Archive for the 'energy' Category

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A Return Long Overdue- Hiatus-Busting Nexus Revitalisation

Retrieved from Amu Darya Basin Network


A Return Long Overdue- Hiatus-Busting Nexus Revitalisation

by Miles Ten Brinke

Seems it’s been rather a long while since you last heard from me, but the hiatus is done.

The summer came and went, and you’ve not seen a single column from me. Fear not, it was just the season for it. Autumn’s come and with it a renewed endeavor for the Nexus. Now though, let me explain the reason for my absence. When last I wrote I was preparing to jump into the intensive interim between finishing the taught portion of my MSc Energy Policy and starting my PhD. That is, working over the summer both on my MSc dissertation and as a Policy Analyst for the UK economic state regulator for energy- Ofgem.

I had the privilege of working between two electricity transmission teams (European and Offshore) and the Sustainable Energy Policy (SEP) team on Ofgem’s Integrated Transmission Planning & Regulation (ITPR) project. ITPR is a fundamental shift in the way electricity transmission in GB will be regulated, toward a more integrated and flexible approach in pursuit of enabling decarbonisation, strengthened GB system security and resilience , a more efficient UK energy system and greater integration with European markets.

My small contribution came in three roles- assisting in external stakeholder engagement, coordinating the development of a toolkit for assessing the strategic and sustainability elements of relevant Ofgem projects through the newly revised Impact Assessment (IA) Guidance, and finally to help scope out the framework for assessing ITPR under the new IA guidance. I got to be a part of all that while simultaneously writing a 15,000 word dissertation analysing the transformational potential of ITPR (as of its 5 June Emerging Thinking consultation).

My summer was an incredibly enriching experience but equally as challenging.  Never doubt the virtue of the long slog. Always hope you work at a place with a cheap on-site gym and canteen food. Damn fine group of people there on the ITPR and SEP teams, got through many a 12+ hour day with their help and support.  The opportunities for my intellectual and professional development were fantastic, in particular allowing experience at project management in a policy setting. Between ITPR and working with SEP on developing a toolkit framework for applying the new IA approach (which has a much deeper and more integrated strategic and sustainability domain of the like I’ve never seen) I came at just the right time to be part of some really exciting work and substantial change.

The dissertation was equally rewarding and difficult. I’ve never worked harder or been more proud of a single piece of work. I conducted 20 interviews, a scenario-building workshop with 8 participants (all former interviewees) and analysed 15 written consultation responses. I even attempted to apply the theoretical perspective I plan to use for my PhD.  It turned out alright.  The result is far from perfect, but one which I’m hoping to contribute to the live debate about the further development of ITPR. For both my dissertation and overall grade I finished with Distinction.

Three very intense months cushioned by some time off before and after and now the next stage. As of mid-September I have no begun my PhD Business and Management at the University of Manchester Business School. My research title still has a nice twang to it- Enabling the Water-Energy Nexus Socio-technical Transition to Sustainability: Case Studies in the United Kingdom, American Southwest and the World’s Desert Lands. I’ve a very busy and hopefully productive first year ahead. First full week has gone well, very excited to get moving again.

I’m back, please do join me!!

~ Miles on Water

German Sun Beats Swiss Water

Photo retrieved from: One of several water dams on Grimsel Pass in the Swiss Alps. Hydropower used to be profitable, but now revenues have shrunk drastically.

“The energy source that covers 55 percent of the country’s energy supply faces drastically reduced profitability, as electricity prices have sunk 20 percent again compared to the preceding year.

In the light of this market environment, the biggest Swiss energy producers Alpiq, Axpo, BKW and Repower are less willing to invest in optimising and enlarging their infrastructure. Repower has announced a 35 percent cut in investments in the next 10 to 15 years.

Andreas Meyer, media person at Alpiq, told IPS that the massive subsidies for renewable energy have destabilised the market, putting in question the profitability of hydro and thermal power stations and blocking further investments. Currently, Alpiq runs a divestment programme. The company is worried that the price deterioration will continue.

Further development potential of Swiss water power is disputed. While the government estimated four to five terrawatt hours, the World Wildlife Fund assessed only 1.5 terrawatt hours. In any case, the potential is quite low.

Nevertheless, Switzerland subsidises small hydropower stations with a capacity of less than 10 megawatt massively, irrespective of their efficiency and the ecological damage they may cause.

