Plying the Water-Energy Nexus
by Miles Ten Brinke
Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.
Growing up the in the American Southwest is an education in the triumph of human ingenuity and the creeping hazards of its peril. From Palm Springs to Las Vegas we’ve made the desert bloom- a green oasis of shopping malls, suburban lawns and sprawling golf courses. It is a socio technical system built on a foundation of innovative engineering large and small, from the proliferation of air conditioning to the California aqueduct and the Hoover Dam. Even amidst the bust of the Great Recession and its aftermath, the boom of these places is so resonant* it’s easy to forget just how fragile and contingent the whole enterprise truly is. Climate change looms ahead, and the water’s running out. Even amidst all the changes ahead, the world’s driest places will see their rains dwindle. They’ll only get drier. In the Southwest, the Colorado no longer feeds into the sea. In California in particular, the vast majority of the water (and other resources) is consumed in the South yet it’s sourced in the North. This system defined by overconsumption is no longer tenable; the region’s decision makers need search out viable alternatives. Much as the global energy system needs a transition to a more equitable, secure, efficient and decarbonized alternative so too must our water socio-technical systems change. I’ve personally come to be defined by that reality.
Though I’ve lived now around the world, for the vast majority of my life my family and I lived in the Southwest, split mostly between Las Vegas and the Inland Empire of Southern California. We lived in Vegas for most my primary and secondary education, my folks moving us to California when I started high school. It’s where I started my post-secondary education, at Mount San Jacinto College. These spaces, Nevada and California, have shaped me and the course my life’s taken. Resource management is a priority for any public policy, but it’s vital in the desert. For all the clever development, water shortages are an ever-present and deepening concern in these places. The efficient consumption of water and other resources is both a necessity and a central source of contention. People get used to their cars, to their lawns, their shopping malls, housing developments and rapid economic growth. We forged an oasis and struggle to maintain it. This dynamic, this dilemma is one I’ve grappled with from the onset of my career in energy over five years ago. I got my start in Socal as a student participant in a K-12 energy efficiency education program which provided the training, tools and support to conduct an energy audit of one’s campus and even implement changes. The lesson, amidst the greatest recession we’d known since the 30s, was the value maximal throughput at minimal expense. Our resources are finite, precious. How we choose to consume defines not only our economic activity, but shapes our culture and socio-natural landscapes all around us.
This has resonated with my experiences ever since. Through further jobs and voluntary work I came to an understanding of everyday energy use efficiency beyond simply the kWh; demand management in energy policy is as much about the careful management of our water for the future and the planet as innovations in energy conservation and technologic efficiency. Energy and water are inextricably linked, whether the connection between the energy inputs to the mass agricultural sector of California and its behemoth thirst or suburban sprawl with its house-as-castle populism and everything in-between. These parallels and intersections are deep, and many.
After completing a B.S. in Society & Environment at UC Berkeley focusing on Global Environmental Politics I’m now on a Fulbright-University of Exeter Postgraduate Student Award pursuing an Energy Policy MSc at the Exeter Cornwall campus. I’m in my second term now, developing another energy specialism-in water policy as it relates to energy. From this entry on, Peak Water readers you can join me on this new path as I explore the energy-water nexus. I’m as a much a student on this journey as you, let’s pursue it with an unquenchable curiosity and a humble openness to learn. Maybe in the process we can even start to shape a new vision of the global water transition, of its interconnections with energy and its realization.
Best of luck to us along the way, it should prove an interesting ride.
~ Miles on Water