SEI-US Symposium

Cross Currents: Water and Energy Challenges in the 21st Century

SEI Symposium The symposium was held on November 4, 2010 at Tufts University. The event was well received by the 80 participants and included 10 talks and 2 panel discussions.

Read the smposium agenda below and download the presentations.

Download the flier with symposium agenda

The important fields of water and energy policy are becoming increasingly connected.  One emerging challenge is the provision of adequate water supplies to match the word’s growing demands for energy.  This challenge is likely to be difficult both with traditional approaches to energy production such as thermal power plants, which require huge amounts of cooling water, but also for some renewable energy systems such as solar power, which need to be sighted in areas where sunshine is plentiful but water generally is not.   A second major challenge is the fast growing energy needs of our water supply systems.  These energy needs will continue to grow as we become more dependent on groundwater from steadily falling aquifers.  A third emerging challenge is how best to manage the competing demands on our water systems, particularly with respect to how dams are managed for hydropower, agricultural irrigation and the protection of ecological systems.   All these challenges are emerging at a time when there are increasing concerns over how climate change will affect the future reliability of freshwater supplies.

Our symposium will explore how these and other perspectives on water and energy can be assembled into a useful framework that can support the development of sustainable water and energy management policies in a changing world.

Symposium Agenda:

Time Title Speaker
9.00 - 9.15  Welcome Charlie Heaps, SEI
9.15 - 9.40 Identifying Key Issues that Converge on the Water-Energy Nexus David Purkey, SEI

While discussions of the Water Energy Nexus are increasingly common, it is not entirely clear that these conversations are converging on common understanding of just what is this term means.  In order to prepare the audience for the talks that will follow, this presentation will attempt to identify all of the key issues that converge to define the Water Energy Nexus and propose some framework for assembling them into a useful framework that can be used to guide future efforts to explore important interactions between water and energy management.

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9.40 -10.05 Thirsty Plants:  the Water Requirements for Electricity Production John Rogers, Union of Concerned Scientists

In most power plants, water cools the steam that spins electricity-generating turbines.  In the United States, that cooling requirement adds up to withdrawals of more than 140 billion gallons of freshwater per day.  Much of that water may be returned, but some of it is consumed -- evaporated -- in the process.  Plants fueled by coal, natural gas, and nuclear dominate water-use statistics, but some renewable energy technologies use water in similar ways.  Power plant water use can have important implications for local water availability, water quality, and the power plants themselves.  This talk will explore the dimensions, magnitude, and issues around water use by power plants.

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10.05 -10.30 Hydropower, salmon, and water management Marisa Escobar, SEI

Hydropower is the main source of renewable energy, representing 19% of all energy production in the world, and 14% in California. Evaluating the amount of water required to produce hydroelectricity is actually a fairly straight forward calculation defined by the water power equation. What is complicated is assessing the implications of power production and other water management objectives. For example, in watersheds where fish habitat needs to be protected, understanding competing hydropower demands and fish habitat requirements under climate uncertainty is crucial to inform water management decisions. A case study for California’s spring-run Chinook salmon, a species listed as threatened and sensitive to increased water temperatures, provides insight into the type of analysis required to assess tradeoffs. Using a framework to predict local effects of climate change on spring-run Chinook salmon, we designed water management adaptation strategies ranging from changing operations of current infrastructure to building new infrastructure, and tested their effectiveness at counteracting the negative effects of climate change on salmon. We found that changing current management practices at dams and diversions could counteract climate change effects with some loss of power generation. These types of tradeoffs challenge managers to be resourceful in finding solutions to conserve ecosystem services in rivers.

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10.30 -10.55 Water requirements for transportation Carey King, University of Texas

The majority of alternative transportation fuel options consume and withdraw more fresh water per mile traveled than conventional petroleum.  This presentation will compare several fuel supply chains in terms of their water intensity and discuss the water implications for a few scenarios for future transportation fuels consumption.  Dr. King will also discuss how we can use scientific analysis to understand the implications of potential future energy and environmental policies that could impact how we characterize and perceive the nature of the water intensity of transportation.

