It’s almost the fourth of July for Americans, and that means a holiday with time to read. Two interesting reports were released in June, and while not the typical frothy-light paperback novel genre, they are good reading for the beach. Spoiler alert – both reports conclude that your beach won’t be there in a couple of decades.
The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities report was created by the US Department of Energy (DOE) resources, with contributions from multiple national labs and other federal entities like the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Agriculture, plus academic support. It frames the future in terms of climate change and energy security. It’s a sobering assessment of the future of these two inextricably linked things – water and energy. We need water for energy – it is an essential component in energy production for fossil fuels as well as manufacturing renewables technologies. As hydropower, it generates electricity. We need energy to extract, transport, and treat water.
The report identifies four trends that represent challenges and opportunities for Americans:
1) Climate change is already impacting temperature and precipitation patterns in the USA
2) Americans continue to move to parts of the country that already have stressed water supplies and energy infrastructures
3) The pace of innovation in energy and water technologies could have dramatic influences on future consumption
4) Water rights policies and increased demand for water in energy production (such as fracking) are creating conflicts between politically important stakeholders like agriculture and natural gas companies.
Every Californian can bear witness to these four trends. Much of its water is collected in winter in the form of snow, except when it doesn’t precipitate. The state is in an historic drought. Warming temperatures will reduce the amount of snowfall and increase the amount of rainfall, requiring appropriate storage facilities, which will be expensive. The alterations to the present weather patterns will significantly impact hydro generation in the state, too. The luster on the Monterey Shale formation may have recently dimmed as the estimates for recoverable oil were reduced by 96%, but agricultural interests still voice concerns about the risks to shrinking ground water sources from fracking technologies. The situation sounds dire, yet people continue to move to the Golden State and put increased stresses on existing energy and water infrastructure. The good news is that California continues to lead in clean tech innovation, so perhaps we can invent our way out of the hole we’re in.
The other report is titled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States. It is a publication from the Risky Business Project, co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City; Henry (Hank) Paulsen, former US Treasury Secretary; and Thomas Steyer, retired founder of Farallon Capital Management. The distinguished – and important to emphasize in the USA – bipartisan committee includes Democrats and Republicans who have been federal cabinet secretaries, senators, and corporate leaders. The report’s findings were reviewed by an independent expert panel of leading climate scientists and economists.
The basic premise of the report is that human-caused climate changes have measurable economic impacts. Yet until now, there’s been virtually no risk assessment with done on climate change, nor one that drills down to regional perspectives. The greatest risks and impacts will be evidenced in damage to coastal property and infrastructure; changes in agricultural production; and impacts on productivity and health from temperature increases. That covers all the regions in the USA – no one is insulated from climate change.
Peering through water-energy nexus lenses, have you noticed how much electricity production and water treatment infrastructure is located near water? Consider it at risk from rising sea levels and increased runoff (warmer atmospheric conditions lead to heavier precipitation where rain exists). As outside temperatures get warmer, there will be greater demands for energy to power air conditioning in regions that don’t need it now, and for greater durations of time in regions already using it. That will increase demand for water in energy production – particularly cooling down overheated generation equipment. We had better build Smart Grids and Smart Infrastructures that can adapt to changing conditions.
So as you head to your favorite beach to cool off from the July heat, read about a summer day just a few decades away when that beach has been overtaken by the sea, and its far too hot to be outside during daylight hours. Is that really the future we want for the next generations?