Due to the subventions, small water power projects have become cash cows. The WWF demands that these subsidies be stopped. “Building new power stations at previously unspoilt waters is absolutely silly,” water expert at WWF Switzerland Christoph Bonzi tells IPS. Today, 95 percent of Swiss water is used for energy production.”

Read more: IPS


400 ppm: Overcoming the Grind of Reality to Revitalise the Dream

Retrieved from The Guardian


400 ppm: Overcoming the Grind of Reality to Revitalise the Dream

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.

Well friends, its been some time since I’ve last written. So much has happened in these past few weeks, but one story in particular grabs me. I hope you forgive the near cliche of it. Take this piece as a meditation, and a call to action.

In our status quo struggle we’ve crossed the rubicon folks, and in the worst way. We’ve now reached CO2 levels of 400 ppm. That atmospheric concentration hasn’t been seen for millions of years, on a very different Earth. Measured by that cornerstone of global climate science, the Mauna Loa Observatory, this single reading has sparked a fierce debate among climate advocates and activists. The speed of change is atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide has been devastating. The fossil economy status quo marches on, its progression not even halted by economic chaos. Our focus must be on what to do about it.

What does this milestone mean for the Nexus?  A complex question, one we make take decades in attempting to answer. A question the likes of which will hopefully spark up a brilliant global conversation with countless papers, essays, books and most importantly calls to action.

To start with, here’s my easy answer: in sheer practical terms Nexus thinking will have to be increasingly recognised as not only useful but an existential necessity. In a world of increasingly complex weather systems policymakers must become much more acutely aware of the interconnections between these essential resource systems- shifting rains means shifting water consumption and agricultural planning which all shift energy systems. For those of us in the UK, just look to the fluctuations of extreme precipitation over the past few years. British farmers have struggled to keep up with droughts, the flooding and mutations of the seasons. Water crises are springing up and worsening the world over. An integrated strategic policy regime will be essential to manage not just the transition to the new realities of a 400+ ppm planet but everything that comes with it. This not only includes the complex science of feedback mechanisms and tipping points, but of the policy decisions of private and public sectors all around us. There’s more to it than even this.

The hard answer has to do with the contingencies and harsh new realities crossing the 400 ppm milestone portends. The 400 ppm is a somewhat arbitrary marker in terms of policy-having now crossed it does little to impact our current trajectory. Its a symbol, a signpost decades ago folks strove to ensure we’d avoid and one we must now come to terms with. Two thoughts struck me immediately upon first reading the news: the stakes just got orders of magnitude more severe and a numbing sense of impotence. The longer we take to stabilise and then cut emissions, the worse the cumulative and synergistic effects. Worse for me is the bitter taste of it all, that up till now the decades long fight to circumvent destructive anthropogenic climate change has failed spectacularly, devastatingly. With the industrial rise of China and India and many other states on their way it makes one wonder if in fact we should expect emissions to accelerate in the coming years. Its the kind of thing to inspire nihilism in the most passionate of dreamers. Particularly when one looks to the current state of affairs in North America and Europe. These regions and their states locked into other battles and fundamental debates or actively undermining climate, sustainable energy and environmental policy. That nexus of interconnections will in fact exacerbate the dangers.What do you with that, when the victories turn so small and stale and when the path looks irreversible?

In philosophy and fundamental introspection we can find our answers to this. Each of you must sort this in your own way; not along, together with your fellows yes, but recognising there is no universal solution. There is no hope, no meaning but that which we make for ourselves or can recognise in the world.

My personal starting point is the more nihilistic realism- recognising both the grim failures and the brilliant green shoots growing beneath them. Yes, it does not look good right now and yes as far as I can tell today we have little hope of succeeding. At the same time there is an incredible array of people and organisations around the world working on all the different dimensions of these problems every day, dedicating their lives in pursuit of real change. And they are succeeding, constantly. The problem is, that wave which is their collective has yet to crest. And much as before, even when change is achieved it is by no means permanent or always constructive. Just look to the 1992 Rio conference and its aftermath for the former and the historic approach of conservation policy to human-nature bounds for the latter. One of the few certainties I see is that the road ahead holds even more pitfalls and danger than the struggle behind. And such opportunity, such promise.

