and renewable as quick and effective as possible.

Interested in learning more? Check out these COP23 panels!

The Energy Transition Required to Implement the Paris Agreement

International Energy Association (IEA) Press Conference


The Challenges of the Energy-Water Nexus

Participants at UN Climate Talks are typically surrounded by discussions on a wide variety of climate impacts, climate solutions, and complex interactions. While it may seem like every issue is being discussed during numerous side panels and events, these same issues may not always be raised during the political side of the talks. Here, the focus often tends to rest on climate finance, Nationally Determined Contributions, adaptation/mitigation, and capacity building, with some topics such as gender and land use making an appearance.

One of the crucial issues not specifically included in this list is the energy-water nexus. It’s true that energy and water are woven into the issues discussed through technology, concerns for adaptation, and resilience, but energy-water nexus topics are often not independently discussed. The Paris Agreement states that without curbing emissions, there will be a massive concern for water resources, with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 and 7 set to specifically address water concerns. Even with the Paris Agreement in place, there may be many concerns about water availability and water quality in the future. Energy is more frequently addressed because of its importance in reaching the emission reduction plan set forth, but this does not consider the interactions between energy and water resources, nor how they may be impacted by climate change.

At COP23— the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)— held this November in Bonn, Germany the issues of water and energy took more of a center stage:

 

Energy Water Nexus Panel at COP23

 

The Global Climate Action (GCA) Initiative Media Briefing on Energy, Water and Agriculture stressed how everything that happens with climate, is linked to everything that happens with energy, is linked to everything that happens with water! Even a slight inefficiency in one area could lead to catastrophic impacts for the whole interaction.

As was aptly stated by René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “There is no room for inefficiency.”

Paulo Bretas de Almeida Salles, President of ADASA in Brazil (a regulatory agency for water and sanitation) presented concerns about water resources,

“There is a traditional idea that we have lots of water, that water is an infinite resource- now we are learning that this is not true.”

He also voiced the unmistakable connection that,

“Water and climate change are directly related… Everything that happens on earth based on climate has some relationship with water.”

In panel discussions, negotiators stressed how we need water to be able to provide and produce the necessities for this world, and discussed the connection between energy and water being that it takes energy to produce clean water and water is often needed to produce energy.

In the GCA Media Briefing they offered a summary of information:

  • Of total water use by humans, only 10% is safe drinking water; if even a small percentage of that water becomes unusable, there would be major impacts on availability worldwide.
  • Agriculture, on the other hand, uses 70% of total water use! The fact that this is such a high percentage opens the door for new advances in technology and water reduction strategies that would improve the world’s water situation.
  • One such technological advancement offers promise—renewable energy stands to use 20 times less water than conventional energy sources.

Both energy and water are resources with a history of being mismanaged, and both are resources that have a direct interaction with the forces of climate change. By including water and energy—both distinctly and as an interrelated force—in the discussion at COP23, new policies and guidelines can be established to more effectively manage these valuable resources and leverage them to our advantage in the fight against climate change.


Carbon GPA

My family and I have been working hard all semester to improve our carbon footprint grades. And we have succeeded!

Each of our footprints dropped by 1 ton of CO2 per year when compared to just two months ago.

food

Statistics of my food consumption

When I first calculated my footprint at the beginning of the school year, I had an idea of where I thought it would be. I knew my travel would be high because of my flying to and from Arizona and Emory. I also knew the home and services categories would be on the lower end because I live in a small dorm room. The category of footprint impact that I needed to improve was my food intake.

So I set the goal of monitoring my food intake to make smarter selections. Mainly, I reduced the quantity of beef and other ruminating meats in favor of chicken and other proteins that have a smaller footprint. Throughout the semester, I made active choices each time I ate.

This change alone contributed to a large portion of the 1 ton of CO2 per year that I shaved off my footprint. By further removing beef from my diet, and by substituting non-meat proteins as an alternative to meat-based meals, I could reduce my footprint even farther.

 

My carbon footprint food score dropped almost 1 ton of CO2 per year, making my score 50% better than the average single household. 