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10.55 -11.10 Break
11.10 -11.35 Complicating the Already Complicated: The Role of Climate Change in the Energy-Water Nexus Kristen Averyt, CU-NOAA Western Water Assessment

This presentation will outline examples of how climate change and variability may further exacerbate issues around the energy-water nexus, using the Western US as an the example. The geologic landscape that creates the major water source to the arid West (Colorado River) is also the largest natural store of conventional energy resources in the United States. Coal is the primary energy resource extracted in the West, and as such, coal-fired power plants dominate energy production. In order to meet the energy demands posed by a growing population, new coal-fired power production facilities are slated for construction. The greenhouse gases coal power plants emit are significant, so construction of new plans runs counter to efforts aimed at mitigation atmospheric GHG emissions. Alternative scenarios using renewable energy are also being promoted in the region. However, renewable energy technologies are not immune from the impacts of climate change. For example, both traditional and renewable energy technologies (particularly Concentrated Solar Power) require significant quantities of water for cooling. The availability of water resources in the West is expected to decline as a consequence of climate change; flows on the Colorado River may decline by 10-15% by 2050. Thus, it is unclear whether the water resources will be available to support different energy development scenarios.

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11.35 -12.15 Water, Energy and Climate -- Modeling the linkages Larry Dale,  Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

This talk will cover three issues.  It will begin with a summary of key water and energy interactions, focusing on the energy required to supply water in California.  Next, the talk will cover the likely influence of climate change on water energy interactions, including changes in the price of water and water.  Finally, the talk will describe a project to model water energy interactions in a Central California water basin. 

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The Energy-Water Nexus – Competing demands, and constraints.

Leonard Malczynski, Sandia Lab

Currently, electrical power generation uses about 140 billion gallons of water per day accounting for over 39% of all freshwater withdrawals thus competing with irrigated agriculture as the leading user of water. Coupled to this water use is the required pumping, conveyance, treatment, storage and distribution of the water which requires on average 3% of all electric power generated. While water and energy use are tightly coupled, planning and management of these fundamental resources are rarely treated in an integrated fashion. The talk introduces, a decision support framework that has been developed for the shared needs of energy and water producers, resource managers, regulators, and decision makers at the federal, state and local levels. The framework integrates analysis and optimization capabilities to identify trade-offs, and “best” alternatives among a broad list of energy/water options and objectives. The decision support framework is formulated in a modular architecture, facilitating tailored analyses over different geographical regions and scales (e.g., national, state, county, watershed, NERC region). Ultimately, this open and interactive modeling framework provides a tool for evaluating competing policy and technical options relevant to the energy-water nexus.

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12.40 -1.45 Lunch: Poster Sessions
1.45 - 2.15 Hydropower: More of the Same, or Brave New World? Richard Roos-Collins, Natural Heritage Institute 

Hydropower today provides 75% of renewable power in the U.S.   Yet very little new development has occurred in the U.S. over the past 40 years.  That inertia reflects legal and political conflicts arising from existing development’s significant impacts on fisheries, recreation, and other non-power uses of these waters.   We are at a turning point for this technology.  Hydropower will continue to be mired in this inertia -- or will be transformed, generating substantially more power while contributing to ecosystem restoration.  This talk will describe an approach to the better future.

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2.15 - 3.00 Round table discussion: Energy - Water tradeoffs: Can we do it all? Facilitator: William Moomaw, Tufts University; Participants: David Purkey, John Rogers, Kristen Averyt, Larry Dale, Leonard Malczynski, Richard Roos-Collins 
3.00 - 3.20 The Western water crisis: modeling energy systems under carbon and water constraints Frank Ackerman, SEI

The water crisis of the Western region will be intensified by climate change, creating interlocking problems for agriculture, energy, and urban water use. As part of a broader project on climate change and Western water problems, we have developed a suite of long-run energy scenarios for the 11-state Western region. The scenario with the lowest cost varies, depending on the price of carbon emissions, the price of water, and the time horizon for planning. Under many (but not all) assumptions, a scenario that maximizes use of energy efficiency and renewable energy has the lowest cost. Its advantage over other scenarios grows over time, especially in a water- and carbon-constrained future.

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3.20 - 4.00 WEAP and LEAP: An Integrated Framework for Water and Energy Planning Jack Sieber and Charlie Heaps, SEI

Jack Sieber and Charlie Heaps will introduce SEI’s WEAP and LEAP modeling systems for water and energy planning respectively, and discuss how they are currently being combined to provide new insights into the cross-cutting challenges of water and energy planning.  We will begin by introducing some of the key features common to the two systems and their focus on providing a flexible, transparent scenario-based modeling toolbox.  We will then outline how the tools are being joined together, including how data will be shared and calculations coordinated.  Next we will outline a handful of examples where energy and water planning challenges might be addressed in this newly integrated framework.  Finally we will discuss some of the key insights into energy and water planning that we hope this new unified system will be able to provide.