In accepting what I see as the simple lay of the land as I have to deal with it, my motivation gets much simpler. This reality touches every part of the human experience, a real problem we can fix. As big as the challenges are in climate, environmental, water, energy, etc. policy they are all based on conditions subject to change. Economies boom and bust, politics stagnates and revitalises. And that is the key of it, the world is in constant flux. Transitions of the kind i’m working towards in energy and water have happened before, and will happen again. In a complex sequence of events what once seemed impossible wrecks the incumbent momentum and replaces the establishment. The industrial revolution was fed on coal, the 20th century on oil. Grounded in a realistic understanding of present conditions, we can study and facilitate these transition elements. The energy-water Nexus in all its interconnections will play a vital role.

Revolutions don’t come easy. The cost will be high, hope for success low. To come anywhere close, we face an odyssey. A new 21st century global transition awaits at the end of that horizon.

Dare we try?

~Miles On Water

Desal or Not?- Big Meets Small in the Nexus with the Future Up for Grabs

Retrieved from


Desal or Not?- Big Meets Small in the Nexus with the Future Up for Grabs

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.

Desalinisation is a fascinating expression of the water-energy nexus, and its inherent contention. Though there are many technical approaches to actually achieving the desired results, the idea is simply to produce fresh water from salt water. Depending upon your perspective, this technology and it likely approach to water management can generally be one of two things- a brilliant technical fix or a socio-environmental nightmare.

Regardless of one’s positionality, there is a strong backing (powerful stakeholders some of whom have access to lots of capital) for desalinisation and the problem it purports to solve will only spread out and increase in intensity over time. Should it prove technically feasible at some signifiant scale, we may see more than just demonstration plants in the next ten years and increasing commercialisation by 2050. An interesting question for folks considered about more than just security of supply is the sustainability of desal technologies. One interesting prospect for instance is the potential for solar powered desalination.

This past month has been incredibly busy for me, in no small way due to progress on my pursuit of a PhD. As I’ve moved through the application process the project has been refined and my ideas polished. My focus will be on arid case studies, places with scarcity of both energy and water (a major hypothesis being that there’s cross causality there). The conditions that make desal look viable, its potential impacts and the socio-technical system itself all exemplify this. As a part of a centralised resource management plan, desal would include both energy for water (the desalinisation process itself is extremely energy intensive, and so is moving around all that water from points of production to its diffused consumption)  and water for energy (centralised power which is usually produced using large thermal electricity plants which consume fuels such as coal, gas and uranium often use water as their primary coolant). Desalinisation in many ways represents a central dualism in socio-environmental policymaking, one I hope to explore at length in my research.

That is, between two broad scales of technology and governance structures- technocratic centralisation vs. democratised dispersion (for those of you familiar with energy policy, its essentially Amory Lovin’s Road Not Taken- Hard Path vs. Soft Path, with more socio-political considerations added in). Briefly now let me tool this apart before going back to Desal and a specific case. On one hand you have the technology on a continuum of degree of centralisation (really just big vs. small). Think nuclear power plant versus solar panel. On the other you have decision making, and how it’s concentrated. In a strong technocratic system, its an unelected elite of experts making all the calls with little or no transparency and access by other stakeholders. The opposite of that would be a system with very diffuse decision-making with non-experts and regular folks having a lot of input in a very open system. Its your classic top-down versus bottom-up divide. Even with water and the Nexus itself I often relate things back to this thinking. To keep it simple lets just think of it as big vs. small (both in tech and governance).

Near the end of February, the New York Times published a piece on the development of a $1 billion desalinisation plant in Carlasbad, California which began construction in late 2012. The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) has agreed to purchase 48,000 acre-feet of water (one of the main units of measure in water policy, one acre-foot being equivalent to about 326,000 American gallons) per year at $2,000 an acre-foot. This will supply 7% of total water supplies for 30 years.

Beyond of the socio-environmental considerations of this reverse-osmosis plant the central debate in the area is on cost. Both the firm building the plant, Poseidon Resources and the SDCWA are betting on a continuation and acceleration of the trend in rising water demand.  In its scenario calculations the SDCWA estimates that this may be cheaper than status quo cost projections by 2024. They currently get their water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for about $1000 per acre-foot. Its a gamble, but both the agency, the firm and their backers argue that in a time of dwindling fresh water supplies and growth demand will inevitably rise. Critics, both from environmental NGOs and independent research institute argue strongly that not only will this raise consumer water bills but also electricity as more energy is needed to power the plant, and that there’s no guarantee on the development of the region’s shifting thirst. Their proposed alternative is greater investment in demand side management (DSM), that there isn’t a need for a supply-driven drive to forge a new market for desal plants to solve our water crisis.

