Optimizing water usage in an energy-hungry world

Having a comprehensive understanding of the framework of energy and environmental regulations can be critical in supporting energy clients and improve water usage.

By Cliff Wilson, David Taylor Jr. and Doug Sullivan April 9, 2021

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2018, the U.S. consumed about 17% of the world’s primary energy. To put it into perspective, the U.S. makes up about 4% of the world’s population. Thinking on a more local scale, it’s important to understand that to create that energy, we must utilize a precious natural resource – water.

Let’s take California as an example. Lake Mead – although located in Nevada – provides the water necessary to run power companies in California. Unfortunately, Lake Mead’s water level is decreasing, which is problematic for the power companies that rely on its water supply to operate their facilities. What’s the solution? Finding creative ways to reuse water, or use less of it, to operate power plants. What’s needed to make that happen? A thorough and broad understanding of water, environmental, and power technologies and regulatory guidelines. It’s imperative that there’s an understanding of water consumption on a grand scale and how that water is used. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to reuse treated water so it’s not resulting in corrosion on power plant systems; or maybe there are more ways to treat water onsite at power plants.

Correlation of energy, water, environment, policies, regulations

For decades, policies and government regulations have caused commercial industries to hang in the tension of opposing viewpoints and differing protocols. This has created complexities as it relates to infrastructure, building codes, environmental considerations, and more. While these factors play major roles in supporting the energy market segment, they’re not easy to navigate and can cause turmoil for landowners, engineers, contractors, and energy stakeholders. Having a comprehensive understanding of the framework of energy and environmental regulations can be critical in supporting energy clients. Learning to navigate permitting processes, building codes and requirements, and understanding what’s required at the local, state, and federal levels to move energy projects forward takes a specialized understanding.

Additionally, because of the scarcity of water—projected increase in power demand due to population growth, competing uses for water, and draught conditions in various parts of the country—technology is playing a factor in using less water for power production. Examples of technology include advanced cooling technologies (dry and wet), water reuse and recovery, and non-traditional sources of process cooling water. Also, since natural gas has become less expensive, many natural gas combined cycle units have been built, replacing traditional coal power plants. These new units use newer dry cooling technologies, which use less water. Whatever solutions are selected need to balance water, economics, and environmental factors

Looking forward, one way of leveraging the connectivity between water and energy is to view them as a symbiotic resource needed by society. By housing the collection, transmission, and optimization of both resources under a common umbrella–think one utility holding company or a joint venture between two–could lead to efficiencies when leak detection, power-need balancing, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), and sensors are vertically stacked and viewed through a single lens. The technology is available and now is the time to consider the possibilities.

Treating natural resources like the limited commodity they are

There’s a clear nexus between water and energy, and it’s critical that we as a society wrap our minds around that nexus and embrace it. Natural resources are limited, and it’s our responsibility to find creative ways of optimizing their uses and allocating them in a responsible manner. Having an understanding of how the land planning and development process works is an added bonus. The many permits, regulations, and red tape required to move projects from design to completion can take months, years, and sometimes decades. It’s only possible if your team has a grip on how each of the regulatory agencies, and state and local governments operate and what they require.

This article originally appeared on Dewberry’s websiteDewberry is a CFE Media content partner. 

Original content can be found at www.dewberry.com.

Author Bio: Cliff Wilson, David Taylor Jr. and Doug Sullivan, Dewberry