California's Water Sector Could Benefit From Clean Energy Investments

New Report Shows How Renewable Electricity Can Help Meet Growing Energy Demand of Water Utilities and Reduce Carbon Emissions as California Faces More Severe Droughts

Published Apr 6, 2015

OAKLAND, CALIF. (April 6, 2015)—Water is a precious commodity in California and it takes significant amounts of energy to pump, treat, and transport water often long distances to users throughout the state. Investing in renewable energy would provide economic benefits to California’s water and wastewater utilities while helping the state adapt to drier conditions and meet its climate goals, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The report, “Clean Energy Opportunities in California’s Water Sector,” shows the untapped potential among most of the state’s 7,000 water and wastewater agencies to make greater use of cleaner sources of electricity as their energy requirements grow.

“The electricity consumption of California’s water is likely to significantly increase as the state pursues more energy-intensive groundwater supplies in the face of increasingly severe and prolonged droughts,” said Juliet Christian-Smith, UCS climate scientist and report co-author.

Also, many water and wastewater utilities are reliant on hydropower, leaving them vulnerable in times of severe drought when those supplies dwindle.

“Turning to dirtier sources of electricity like natural gas to make up for the loss of hydropower will cause increased carbon emissions and expose customers to price volatility,” said Laura Wisland, senior energy analyst at UCS and report co-author.

The report also demonstrates how a lack of publicly available information about how much electricity and what types of generation sources are used by water and wastewater utilities —combined with regulatory barriers—is hindering California from identifying opportunities to generate more clean electricity and reduce global warming pollution.

“Many utilities are not asked to provide data about how much and what types of electricity they use to extract, treat and transport water,” Christian-Smith said. “This lack of information hampers the state’s ability to understand how the water sector can optimize low-carbon energy.”

Removing financial and regulatory barriers as well as providing incentives would enable water and wastewater utilities to contribute to the state’s transition from relying on fossil-fueled electricity to more sustainable forms of electricity, according to the report.

“Renewable energy prices are now more competitive than ever, and making clean energy investments would help these utilities achieve greater control over their electricity supplies and provide protection from fossil fuel price volatility,” Wisland said.