This is a classic case of big vs. small. Right now there’s only one other commercial scale desal plant in the US- in Tampa Bay, Florida. It’s not been a dramatic success for the burgeoning industry, lots of costly mistakes. That goes with the territory, risks are always higher at the opening of a market. Over time the costs may go down and with the right governmental support there very well may be a boom. The problem is that even should one accept it as a viable and acceptable approach, desalinisation will in all likelihood dis-incentivise water conservation & reuse and investment in efficiency. Think about it, you invest all this money and sign a contract for guaranteed supply. If you can reach a point where this becomes the new cheap option, why go back to sorting out your demand?

It really does matter where you start. From a supply orientation (big) you have a shortage that needs to be plugged by any means necessary and using economies of scale. Demand orientation (little) means focusing on using what’s already available more effectively and working to change the conditions that caused the shortage to begin with. The former generally does little to curb demand growth and is resource inefficient, but the latter risks supply insecurity if DSM isn’t effective enough.

I’m going to leave you all with a rather unfair quandary now, a dichotomy (of sorts) to revisit soon. No matter what we decide, we set ourselves down a trajectory which may not be easy to change further down the line. This is infrastructure we’re talking about, decisions made at one moment will shape decades to come.

Question is, which do we bet our money on?

~ Miles on Water



Activism and the Nexus: Shaping Policy

Retrieved from

Activism & the Nexus: Shaping Policy

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.

Activism is a force to be reckoned with. This simple truth is one easy to forget in the grim utilitarian realm of policy analysis. It’s a factor that depending upon your given governance structure is easy to shove off to the side as secondary. When the problems seem so big, when you’re working at a global system change the contributions of active engaged individuals can seem so small to be insignificant.

You might find yourself starting to ask brutal questions. What voice does the little guy have when the big players have such loud lobbyists? Given their diffuse and often ephemeral nature what influence can grassroots movements really have on decision makers?-So easy to do, and so damning.

Lucky for me I’ve got you folks in the Peak Water network and friends around the world constantly reminding me of this. People power can wield enormous influence, regardless of the particular creed it amplifies. In the pursuit of a truly sustainable global energy-water- climate system transition it’s these movements that give moral purpose and a groundswell of democratic legitimacy. They animate  people, engaging them in the complexities of the problem while helping them grow into change agents.

Right now across the United States there is a movement to divest public institutions from fossil fuels. In this column I’m going to highlight the efforts of the folks in the University of California pushing for such change.

As of 20 February 2013 the University of California, San Diego student government joined their fellows at the Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses in passing a resolution to fully divest its portfolio from fossil fuel funds. Equal parts inspired by the call to action and the success of the anti-Apartheid divestments of the 80s and 90s the movement is as much about a moral revolution as climate change mitigation. The college campaign in California has largely been coordinated by the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) which coordinates environmental actions by students across the state.

At Berkeley the charge is being led by senior Katie Hoffman, her tireless efforts leading the team at Cal through their unsuccessful campaign in 2011 to divest the UC from coal companies all the way through to the current momentum of the day. That is, of UC Berkeley’s student government setting a vital new precedent by voting to divest. Katie is an old friend; we first met as transfer students to the Society & Environment B.S. programme at UC Berkeley a few years back.

I’ve watched her work, witnessed her passion and drive first hand. I have seen what she and all the other activists in the CSSC have accomplished.  I can see what they’re capable of. Expect more big things to come! To have been there at the start and to be here now is an incredible privelege, even from across the Atlantic. Katie and all the other folks on the ground across California and the whole United States pushing forward with divestment are a true and continued inspiration.

Some would scoff at the arrogant naivety of students, denying them even the pleasure of small victories. Such folks need only look at the million dollar funds at the disposal of UC student governments to see how wrong they are. This is a targeted movement, with specific and modular goals. Across the country they’re succeeding and their campaigns are growing.

All of this has profound implications for not only how we concieve of each and every sutainability nexus but the pathways we choose to realize them.  To bear witness to, even join, movements such as these opens your eyes to the possibility of a democratised and decentralised (both of technologies and governance) transition. That is, of a radical departure from the status quo and viable in a multitude of different manifestations. Yes, activism is but one complex piece but  what a vital part yet!  

