In recent years, the relationship between water and energy, referred to as the energy-water nexus, has become a more compelling focus for energy efficiency programs. Researchers and practitioners are increasingly interested in better understanding this relationship in order to design integrated programs to manage energy and water in tandem. The ACEEE report “Saving Watts to Save Drops: Inclusion of Water Efficiency in Energy Efficiency Programs” laid out specific criteria for assessing the viability of water saving energy efficiency programs. It also serves well as a template for designing a successful program.
Here are five essential considerations to integrate into a well-planned water savings program.
- 1. Robust tracking of water savings
As the saying goes, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” A great example of actionable data is energy utilities that make water savings data available on a regular basis — usually gallons or gallons per minute (GPM) — within annual claimed savings reports. Even better than data is streamlined data. When this data collection is streamlined through leveraging smart electric meter infrastructure, it is doubly useful. It can actually facilitate the joint management of energy and water savings from efficiency programs. Insufficient data, on the other hand, proves to be a formidable barrier to improving such joint management models.
- 2. Goal setting for energy-water savings
As with any resource management program, what determines success from the get-go is establishing clear goals and objectives. For water-saving efforts, this means fine-tuning data tracking so that it aligns with the utility’s short- and/or long-term targets. Examples of exemplary goals are a per capita water consumption reduction goal or a percentage reduction target.
- 3. Incorporation of the avoided costs of water savings
Often overlooked or not factored in are avoided costs, as they also represent a wealth of savings. They are not as easy to track as savings from direct site energy uses such as water heating, and avoided costs are intangible and thus more difficult to quantify. They are often part of the non-energy impacts (NEIs), which the ACEEE report defines as “benefits related to public health, air quality, and other environmental resources.”
Consideration of NEIs is more limited than direct cost savings, but utilities are slowly catching on. NEIs are becoming more integral to long-term planning and are starting to become a point of coordination with water utilities. Far-seeing program administrators who incorporate avoided costs from water savings into cost-effectiveness tallies are able to make better decisions and champion potential cost-effective measures that might otherwise be overlooked.
- 4. Fostering collaboration between energy and water utilities
Traditionally, the water and energy sectors are siloed, managed independently and deliver services through separate utility business models. Given their respective complexities, this makes sense in some ways. But as ACEEE research shows, “joint management of programs offers a variety of benefits, such as allowing program managers to learn from each other, lowering program costs, and achieving greater energy and water savings.”
There are many different ways to foster collaboration between energy and water utilities. These include:
- Informal information sharing
- Development of formal partnering and co-marketing strategies
- Joint funding mechanisms
- Collaborative studies, audits and educational campaigns.
While hurdles such as availability of funding, inadequate guidance to informal location of costs and benefits, and variability in data and pricing policies may make collaboration difficult, the payoff may be well worth overcoming these challenges.
- 5. Promoting innovative equipment and program designs
Utilities are vital for supporting the use of new high-efficiency equipment and technology to spur greater end-use efficiency. The most successful programs leverage and encourage adoption of emerging technologies that contribute to joint water and energy savings. Some of these emerging technologies are programs that promote new devices or appliances, whole-building savings and smart technologies for jointly tracking water and energy savings.
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