Although we may think of them as separate, energy and water are inextricably linked. Consider that the majority of U.S. electricity is produced in thermoelectric power plants that use vast quantities of water for cooling and steam generation. In 2010, these power generators were responsible for 45% of all water used in the country. In addition, the water we use at home or in factories contains varying but typically large amounts of embedded energy. For example, water in a hot shower must be sourced, treated, transported and heated. The water must then be transported and treated again before being released back into the environment. Collectively, this series of interconnections has become known as the water-energy nexus.
Identifying ways to capitalize on opportunities at this nexus requires creativity. Most recently, the focus has been on wastewater treatment facilities, which frequently face issues such as outdated treatment mechanisms and crumbling delivery infrastructure. The energy usage associated with water and wastewater treatment can be a major cost driver for water utility rates, a peak demand issue for energy utilities and a significant source of carbon emissions. Accordingly, water utilities face firsthand the overlapping water and energy issues, and are increasingly working to reduce energy usage in the treatment and delivery of water.
For larger energy users, another component of the water-energy nexus concerns the industrial and commercial use of water in manufacturing processes. Given the energy required to treat water to potable levels, there is savings potential in separating the water needed for human consumption from that needed for manufacturing processes. While there are limited efforts to begin implementing this strategy, this concept is worth exploring, particularly given the large presence (and energy use) of industrial companies in the Midwest.
MEEA works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office to promote energy efficiency best practices at water facilities across the Midwest. Through direct outreach, conference presentations, working group participation, and public webinars, MEEA works to bring attention to this important issue and conserve both energy and water.