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Beyond Pumps and Turbines- Elaborating the Social Nexus

Retrieved from the CPUC

Beyond Pumps and Turbines- Elaborating the Social 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 now a 1st year PhD candidate at the University of Manchester Business School  after studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter in Cornwall.  He’s now trapped in the Nexus, researching the transition to sustainability of the global water-energy system.

The state of nexus studies today is one of healthy growth, in need of a new direction. Google water-energy nexus or do a search in an academic search engine and you’ll be inundated with results. The concept has been taken up by all kinds of different people, all around the world. Search Energy for Water or Water for Energy and you’ll get an even bigger haul. In the concept of impending climate change (and the need to prepare for adaptation around those new conditions) and rising resource scarcity concentrated in key regions around the world even policymakers are starting to take up the call. It’s part of the larger movement to think more cross-sectionally, to stop considering policy arenas like climate, environment, energy, water, food and land in isolation. There are material and synergistic interconnections all over the place, and elaborating those dynamics is an essential first step to understand what a nexus is and (hopefully) managing it sustainably. All this is promising, but when you dig a bit deeper the terms you can uncover what people are actually meaning in any discussion of a “water-energy nexus”.

There are some very progressive projects out there, but they are unfortunately limited in a very fundamental way. In some places, the powers that be actually do get it. They understand that seemingly disconnected issue areas like climate, water and energy need to be managed together. In California the cross-jurisdictional and multi-agency Climate Action Team has an entire work and research block devoted to the state water energy nexus. I won’t go into any depth yet about whether just being on the agenda has had any impact (but don’t worry it is one of the main things to evaluate about California) but there is a related metric: how the state water-energy nexus is being defined. A recent White Paper from the California Public Utilities Commission is exemplary at this:

The Water Energy Nexus (“Nexus”) is the interaction between water services and energy services where energy services rely on reliable access to water and water delivery services depend on access to energy. This co-dependency is referred to as the Water Energy Nexus.

A very good operational definition, clear delineation and with embedded epistemic/ontological/methodological assumptions you could tease apart throughout the rest of the paper in how its used. The only problem is, this is an extremely limiting definition. It is an exclusively instrumental, functional definition. The ideational, social and even wider environmental-ecological dimensions are completely obfuscated. Though I’ll wait to explicate this in depth for another column, this covers only one small part of the full empirical reality of a “water-energy nexus”, of the operational material flows. It covers only the input of water to produce and consume energy and the input of energy in the same delivery of services. There’s nothing about other flows of resources, especially the full commodity chain impacts on socio-technical systems and ecological cycles. There’s nothing there about the involved institutions or people, not even the major market players.

To get a bit of perspective I’d like here to direct any of you reading through this (here’s to hoping people actually do read the column) to an alternative understanding of what constitutes a nexus. This particular and status quo construction of nexus is all about the operational point of use impacts, links defined by the physical infrastructure involved- how much water is used in cooling systems for electricity generation or to produce biofuels, how much energy gets consumed pumping water from one place to another or to treat wastewater for reuse, etc. Think of this as the ‘Pumps and turbines’ view on water-energy nexuses, and if like me you reject that definition as partial and reductive go check out the work of Professor Christopher A. Scott at the University of Arizona Udall Center and especially his 2011 paper on the policy and institutional nexus dimensions. You’ll find a clear delineation of where the conventional approach breaks down, with an expanded view to include the systemic environmental impacts often and foolishly ignored as externalities and the essential consideration of social forces embedded within energy and water service delivery.

The funny thing is, the work being done by the CPUC, WETCAT and others in California illustrates exactly what Scott and his colleagues have begun to study. It’s a bit ironic that by setting out their definition and excluding the social side of a nexus the CPUC manifests it. To truly understand the water-energy nexus of California you need an empirical search for its socio-institutional system boundaries and trace through all the actors and institutions which determine those boundaries. When the CPUC employs its definition that creates a precise institutional logic its civil servants will follow, recursively reinterpreted and developed in application. But how can you expect to sustainably manage a nexus if you don’t understand the role that you and your organisation play in its development over time, let alone the full breadth of the relevant actors, organisations and institutions involved?