The choice we face is not simply between different technical and economic structures, so too is it a resolution on how we are to conduct ourselves-a new order to things. It’s about governance, and strategic decision making. Grassroots organizing, direct action, advocacy and all the other forms must orient towards this truth. From the ground up and back down again how we choose must be reshaped. In radical, chaotic little steps we may yet solve the riddle of the sustainability nexus.

Activism is about policy, an imperfect and fragile evolution.

~ Miles on Water

Parting the Radioactive Water: Can the Nexus Guide Us Through Our Nuclear Legacy?

Retrieved from the Guardian


Parting the Radioactive Water: Can the Nexus Guide Us Through Our Nuclear Legacy?

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.

Not so long ago it seemed that the 21st century was going to be the era of Nuclear Renaissance. A global industry which had largely stagnated after the 80s in a post Three Miles Island and Chernobyl world found powerful resurgence in the 2000s. The argument and now is generally framed along a cost-benefit landscape dotted with divergent rhetorical flair. It reached a zenith with climate change mitigation- in electricity generation nuclear power produces negligible (or zero depending on the calculation) carbon emissions. It can replace coal to provide baseload power and drastically reduce emissions- a vision of the future (again).
Today when folks talk about low-carbon versus renewable in alternative energy debates the low-carbon means either nuclear or carbon capture and storage, but mostly nuclear (CCS hasn’t been commercialised yet as a whole socio-technical system, not even at demonstration scale yet actually). The argument has held enormous sway and is still heavily influential, particularly in the UK. I’m far from a champion of nuclear power, but theoretically this positive potential is real. Particularly in comparison to coal, depending upon your risk parameters nuclear power can almost be benign.
Along every step of the commodity chain from exploration to generating electricity coal is marked by inefficiency and negative externalities (economics’ fun euphemism for those costs to socio-natural health not included in price). Look no further than mountaintop removal and strip mining, or coal’s emission profile relative to almost any other source. Its easy to see why some folks in the environmental and climate change communities push nuclear as a real alternative.
Its my estimation however that the most accurate and holistic accounts of the life cycle costs of nuclear energy are still damning. Setting aside issues of cost, decision making  or general policy implications the problem is that the uranium still has to be mined and the waste dealt with. Both have considerable socioenvironmental impacts, potential and realised. Water for energy is exemplified by nuclear power, acting as a constant vital coolant. Its in this arena we face the Nexus full force (though of course it pervades the entire energy chain up to and including reactor coolants).
Contemporary developments in nuclear power have come to be defined by this. Yes, I’m going to start here with Fukushima. A set of reactors on the coast, dependent upon sea water and in a seismically active region. An earthquake and tsunami devastated the Japanese coastline and helped initiate one of the worst industrial disasters the world has seen.
Through sea-level rise and increased storm severity climate change poses a grave threat to this kind of nuclear system. They tend to be built on coastlines, anywhere close to readily available source of water for cooling .The threat is far from insurmountable, but considerable. the world has taken notice, and the drive for more nuclear power which had already slowed ground to a halt as the disaster unfolded. Fukushima was the inflection point for nuclear, in all likelihood the death knell of the Renaissance. Japan and Germany renounced nuclear power, expansion around the world stagnating. The industry and all its challenges continue all the same.
In Washington state six underground storage tanks are leaking radioactive waste. The threat currently seems to manageable, potentially threatening the area’s soil and groundwater but far from contaminating the Columbia river.  There are however 149 single-shell tanks at the Hanford facility filled with waste and previous leaks have damaged the soil already. The tanks are ageing, leaks are more and more likely. One tank for instance was leaking 150-300 gallons per annum of radioactive fluid. Developing the right policies to deal with this waste once its been produced is extremely difficult.
The US is a major producer of nuclear waste but doesn’t have a strategic solution. The planned national storage facility at Yucca Mountain outside of Las Vegas has been effectively shut down. Just about every major politician in Nevada has been fighting the federal government against the Yucca project for years. There’s mass opposition at all levels. Coming from that area you develop a strong aversion to any such proposal, whether or not its well informed. Not only was the potency of nuclear waste as a symbol at work, but folks just couldn’t see any benefit for them in taking in the country’s waste. When locals especially can’t find an economic benefit the legitimacy of big infrastructural projects stands on shaking ground. Much as I do personally support the opposition it makes a tough policy area all the more complex.
This adds further pressure on facilities like Hanford and exemplifies the strident NIMBYism of nuclear waste in the US and UK. The UK too has a waste problem and planned to build an underground storage centre in Cumbria. Its the site of both the world renowned Lake District and the Sellafield nuclear facilities. Last month the county council voted down the proposal, killing off for now the hopes of a central holding site. Cumbria was really the only viable place currently available, and with so many residents dependent on nuclear power for jobs and the proximity to reactors and current holding sites made it ideal.
As with Hanford, at Sellafield and nuclear sites all across the UK and US the kit is ageing and ageing rough. In the past mass dumping, such as into the Irish Sea has been acceptable and left a legacy of radioactivity, ecological destruction and socio-political strife in its wake. Historic uranium mining has shattered the land, water and people of Southwestern reservations in the US. The waste is there and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future no matter what energy choices are made. The legacy of the atomic age is inescapable.
The question is how that waste is managed, and may the Water-Energy Nexus be a guide.
~ Miles on Water


