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  1. Estimating Biofuel Feedstock Water Footprints Using System Dynamics

    Increased biofuel production has prompted concerns about the environmental tradeoffs of biofuels compared to petroleum-based fuels. Biofuel production in general, and feedstock production in particular, is under increased scrutiny. Water footprinting (measuring direct and indirect water use) has been proposed as one measure to evaluate water use in the context of concerns about depleting rural water supplies through activities such as irrigation for large-scale agriculture. Water footprinting literature has often been limited in one or more key aspects: complete assessment across multiple water stocks (e.g., vadose zone, surface, and ground water stocks), geographical resolution of data, consistent representation of manymore » feedstocks, and flexibility to perform scenario analysis. We developed a model called BioSpatial H2O using a system dynamics modeling and database framework. BioSpatial H2O could be used to consistently evaluate the complete water footprints of multiple biomass feedstocks at high geospatial resolutions. BioSpatial H2O has the flexibility to perform simultaneous scenario analysis of current and potential future crops under alternative yield and climate conditions. In this proof-of-concept paper, we modeled corn grain (Zea mays L.) and soybeans (Glycine max) under current conditions as illustrative results. BioSpatial H2O links to a unique database that houses annual spatially explicit climate, soil, and plant physiological data. Parameters from the database are used as inputs to our system dynamics model for estimating annual crop water requirements using daily time steps. Based on our review of the literature, estimated green water footprints are comparable to other modeled results, suggesting that BioSpatial H2O is computationally sound for future scenario analysis. Our modeling framework builds on previous water use analyses to provide a platform for scenario-based assessment. BioSpatial H2O's system dynamics is a flexible and user-friendly interface for on-demand, spatially explicit, water use scenario analysis for many US agricultural crops. Built-in controls permit users to quickly make modifications to the model assumptions, such as those affecting yield, and to see the implications of those results in real time. BioSpatial H2O's dynamic capabilities and adjustable climate data allow for analyses of water use and management scenarios to inform current and potential future bioenergy policies. The model could also be adapted for scenario analysis of alternative climatic conditions and comparison of multiple crops. The results of such an analysis would help identify risks associated with water use competition among feedstocks in certain regions. Results could also inform research and development efforts that seek to reduce water-related risks of biofuel pathways.« less
  2. Energy-Water Microgrid Opportunity Analysis at the University of Arizona's Biosphere 2 Facility

    Microgrids provide reliable and cost-effective energy services in a variety of conditions and locations. There has been minimal effort invested in developing energy-water microgrids that demonstrate the feasibility and leverage synergies of operating renewable energy and water systems in a coordinated framework. Water systems can be operated in ways to provide ancillary services to the electrical grid and renewable energy can be utilized to power water-related infrastructure, but the potential for co-managed systems has not yet been quantified or fully characterized. Energy-water microgrids could be a promising solution to improve energy and water resource management for islands, rural communities, distributedmore » generation, Defense operations, and many parts of the world lacking critical infrastructure. NREL and the University of Arizona have been jointly researching energy-water microgrid opportunities at the University's Biosphere 2 (B2) research facility. B2 is an ideal case study for an energy-water microgrid test site, given its size, its unique mission and operations, the criticality of water and energy infrastructure, and its ability to operate connected to or disconnected from the local electrical grid. Moreover, the B2 is a premier facility for undertaking agricultural research, providing an excellent opportunity to evaluate connections and tradeoffs at the food-energy-water nexus. In this study, NREL used the B2 facility as a case study for an energy-water microgrid test site, with the potential to catalyze future energy-water system integration research. The study identified opportunities for energy and water efficiency and estimated the sizes of renewable energy and storage systems required to meet remaining loads in a microgrid, identified dispatchable loads in the water system, and laid the foundation for an in-depth energy-water microgrid analysis. The foundational work performed at B2 serves a model that can be built upon for identifying relevant energy-water microgrid data, analytical requirements, and operational challenges associated with development of future energy-water microgrids.« less
  3. Examining the Potential for Agricultural Benefits from Pollinator Habitat at Solar Facilities in the United States