So next when you think of a water-energy nexus don’t forget the people and the environment that shape it. Don’t limit yourself to just Pumps and Turbines,

~Miles On Water

Bottled-Water Habit Keeps Tight Grip on Mexicans

Photo retrieved from: www.nytimes.com

“In Iztapalapa and in many communities across Mexico, talk of tap water is a constant — whether there is any, how it smells, what color it is, or whether it carries sand, mud or unspecified insect life.

Despite reassurances from the authorities that municipal plants pump clean water into the supply network, skepticism is widespread, even when politicians sometimes come forward to guzzle some tap water in public to make a point. “Who knows?” Mr. Montero asked.

A study released last year by the Inter-American Development Bank found that Mexicans used about 127 gallons of bottled water per person a year, more than four times the bottled-water consumption in the United States and more than any country surveyed.

“People are using this water for cooking, for bathing their babies,” said Federico Basañes, division chief for water and sanitation at the development bank.

There is a similar move toward jugs of clean water in countries like China, Indonesia and Thailand, the development bank found, as rising incomes give residents the ability to buy bottled water.”

Read more: New York Times

 

US Researchers Clean Waste Water & Create Energy in One Generator

Photo retrieved from: www.greenprophet.com

“Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have developed technology that treats waste water and generates energy at the same time – two priorities for Middle Eastern municipalities. Combining Reverse Electrodialysis (RED) technology developed in the Netherlands and Norway, which harvests energy where fresh water and sea water meet, with Microbial Fuel Cells (MFC) that use organic matter to create an electric current, Professor Bruce Logan and his team have found the ultimate solution for developing countries that have limited access to water and power.

Where fresh water and salt water meet

RED technology involves placing fresh water and salt water in intermittent chambers of a fuel cell which are separated by membranes and then create an electrochemical charge, but Penn State researchers told the BBC that this technology has limitations.”

Read more: Green Prophet

Mexico’s Water War

Photo retrieved from: www.petrecycling.com

“It isn’t just tourists who won’t drink the water in Mexico. It’s nearly everyone, making the country one of the most valuable markets in the world for beverage companies. Mexicans are the world’s biggest drinkers of soda, putting away 166 liters of the bubbly stuff per person in 2010, and of bottled water, chugging down 248 liters per capita in 2011, according to preliminary estimates from the Beverage ­Marketing Corp. The latter figure is more than double Americans’ annual consumption of 110 liters.

With growth in the soda segment flattening out, in part due to government antiobesity campaigns (soda sales have been banned in schools), the growth and competition are in water, where market leader Danone is fighting it out with Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

“Soft drinks are no longer such a great business in Mexico,” says Ana Trulin, an analyst in Mexico City with Euromonitor. “Water is the big profitmaker.”

Analysts project Mexican bottled-water sales will grow to $13 billion by 2015, up from $9 billion in 2011, surpassing the U.S. to become the world’s largest market.”

Read more: Forbes

 

Ford Targets 30 Percent Water Reduction Per Vehicle

PR Newswire: news distribution, targeting and monitoring“Ford enters 2012 with plans to further reduce the amount of water used to make vehicles and continue showing efficiency is not only inherent in its vehicle lineup, but also in its manufacturing practices.

“A new goal calls for Ford to cut the amount of water used to make each vehicle 30 percent globally by 2015, compared with the amount of water used per vehicle in 2009.

“Ford is also developing year-over-year efficiency targets as part of its annual environmental business planning process and has established a cross-functional team spanning several divisions to review water usage more holistically.

“Water remains one of our top environmental priorities and our aggressive reduction target helps ensure continued focus on this critical resource,” said Sue Cischke, group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering.

“Ford’s latest water reduction initiatives are designed to build on the success the company has had with its Global Water Management Initiative that launched in 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, Ford reduced its global water use by 62 percent, or 10.5 billion gallons. That’s the equivalent of how much water 105,000 average American residences use annually, based on figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“If Ford meets its goal of reducing the amount of water used by 30 percent between 2009 and 2015, the amount of water used to make a vehicle will have dropped from 9.5 cubic meters in 2000 to approximately 3.5 cubic meters in 2015. One cubic meter is equal to 264.2 gallons of water.”