The Folks Behind the PGC- Coalitions, Mixed Markets and People Power

Retrieved from


The Folks Behind the PGC- Coalitions, Mixed Markets and People Power

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.

California is a like a nation-state unto itself with particular brand of policymaking and political culture. In every major arena there is a multitude of different actors and institution contending for the greatest influence over the shape and direction of policy. Coalitions are formed and broken in a landscape sometimes defined by cooperation, sometimes competition or contention. Its a place rife with endless acronyms, inspiring the most inebriating of drinking games. Let’s delve in shall we.

There are three main groups of actors involved in historical and ongoing development of the PGC: regulatory and policy agencies, the utilities (public and private) and the governors of the state (not just the legislature and executive but the voters themselves).  That is, so far as I’ve found now.

Both the electricity and water retail markets in California have a mixed structure, between Public Owned Utilities (POUs) and Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs). Although an early pioneer in privatisation of electricity in the 90s the state has moved to a more mixed ownership and management paradigm. In fact the water and electricity markets are inverse of one another, with electricity 80%-private 20% public and water 20% private- 80% public.

Though there are many, six key agencies dominate the water-energy nexus: the Air Resources Board (ARB), Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Energy Commission (CEC), Natural Resource Agency (CNRA), Department of Water Resources (DWR)  and Water-Energy Team of the Climate Action Team (WetCat).

The first two are most important; the ARB through its regulation of air emissions in California spearheads climate change mitigation and the CPUC regulates all water and energy utilities. The next most important agencies deal directly with energy and water respectively- the CEC and DWR. All energy-water-climate change nexus policymaking, whether interconnected or in silo, flows from and through these groups. The last one is a coalition of folks from local, state and federal agencies charged  by the ARB through its 2008 Scoping Plan to develop and implement the most effective climate change policy at their disposal. WetCat itself is the cornerstone of efforts to develop truly strategic nexus policy, ensuring the smooth exchange of information and inter-agency cooperation.

The proportion that stood out most to me when I was doing my research is that 80% of water in California is public owned. Its surprisingly high in an era of ever increasing public goods privatisation. Most of the water is managed municipally, a subject I’m sure my Peak Water colleagues can speak to in great detail. My personal experience is limited to having paid the water bill to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) at my flat in Berkeley. Ideally this means that the resource is managed there in the interest of the public rather than shareholder returns while maintaining the efficiencies of a mixed market (assuming of course that state run enterprises are less efficient, which is open to contention). The key to the PGC is that it could operate as a price signal for water conservation in this semi-privatised market and provide a steady source of funding for sustainable water management.

The electricity market is dominated by three large companies which on their own account for nearly all that 80% private market share- San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE).  On a side note, the Big 3 have made interesting progress on renewables procurement  in 2012 with 20.3%, 19.3% and 20.6% of total electricity generation respectively. Though still nowhere near where it should be to avoid the worst effect of climate change, compare that to only 11.7% in the UK at the end of 2012. Food for thought, though of course comparing apples and oranges (but still, SCE is nearly double the UK!). Though this market is heavily dominated by these three firms, there are many other smaller companies and a fair share of POUs still operating. As with water, most of them are municipal.

Finally, you have the decision makers. The role of the legislature is obvious, the impact of the executive much less so. Both the current state governor, Jerry Brown, and his predecessor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) have been champions of climate change mitigation. When in 2011 the state legislature failed to renew the electricity PGC as it passed its sunset mark Governor Brown sent an official letter to the CPUC asking that it use its mandate to ensure that the vital programs funded by the PGC continue into 2012, to find new funding for the year (which the CPUC did). As is common with American politicians he framed the issue around job creation and clean energy.