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Statistics for my family’s home energy usage

My family’s initial footprint calculation was 58 tons of CO2 per year. Their main goal for reducing their footprint is to downsize their home now that all of the children are out of the house. That is a definite goal for the future, but not something they accomplished this semester. However, they did purchase a new vehicle. Their new Subaru gets much better gas mileage than our old van did, reducing their score by one whole ton of CO2.

Even though my family did not downsize their home yet, they are participating in a new program sponsored by their current energy provider. This program allows them to purchase 50% of their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal. After re-calculating the footprint score using this program for utilities, their footprint is expected to drop an additional 4 tons!

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My family was successful reducing their footprint to be 25% better than average for a household of three.

Curious about your family’s carbon footprint? Calculate it here: http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/


The Upside of Downsizing

The challenges faced by a college student, such as myself, are quite different from those faced by a whole household. I don’t have to think about home maintenance or paying the electricity bill. The most I have to worry about is vacuuming the carpet in my dorm room that always seems to be dirty.

Many people would pass these differences off as the luxury of being a college student before being thrown into the real world, and in a sense it is. My family’s carbon footprint is about 5x larger than mine is as an individual living on campus. However, there are only 3 people currently in my family’s household, meaning that each individual takes on a larger portion of the footprint, each a whopping 19 tons of CO2 per year compared to my 12 tons. That is a lot even considering my family’s footprint is 18% better than the average household of a similar size.

parentalfootprint

Graph of my family’s footprint in tons of CO2/ year

What accounts for such a large carbon footprint in the household? It comes back to that luxury of being a college student, and simple common sense. A larger living space ⇒ more energy needed for things such as electricity ⇒ bigger carbon footprint.

This turned out to be one of the largest issues for my family’s footprint. The home section of the footprint calculation was 58% worse than average carbon emissions for a 3-person household.

This was a little surprising for my mother who thought that the extra insulation, low energy windows, energy-rated appliances, and other features purposefully installed in the house made for an energy efficient home.

However, the house was constructed 12 years ago, and it is really designed for a larger family, not the three people living in it currently.

My mom stated that this was one of the most important things she learned from calculating her carbon footprint.

Even if you make choices to be more sustainable, they must be done in the necessary scale to have the impact that you imagine them to have. My parents plan to look into other options to improve energy efficiency, and will be downsizing when they buy their next house.

parentalcfootprint

My family’s footprint compared to similar households

So considering the size of the house and the maintenance required for upkeep, it makes sense that my family’s household footprint is larger than mine here at college. But how much do the individuals in the household contribute to the footprint? More than you might think.

As I discussed in the analysis of my carbon footprint, food was one area where I had a lot of room to improve. My family had similar results except now there are three people making those same carbon-emitting choices. If even one of those people is able to reduce his individual carbon footprint from food, it would lower the footprint for the whole household, and that is exactly the challenge my brother set for himself.

My parents set individual goals that will decrease overall footprint when accomplished. My dad plans to decrease the infamous vampire electronics (chargers that still use energy when not in use), and my mom will organize errand strategies to decrease overall driving time and mileage.

Surprisingly, travel was one area my household was below average, where many other families tend to be high. Although we rack in a lot of miles flying, our drive time is unusually low, especially now that I am out of the house. It helps that my dad seeks out fuel-efficient vehicles when purchasing a car. While there is definitely room for improvement in all areas of carbon emissions, travel is one where my family is already making great steps towards reduction.

Curious about your family’s carbon footprint? Calculate it here: http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/


Energy Be(a)ware!

energy \ˈe-nər-jē\ noun  1a. ability to be active. b. the physical or mental strength that allows you to do things.
 2a. natural enthusiasm and effort.
 3a. usable power that comes from heat, electricity, etc.

You can look up the definition of energy but that doesn’t mean you entirely understand what it is and what contributes to it. And I don’t mean energy from eating healthy or getting a good night of sleep. I am talking about definition 3a.

Do you know where the energy that powers your home comes from?