Read more: PR Newswire

Parks Chief Sets Conditions for Plastic Bottle Bans

Retrieved from: www.banthebottle.net

“The director of the National Park Service, after blocking Grand Canyon National Park’s attempt to ban the sale of small plastic water bottles, will now allow such bans, but under a restrictive set of conditions, the park service announced on Thursday.

Jon Jarvis, the director, issued a policy directive to all parks this week requiring that any park contemplating such a ban comply with a detailed checklist calling for written reports on issues like the amount of waste to be eliminated and the effect on the revenue of concessionaires and nonprofit groups that support the parks. The policy also requires parks planning a ban to consult with the park service’s public health office on its potential impact.”

Read more: New York Times

At the Nexus of Agrofuels, Land Grabs and Hunger

Retrieved from: www.afronline.org

“Industrialised agricultural practices currently produce 13.5 percent of all green house gas emissions, mostly methane and nitrous oxide. The latter is emitted in huge doses through the spraying of fertiliser, which is used 800 times more frequently today than it was 100 years ago.

The production of fertilisers themselves requires the burning up of fossil fuels, emitting up to 41 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

On top of this, heavy farm machinery spits about 158 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, while the water needed for industrial-style irrigation is pumped using fossil fuels that release another 369 million tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere.

And yet, powerful governments like the U.S. and various players from the eurozone, together with the WBG, continue to advocate for the proliferation of agrofuels, which employ the same dirty, large-scale farming techniques described above, as a “green solution” to the climate crisis.

In fact, the production of mono crop agrofuels guzzle thousands of gallons of freshwater, are processed into biodiesels – the very products that have overheated the planet to begin with – and create long, oil-thirsty transport chains to carry the product.”

Read more: All Africa

 

Flushing Your Toilet Will Someday Power Your Home

Retrieved from: engr.psu.edu

“Many sewage treatment plants currently use bacteria to treat wastewater. Essentially, the bacteria help clean the water by eating the organic material.

“But researchers at Penn State have found an even more productive use for the bacteria.

“Led by environmental engineer, Bruce Logan, they’ve designed special microbial fuel cells that use “bacteria to turn any organic matter directly into electricity.”

“Considering that in the United States, we use 5% of our electricity to run our water infrastructure, the breakthrough represents a chance for us to cut costs, while also curbing our reliance on fossil fuels.

“And while this is exciting news for U.S. consumers, the technology has the potential to have an even greater impact on developing parts of the world.”

Read more: Wall St Daily

 

 

Coca-Cola Mexico harvesting 1.25Bl/y of rainwater

Photo retrieved from: www.americajr.com

“The Coca-Cola Mexico Foundation captures 1.25Bl/y of water through its water harvesting programs, Luis Fuentes, Coca-Cola Mexico’s deputy director of corporate communication, told BNamericas.

The foundation set up a national reforestation and water harvesting program in 2007 in association with the national forestry commission (Conafor), and the national commission for the protection of natural areas (Conanp).

The program aims to “return to nature 100% of the water we use in our drinks and production processes,” said Fuentes.

As well as planting 30mn trees across the country, the foundation has built 162,000 groundwater recharge wells to harvest rainwater. The wells are 2m deep and built in mountainous regions across 250ha of land.

Water captured in the wells filters into the ground and recharges the aquifers, “ensuring water for Mexico’s future,” said Fuentes.

The reforestation and water harvesting programs have ensured that 87% of the water used in Coca-Cola Mexico’s processes is returned to the land.”

Read more: Water World

 

AT&T fined over San Jose fuel spill

Photo retrieved from: www.electronlifer.com

“AT&T will pay $40,490 in fines for violating California water pollution and hazardous waste laws after an equipment failure at its San Jose facility caused 1,300 gallons of diesel fuel to spill into the Guadalupe River, officials announced Thursday.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said an automatic float valve at the company’s facility on South Almaden Boulevard failed on Oct. 2, leading diesel fuel to spill off the roof and eventually into the street’s storm drain that flowed into the river. Emergency response crews put absorbent booms across the river to prevent the fuel from flowing downstream, and then removed contaminated materials from the water.”

Read more: Mercury News