The California water industry has been a pioneer in the adoption of renewable energy. And now the industry has the opportunity to lead again, by eliminating their energy use altogether and even becoming net energy producers.
For most water and wastewater agencies, energy is the second highest budget item, after labor. In California, as much as 19% of the state’s electricity consumption is used for pumping, treating, and discharging water and wastewater.1 But energy is a controllable cost. Savings from sustainable sources like solar, wind and geothermal reduce operational costs, and relying on renewables will eliminate the need for water-intensive energy like natural gas and coal plants, furthering the energy-water nexus benefits by saving water.
Moving Water Districts from Energy Consumers to Energy Producers
Many water districts have implemented clean energy strategies to offset the high cost of energy and reduce carbon emissions. And now that the state of California has passed SB 100, calling for all energy to come from renewable sources by 2045, water agencies have a unique opportunity to lead again—by becoming clean energy producers for the people of California.
In 2015, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) released its energy priorities, the first of which was a call to support cost-effective, reliable and diverse sources of energy.2 Just three years later, renewable energy has become more cost-efficient than fossil fuels or natural gas. In addition, demand response and battery technologies have come of age, making solar and wind easier to dispatch and more reliable than ever before.
Four Steps to Developing a Comprehensive Energy Strategy
To become a 100% sustainably powered organization, or even a net energy producer, water districts need a comprehensive energy strategy. Here are four steps to get you there:
1. . The first step of any responsible energy strategy is to reduce self-consumed energy. As stated in ACWA’s Water and Energy Policy Principles: “To save both water and energy, agencies can improve their operational efficiency in a variety of ways, including upgrading to more efficient pumps and installing low friction pipes.” Revisit your efficiency plans to ensure they are up to date before adding any new renewable energy facilities.
2. . Utilities are moving from peak load to time-of-use rate structures that can significantly impact your bottom line. Even if you already have solar installed, you could be overpaying due to oversights in rate calculations. CalCom has uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars of utility bill errors through our utility billing analytics software. Any renewable energy plan should incorporate regular audits of your utility bills to ensure you’re getting appropriately charged.
3. . To generate, store and distribute energy to the grid, you’ll need real-time visibility and as much control over these resources as possible. Now that energy storage is cost-competitive, your district can store energy when prices are low, and dispatch power when prices go up.
4. While the water industry led early in the adoption of renewables, many districts have not been able to take advantage of recent advancements in solar technology and new funding mechanisms that make onsite generation even more lucrative. Because of these advances, and the availability of cost-competitive energy storage, a district’s renewable energy system can be sized more efficiently to meet customer needs.
Need help developing your strategy? We’re here for you. CalCom has built more than 100MW of solar in California and has been selected by ACWA as a preferred provider of integrated solar and energy storage services for agriculture and water districts.
In our next blog, we’ll discuss solar + storage financing options for water and wastewater districts. Stay tuned!
1 Energy-Water Nexus: The Water Sector’s Energy Use, Congressional Research Service,
January 24, 2017.
2 Energy and Water Resources: ACWA Policy Principles, Association of California Water Agencies, October 2015.