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4.00 - 4.15 Break
4.15 - 5.00 Round table discussion: Creating an integrated framework Facilitator: David Purkey
Participants: Frank Ackerman; Peter Frumhoff, UCS; Charlie Heaps; Annette Huber; Jack Sieber; Rich Vogel, Tufts

John Rogers

John Rogers, a senior analyst in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS, co-manages the organization's new Energy-Water Initiative. This program aims at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions. John formerly managed the Northeast Clean Energy Project, working to implement a range of clean energy and climate policies. He serves on the board of directors of the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative and of Renewable Energy New England, and on the advisory boards of nonprofit organizations promoting U.S. renewable energy and global energy access.  John joined UCS in 2006 after working for 15 years on private and public clean energy initiatives, including as a co-founder of Soluz, Inc., a leading developer of clean energy solutions for rural markets, and as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.  He earned an A.B. at Princeton University and a master's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan.

Carey King

Carey King studies energy systems, how they work together, how they impact the environment, and how and why humans as a society consume energy resources. He specializes in dynamic systems modeling and nonlinear optimization methods. Much of his recent work has focused on the nexus between energy and water for projecting water demand for electricity generation and alternative automobile fuels. As part of his energy-water studies, Dr. King has authored journal publications, a chapter for the Texas State Energy Conservation Office on the role of water in Texas' energy future as well as a report for the Texas Water Development Board that projects water demand scenarios for future electricity production. Additional work in which Dr. King is engaged includes the economics of carbon capture and sequestration, the design of beneficial combinations of renewable energy and storage systems, and the creation of tools to help the public and policymakers understand the tradeoffs among different electricity generation sources.

Links:, and

Kristen Averyt

Kristen Averyt is the Deputy Director of the Western Water Assessment, a joint program between NOAA and the University of Colorado at Boulder focused on developing useful climate science relevant to decision makers throughout the Western US. Although trained as a geochemist, her current research focuses on the intersections of renewable energy, water, and climate in the West; and climate adaptation strategies related to decision-making. In the past, Kristen was a staff scientist for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and worked as a legislative aid in the US Senate. Kristen has a PhD from Stanford University in Geological and Environmental Science.

Larry Dale

Larry Dale is environmental economist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Associate Director of the U.C. Berkeley Climate Change Center.  He has worked on water resource, energy and environmental projects for the past 25 years and on the economics of climate change for the past 7 years. Currently Dr. Dale is involved with three projects related to the economics of water and electricity.  These include (1) helping the California Energy Commission assess future impacts of climate change on the energy infrastructure of the state, (2) modeling water and energy use in the California Central Valley, (3) estimating the impacts of climate change on water and energy use in Lake Victoria, Africa.  In past years, Dr. Dale has managed studies of (1) the impacts of climate change on hydropower, (2) California water supplies and groundwater and (3) the relationship between climate and demand management programs on household electricity and water usage.

Len Malczynski

Leonard A. Malczynski is an economist and software engineer. Len began his software engineering career with the advent of the first personal computers and has worked with a variety of platforms and operating systems. His specialties are in database management systems, system dynamics modeling and geographic information systems. Over the past ten years he has concentrated on the building of system dynamics models of the nuclear fuel cycle, energy production and consumption, energy-water nexus, international conflict and international migration at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). He was a member of the Office of the Chief Economist at SNL from 1998-2005. His current activities involve professional work in the System Dynamics Society, a software specialization in Powersim Studio, and development of software engineering techniques applicable to system dynamics modeling. Len has also taught information systems courses and microeconomics at the University of New Mexico and the College of Santa Fe since 1988. Prior to SNL he spent 10 years as an independent information systems consultant in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Richard Roos-Collins

Richard Roos-Collins is Legal Director at the Natural Heritage Institute, a public interest law firm based in San Francisco, CA.  Since 1991, he has represented public agencies and non-profit organizations in water and energy matters. 

Richard specializes in settlements in complex, multi-party disputes.  He was trial counsel for California Trout in the Mono Lake Cases, which established a rule of law that water rights must protect public trust resources.  He represented conservation groups in Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s bankruptcy proceeding, resulting in a commitment to protect 140,000 acres of watershed lands in perpetuity. 

Richard is a founder and a director of Hydropower Reform Coalition (Washington, D.C.); Chairman of the Low Impact Hydropower Institute (Portland, ME); and Co-Chair, Agricultural Water Management Council (Sacramento, CA).  Before joining NHI, he was Attorney-Adviser, Office of General Counsel, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1986-1989) and Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice (1989-1991).  He is a graduate of Harvard Law School (1986, honors) and Princeton University (B.A., 1975, high honors).