The most intriguing category of actors in the state to me however has to be the electorate. Its a very imperfect system, heavily influenced by big money and special interests but the California referendum system has been and will continue to be full of promise and potential. In California if you get enough signatures and the right funding your initiative can get onto the ballot in any local or statewide election. Ideally the sheer weight of multitudinous ballot propositions will create a more informed and engaged electorate. The jury’s still out.

Democracy is messy and chaotic, no more so than when the people themselves have a direct say on how they are to be governed. When done right though, there is nothing more democratically legitimate than a policy the people themselves have voted into effect. Or in the case of 2010′s Proposition 23, when the people overwhelming vote a proposition down. Its a particularly proud moment in my career, being a part of the massive grassroots campaign to refuse a ballot initiative which would have smothered California’s climate policy in its cradle. People power is a beautiful thing.

Today you can watch another movement unfold, as around the United States students are rising up to demand that their universities divest from fossil fuels. In fact this spread across the country beyond universities to cities and a national campaign modelled on Apartheid divestment in the 80s. Its with particular pride I can point to the efforts at my alma matter, where the Cal student senate has voted to divest its $3 million investment portfolio with pressures mounting to convince the UC Regents to divest the whole UC system. Nexus policymaking will have to contend with this people power as it evolves, hopefully channelling the most constructive elements into truly sustainable resource management.

Perhaps in the near future these coalitions, mixed markets and active state residents will come together to forge a new suite of Energy-Water PGCs.

~ Miles on Water

Spreading the Nexus and Finding it Everywhere

Retrieved from

Spreading the Nexus and Finding it Everywhere

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.

Applying for PhDs is an intimidating prospect. So too is trying to make a real, valuable contribution to a burgeoning field. As is navigating the current job market. Fair readers, you find me now striving through all three.

Once you start its hard to shut off, colouring your perspective on everything else. You might even start seeing the world through it. In the midst of this now I can attest to the surreality of spreading the word and finding it everywhere you look.

On some level applying for a PhD is an exercise in arrogance, assuming that not only is there a gap in the knowledge that you, you lowly peon you, have accurately identified but that its something to which you can bring a unique constructive addition.  You’ve got to find the right niche though, or it all can fall apart. Though I’m not sure yet what the next step for me will be after my MSc I’m knee-deep now in the process of finding such a niche myself. I’ve several materials put together now, spent a particular amount of time developing an energy-water policy nexus research proposal.

Effectively, I’m trying to take the approach here at Exeter’s energy policy group and combine it with the Transitions literature (basically about the interplay between the society and economy with technology over time- i.e. transitioning to decarbonisation in energy) to study energy-water nexus case studies from the American Southwest, the United Kingdom and desert lands around the world. All this is towards helping to develop a water equivalent to the global energy system transition. I spent a lot of time on my literature review trying to throw together a whole slew of different perspectives and areas, and went through several revisions with the help of my Tremough mentors.  Hopefully I got in a decent stab at balancing the practicality (both in terms of execution and impact) and uniqueness (both intellectually and to creative problem-solving). As the comic here shows, this terrifying balance dominates the first stages in every doctoral studentship.  Wish me luck. The experience has crystallised my thinking on energy-water issues, I see it everywhere now.

I’m already dedicating one module (on environmental and sustainability policy) to exploring the nexus in California and the UK, had an incredible seminar on energy and the built environment (including water-in-energy infrastructure) and spent an afternoon recently watching the live Guardian debate on the energy-water-food nexus discussing its contours on Twitter. Right now I’m in the depths of a one-week intensive module on international energy issues, its a lot of time spent being bombarded with incredible and deeply complex material. The water-energy nexus has been a constant theme from India’s bilateral water resource treaties with Pakistan and Tibet to Big Hydro in China and Middle Eastern solar desalinisation. We’ll continue through Friday afternoon, providing a plethora of new areas and datasets for study. I doubt this project will end any time soon.

Though I’ve many other interests in energy and specialisms I hope to develop I’m working right now to find a placement further exploring the nexus, might even end up combining such an experience with my PhD research proposal to develop my dissertation over the summer. Whether I find a job or start a PhD, after I finish at Exeter there’s a very good chance this work will go on well into the near future. I’ll continue chasing the nexus.

Its a big thing to be a part of.

