Drought Makes Energy Efficiency More Important
How drought and water shortages are related to electricity use.
Hey, who turned off the water?
July 25, 2012 by Steven Castle

Much of the United States is mired in drought conditions, which is not only uncomfortable but is having an effect on food prices as crops in the Midwest remain parched. But how are drought and water shortages related to energy efficiency?

A New York Times article explains:

Our energy system depends on water. About half of the nation’s water withdrawals every day are just for cooling power plants. In addition, the oil and gas industries use tens of millions of gallons a day, injecting water into aging oil fields to improve production, and to free natural gas in shale formations through hydraulic fracturing. Those numbers are not large from a national perspective, but they can be significant locally.

All told, we withdraw more water for the energy sector than for agriculture. Unfortunately, this relationship means that water problems become energy problems that are serious enough to warrant high-level attention.

Woa! Half our water withdrawals cool power plants? Holy smoke! Or maybe a lot less smoke. Conventional coal plants are very thirsty, the Times reports, and coal still produces about 40 percent of our electricity.

What Can We Do?

You can do things to save water around your house, such as:

1. Use Energy Star-rated clothes and dishwashers. They use less electricity and less water, saving on electricity, water, and the fuel to heat water.

2. Use WaterSense-labeled showerheads and bathroom faucets that use less water (2 gallons per minute for showerheads and 1.5 gpm or less for faucets) Or buy an WaterSense-labeled aerator that fits on the end of the faucet. Some faucets even have motion sensors and are self-powered for hands-free use.

3. Use low-flow or dual-flush toilets, which flush different amounts of water for liquid and solid waste.

3. Invest in rainwater harvesting barrels or cisterns (for when it does rain).

4. Use hot water recirculators that send cool water in you home’s hot water pipes back to the water heater and replace it with warm water, so you don’t waste gallons of precious H2O waiting for the hot stuff.

5. Use an automated irrigation system, preferably using rain or moisture sensors or info from local weather services, so you don’t water when it’s raining.

Try not to use as much electricity! Adjusting the thermostat 1 or 2 degrees can result in 1 percent to 3 percent in energy savings. It doesn’t seem like much, but it can add up. Dim lights and invest in energy-saving and long-lasting LED lamps. Plug electronics into switchable surge suppressors or smart surge strips and switch them off when you’re not using them. This will save on vampire or phantom power, which electronics use when not on. (Most homes have 40 or power vampires.) Invest in lighting control, home control, smart and programmable thermostats (many can be remote-controlled by smartphones). Get an energy monitoring or management system to track your usage and see where you’re wasting electricity. There are many, many ways to save energy in your home. And they more you save, the less water a power plant must use to cool itself.

The water you save could be your own.


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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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