Energy Excursions

Water-Energy Nexus in Texas

Here in Texas, 90% of the power load we use is managed within our state. Most of Texas has its own power grid, the Texas Interconnection, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The map below shows several geographic areas of Texas where other operators manage the grid. ERCOT’s management over 75% of the geographic area of Texas is much different than the rest of the country, where electricity grids are interconnected across state lines. While there are few spots where the grid is connected outside of state boundaries, for the most part Texas cannot rely on interstate (state-to-state connectivity) electricity generation, like the rest of the country.1Young, M. (2015, November 17). Understanding the synergies of the Texas water-energy-land nexus. https://cgmf.org/blog-entry/176/Understanding-the-synergies-of-the-Texas-water-energy-land-nexus.html

Regional Reliability Councils and Interconnections in North America. The Texas Interconnection is operated by ERCOT. Notice that a few geographic regions in Texas are operated outside of ERCOT. El Paso and the far western corner of the Trans Pecos are under the Western Electric Coordinating Council (WECC). The Panhandle, South Plains and a corner of Northeast Texas are under the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). The southeast corner of Texas is under the Southeastern Electric Reliability Corporation (SERC).

To meet electricity demand, both power generation and water supply must be adequate, and much of the state is self-sufficient with regard to these resources. Coordinating these resource needs can be complicated. Frequent assessment of supply and demand for electricity consumption, and the impacts it has on land and water sources are necessary. The synergy between impacts on water resources and the Texas landscape is a principal topic discussed when assessing energy demand for electricity consumption today and into the future.2Young, M. (2015, November 17). Understanding the synergies of the Texas water-energy-land nexus. https://cgmf.org/blog-entry/176/Understanding-the-synergies-of-the-Texas-water-energy-land-nexus.html

These conversations [about the connections between water, energy, and land] are meant to illustrate the strong feedback loops between these very tangible, physical resources, and how policy and management decisions on one resource affect the quantity and movement of another resource… and the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts.3Young, M. (2015, November 17). Understanding the synergies of the Texas water-energy-land nexus. https://cgmf.org/blog-entry/176/Understanding-the-synergies-of-the-Texas-water-energy-land-nexus.html

Dr. Michael Young, Senior Research Scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology

Decision Support Systems

We can now expand our discussion to the water-energy-land nexus in Texas and the global “decision support systems” that are needed. Decision support systems are integrative systems, typically shown through computer software to understand synergies and impacts of the various resources. These systems can then be used by companies responsible for electricity generation to assess and make decisions on what energy source will best satisfy current supply and demand for the various resources, as well as its land impact. This technique has been utilized by large energy corporations such as BP, and their “Energy Sustainability Challenge.” The mission behind BP’s efforts is to better understand how water resources and the land are impacted by natural resource extraction and electricity generation.4Young, M. (2015, November 17). Understanding the synergies of the Texas water-energy-land nexus. https://cgmf.org/blog-entry/176/Understanding-the-synergies-of-the-Texas-water-energy-land-nexus.html Furthermore, BP then uses these assessments to make better decisions on sources and production technologies with regard to the future trajectory of increasing energy demand.5Thirdperson. (2021, June 23). BP – Energy Sustainability Challenge. Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/83315438

With Texas being one of the world leaders in energy production, the state’s water resources and landscape will become increasingly vulnerable to change. Concentrated efforts have been taken up across the state in government, higher up institutions such as The University of Texas at Austin, and non-profit organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund. These efforts incorporate advocacy, reform at the policy level, and technological advancements for cleaner production and more sustainable use of natural resources.

Career Spotlight: Dr. Michael Young 

Dr. Young’s Academic Background

B.A., Geology (cum laude with honors), Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY, 1983
M.S., Geological Sciences (Hydrogeology), Ohio University, Athens, OH, 1986
Ph.D., Soil and Water Science (Soil Physics/Hydrology), Univ. of Ariz., Tucson, AZ, 19956Bureau of Economic Geology. (n.d.). Dr. Michael H. Young. Bureau of Economic Geology. https://www.beg.utexas.edu/people/michael-young

Dr. Michael Young, Senior Research Scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG), has over thirty-five years of experience working on challenges within the water-energy-land nexus. His research interests encompass various areas including hydrology, soil science, geoscience, and environmental studies. Dr. Young has served as Associate Director of the Environment Division at BEG as well as Executive Director of Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute. Some of Dr. Young’s recent publications focus on landscape impacts, development projections, and water management for energy production here in Texas, including in the Permian Basin, Eagle Ford Shale Play, and West Texas. Currently, he is working to improve data collection and synthesis for water and land resource management, understanding impacts to land resources from energy development (oil and gas, wind and solar), and studying how vegetation in desert lands connect with soil properties and climate.7Bureau of Economic Geology. (n.d.). Dr. Michael H. Young. Bureau of Economic Geology. Retreived July 8, 2021, from https://www.beg.utexas.edu/people/michael-young.8 Bureau of Economic Geology. (2021, January 25). Michael Young returning full time to environmental research. https://www.beg.utexas.edu/news/researchers-corner/2021-01-25

Image Credits: Fjbfour at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Jevanto Productions/Shutterstock.com; Photo Courtesy of the Bureau of Economic Geology ; Bureau of Economic Geology

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