~ Miles on Water

Power-Hungry Brazil Builds Dams, and More Dams, Across the Amazon

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“When it is completed in 2015, the Jirau hydroelectric dam will span five miles across the Madeira River, feature more giant turbines than any other dam in the world and hold as much concrete as 47 towers the size of the Empire State Building.

And then there are the power lines, draped along 1,400 miles of forests and fields to carry electricity from here in the center of South America to Brazil’s urban nerve center, Sao Paulo.

Still, it won’t be enough.

The dam and the Santo Antonio complex that is being built a few miles downstream will provide just 5 percent of what government energy planners say the country will need in the next 10 years. So Brazil is building more dams, many more, courting controversy by locating the vast majority of them in the world’s largest and most biodiverse forest.”

“The investment to build these plants is very high, and they are to be put in a region which is an icon for environmental preservation, the Amazon,” said Paulo Domingues, energy planning director for the Ministry of Mines and Energy. “So that has worldwide repercussions.”

Read more: International Rivers


The California Public Goods Charge- A Tantalising First Glimpse of Policy Success?

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The California Public Goods Charge- A Tantalising First Glimpse of Policy Success?

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

Today, I’ll be writing about a fascinating Nexus case-study I’ve recently come across in my research. That is, of the California policy programme around a Public Goods Charge (PGC). Basically this is a charge added to consumer utility bills which both potentially serves as a price signal for conservation and provides funding for public interest projects related to that utility (there’s a more technical and perhaps more accurate definition but that’s the main gist of it).

Currently there is no PGC in California, but there was one previously and the potential for one specifically built around the Water-Energy Nexus. From about 1996-2011, California had a PGC on electricity but the state legislature failed to renew it and so the policy ended 1st January 2012. There are however efforts to reinstate the kWh PGC, and perhaps even more interestingly to implement a new water PGC.

In this entry I’m going to lay out the basics- how the CA PGC regime came about and what it entails. Later on I’ll cover who’s involved and what’s been done (some details on the policy mechanisms). After that, a longer-form entry making an initial policy analysis.

The original PGC was born out of an era in California policymaking history I’m not all that keen for but which has shaped the very face of its contemporary development- deregulation and market liberalisation during the mid 90s into the early 2000s. A PGC is indelibly a market mechanism, an approach which over the past 40 years has come to dominate policy thinking around the world (to my estimation, especially in the US and UK). Much has been written about the market liberalisation of western economies since the 70s, of the Thatcherite years in the UK and US Reagonomics among  many other examples. California, especially its energy sector, was heavily shaped over this period of largely neoliberal governance.

In my early, and yes I very well may not only revise but entirely reverse my position as I learn more, estimation however the 1996-2011 PGC is actually a successful mixed command-and-control/market mechanism instrument (and the same is probably true of those proposed PGCs). For better or worse, its been described as a green tax, with consumers bearing the cost. In a subsequent entry I’ll delve more into the political economics, but it seems thus far that it was not (and likely will not be) an undue burden with public benefit far outweighing costs. This is arguably so even for the consumers paying it. So far as I’ve read through the grey literature (fun catchall term for governmental, regulatory, policy analysis and media coverage of policies) I’m liking what I see.

An energy and/or water PGC increases the cost of consumption and can provide funding for nexus public interest programs. When the kWh one was still around it brought money to the state’s energy efficiency, renewables generation, renewables R&D and low-income assistance efforts with a prioritisation of energy efficiency and low-income assistance. It was relatively low-cost. A water PGC would most likely help to fund Integrated Regional Water Management Plans (IRWMPs) primarily for water conservation and efficiency. The great potential utility of linking this into IRWMPs is the principles of subsidiarity and localism- that you should govern at the most effective scale for the issue and that in the case of water resource management this is at the regional and local levels.

Really this all comes back to down to climate change, and California’s mitigation legislation AB 32 and the Air Resources Board’s Scoping Plan. That is, to achieve a reduction by 2050 of 80% 1990 level emissions and by 2020 of 30% 1990 level emissions. One of the state’s primary strategies towards achieving this is energy and water efficiency, of explicitly thinking about the Nexus.  From desalinisation to water treatment and simply pumping the resource from place to place water is very energy intensive.  At the same time, from petrol to power stations the energy system too consumes a lot of water. The destructive impacts not only can be minimised but must be, for the general socio-natural welfare and not just emissions targets. The PGC regime has the potential to play a very important and dynamic role in ensuring the coalition of actors engaged in this endeavour come through successfully.

More to come on this fascinating subject, stay tuned!

~ Miles on Water