Are you aware of how much energy that load of laundry really uses?

If not, then now is the perfect time to learn!

Why? October is National Energy Awareness Month.

If you are one of those people who needs an excuse to get active in sustainability issues, use this time to challenge yourself to make a change going forward. It’s never too late to start saving energy!

More information of the designation of energy awareness month can be found here: https://www.nema.org/Policy/Energy/Efficiency/Pages/Energy-Awareness-Month.aspx

What is the point of Energy Awareness Month?

While there are many residential communities, college campuses, workspaces and others who are working hard to reduce their energy consumption, the world is still burning fossil fuels at astronomical rates to meet energy demands, which continue to increase steadily.

The U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, yet it consumes 5x as much energy—nearly 25% of world energy usage.

People are aware of renewable energy. But when put to the task, it seems the everyday citizen views the battle with energy consumption as taking place outside of their reality. They are wrong—There are many ways for individuals to reduce their energy usage on a daily basis, and it isn’t that difficult to do.

Energy Awareness Month definitely promotes large-scale energy projects, but also serves to educate the everyday consumer and make energy awareness more accessible.

Quick energy use statistics

What effect do people have on energy usage? Check out these energy stats on common practices:

  • Energy used by devices left on standby—computers, printers,…—account for 5-10% of the total electricity used in residential homes, and contributes to about 1% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
  • Only 5% of the power drawn by a phone charger is used to charge the phone. The other 95% is wasted when your phone is left plugged in.
  • Turning off unneeded lights could remove 376 lb of CO2 emissions per year. (Energy Saving Trust)
  • Lighting a typical office overnight wastes enough energy to heat water for 1,000 cups of tea. (The Carbon Trust)
  • 90% of the total energy used by a typical washing machine is used just to heat the water. (Energy Saving Trust) Cold water wash is the best way to do your laundry!

Other fun facts can be found here: http://www.environment.admin.cam.ac.uk/resource-bank/facts-figures

Who can be involved in Energy Awareness Month?

One of the goals of Energy Awareness month is to make energy consumption issues more accessible for common consumers so everyone can participate!

Whether you want to be a lone warrior for the energy cause or you want to put together a team of energy savers in your school, workplace or home. Energy Awareness Month is a great incentive for you!

Many places establish a calendar of events and efforts specifically for this month, but you can build off these ideas at any time of the year—for school community service projects, office team-building events, even your New Year’s resolutions.

Emory University held an energy competition (read about it below).

Even the White House is getting involved! Specifically for this month, the Obama administration organized several clean energy events. You can learn more about White House efforts here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/national-energy-awareness-month

Emory University- Campus efforts for Energy Awareness Month

Every year, Emory holds a competition during Energy Awareness Month to see who can reduce their energy consumption the most. Residence halls, classrooms and labs all participate in the competition, and for extra motivation, the grand prize is $1000! The competition setting is a fun way to get students involved and interested in energy issues. As the Sustainability Chair for my residence hall, I had many people asking me for tips on how they can reduce their energy consumption! By raising awareness now, we can work towards even more energy reduction in future campus events!

Another program for Emory students during Energy Awareness Month is No Power Hour, when dorms set a time for everyone to unplug their electronics and leave their residence hall to play games and socialize on the quad, all while saving energy! This gives students a fun example of ways they can reduce energy and is a very visible program to spread awareness throughout campus.

How can you decrease your energy consumption?

Hopefully, you have heard something here and want to get involved! Still not sure what you can do? Check out these helpful tips below:

  • Turn off your computer at night.
  • Unplug device chargers when not in use.
  • Adjust temperatures for air conditioning and heating when not at home.
  • Wash laundry when you have a full load, using cold water.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Run your dishwasher with a full load or wash them by hand.
  • Don’t leave water running unnecessarily.
  • Turn off lights when you leave the room.
  • Use natural light whenever possible.

Do you have a great idea of how to decrease energy consumption or spread energy awareness to those who might not know? Please share your ideas!  

Remember, it’s never too late to save energy… Start now!


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