    Of the many roles insects serve for ecosystem function, pollination is possibly the most important service directly linked to human well-being. However, land use changes have contributed to the decline of pollinators and their habitats. In agricultural landscapes that also support renewable energy developments such as utility-scale solar energy [USSE] facilities, opportunities may exist to conserve insect pollinators and locally restore their ecosystem services through the implementation of vegetation management approaches that aim to provide and maintain pollinator habitat at USSE facilities. As a first step toward understanding the potential agricultural benefits of solar-pollinator habitat, we identified areas of overlapmore » between USSE facilities and surrounding pollinator-dependent crop types in the United States (U.S.). Using spatial data on solar energy developments and crop types across the U.S., and assuming a pollinator foraging distance of 1.5 km, we identified over 3,500 km2 of agricultural land near existing and planned USSE facilities that may benefit from increased pollination services through the creation of pollinator habitat at the USSE facilities. The following five pollinator-dependent crop types accounted for over 90% of the agriculture near USSE facilities, and these could benefit most from the creation of pollinator habitat at existing and planned USSE facilities: soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, almonds, and citrus. We discuss how our results may be used to understand potential agro-economic implications of solar-pollinator habitat. Our results show that ecosystem service restoration through the creation of pollinator habitat could improve the sustainability of large-scale renewable energy developments in agricultural landscapes.« less
  4. Water-Related Power Plant Curtailments: An Overview of Incidents and Contributing Factors

    Water temperatures and water availability can affect the reliable operations of power plants in the United States. Data on water-related impacts on the energy sector are not consolidated and are reported by multiple agencies. This study provides an overview of historical incidents where water resources have affected power plant operations, discusses the various data sources providing information, and creates a publicly available and open access database that contains consolidated information about water-related power plant curtailment and shut-down incidents. Power plants can be affected by water resources if incoming water temperatures are too high, water discharge temperatures are too high, ormore » if there is not enough water available to operate. Changes in climate have the potential to exacerbate uncertainty over water resource availability and temperature. Power plant impacts from water resources include curtailment of generation, plant shut-downs, and requests for regulatory variances. In addition, many power plants have developed adaptation approaches to reducing the potential risks of water-related issues by investing in new technologies or developing and implementing plans to undertake during droughts or heatwaves. This study identifies 42 incidents of water-related power plant issues from 2000-2015, drawing from a variety of different datasets. These incidents occur throughout the U.S., and affect coal and nuclear plants that use once-through, recirculating, and pond cooling systems. In addition, water temperature violations reported to the Environmental Protection Agency are also considered, with 35 temperature violations noted from 2012-2015. In addition to providing some background information on incidents, this effort has also created an open access database on the Open Energy Information platform that contains information about water-related power plant issues that can be updated by users.« less
  5. Energy-Water-Land-Climate Nexus: Modeling Impacts from the Asset to the Regional Scale.

    Abstract not provided.
  6. Long-term implications of sustained wind power growth in the United States: Potential benefits and secondary impacts

    We model scenarios of the U.S. electric sector in which wind generation reaches 10% of end-use electricity demand in 2020, 20% in 2030, and 35% in 2050. As shown in a companion paper, achieving these penetration levels would have significant implications for the wind industry and the broader electric sector. Compared to a baseline that assumes no new wind deployment, under the primary scenario modeled, achieving these penetrations imposes an incremental cost to electricity consumers of less than 1% through 2030. These cost implications, however, should be balanced against the variety of environmental and social implications of such a scenario.more » Relative to a baseline that assumes no new wind deployment, our analysis shows that the high-penetration wind scenario yields potential greenhouse-gas benefits of $85-$1,230 billion in present-value terms, with a central estimate of $400 billion. Air-pollution-related health benefits are estimated at $52-$272 billion, while annual electric-sector water withdrawals and consumption are lower by 15% and 23% in 2050, respectively. We also find that a high-wind-energy future would have implications for the diversity and risk of energy supply, local economic development, and land use and related local impacts on communities and ecosystems; however, these additional impacts may not greatly affect aggregate social welfare owing to their nature, in part, as resource transfers.« less
  7. Prospective Costs, Benefits, and Impacts of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards

    These slides were presented at a webinar on January 9, 2017. The slides overview a report that evaluates the future costs, benefits, and other impacts of renewable energy used to meet current state renewable portfolio standards (RPSs). It also examines a future scenario where RPSs are expanded. The analysis examines changes in electric system costs and retail electricity prices, which include all fixed and operating costs, including capital costs for all renewable, non-renewable, and supporting (e.g., transmission and storage) electric sector infrastructure; fossil fuel, uranium, and biomass fuel costs; and plant operations and maintenance expenditures. The analysis evaluates three specificmore » benefits: air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use. It also analyzes two other impacts, renewable energy workforce and economic development, and natural gas price suppression. The analysis finds that the benefits or renewable energy used to meet RPS polices exceed the costs, even when considering the highest cost and lowest benefit outcomes.« less
  8. The environmental and public health benefits of achieving high penetrations of solar energy in the United States

    We estimate the environmental and public health benefits that may be realized if solar energy cost reductions continue until solar power is competitive across the U.S. without subsidies. Specifically, we model, from 2015 to 2050, solar power-induced reductions to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollutant emissions, and water usage. To find the incremental benefits of new solar deployment, we compare the difference between two scenarios, one where solar costs have fallen such that solar supplies 14% of the nation's electricity by 2030 and 27% by 2050, and a baseline scenario in which no solar is added after 2014. We monetizemore » benefits, where credible methods exist to do so. We find that under these scenarios, solar power reduces GHG and air pollutants by ~10%, from 2015 to 2050, providing a discounted present value of $56-$789 billion (central value of ~$250 billion, equivalent to ~2 cents/kWh-solar) in climate benefits and $77-$298 billion (central value of $167 billion, or ~1.4 cents/kWh-solar) in air quality and public health benefits. The ranges reflect uncertainty within the literature about the marginal impact of emissions of GHG and air pollutants. Solar power is also found to reduce water withdrawals and consumption by 4% and 9%, respectively, including in many drought-prone states.« less
  9. A retrospective analysis of benefits and impacts of U.S. renewable portfolio standards

    As states consider revising or developing renewable portfolio standards (RPS), they are evaluating policy costs, benefits, and other impacts. We present the first U. S. national-level assessment of state RPS program benefits and impacts, focusing on new renewable electricity resources used to meet RPS compliance obligations in 2013. In our central-case scenario, reductions in life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from displaced fossil fuel-generated electricity resulted in $2.2 billion of global benefits. Health and environmental benefits from reductions in criteria air pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter 2.5) were even greater, estimated at $5.2 billion in the central case. Furthermore » benefits accrued in the form of reductions in water withdrawals and consumption for power generation. Finally, although best considered resource transfers rather than net societal benefits, new renewable electricity generation used for RPS compliance in 2013 also supported nearly 200,000 U. S.-based gross jobs and reduced wholesale electricity prices and natural gas prices, saving consumers a combined $1.3-$4.9 billion. In total, the estimated benefits and impacts well-exceed previous estimates of RPS compliance costs.« less
  10. Thermal pollution impacts on rivers and power supply in the Mississippi River watershed

    Thermal pollution from power plants degrades riverine ecosystems with ramifications beyond the natural environment as it affects power supply. The transport of thermal effluents along river reaches may lead to plant-to-plant interferences by elevating condenser inlet temperatures at downstream locations, which lower thermal efficiencies and trigger regulatory-forced power curtailments. We evaluate thermal pollution impacts on rivers and power supply across 128 plants with once-through cooling technologies in the Mississippi River watershed. By leveraging river network topologies with higher resolutions (0.05 degrees) than previous studies, we reveal the need to address the issue in a more spatially resolved manner, capable ofmore » uncovering diverse impacts across individual plants, river reaches and sub-basins. Results show that the use of coarse river network resolutions may lead to substantial overestimations in magnitude and length of impaired river reaches. Overall, there is a modest limitation on power production due to thermal pollution, given existing infrastructure, regulatory and climate conditions. However, tradeoffs between thermal pollution and electricity generation show important implications for the role of alternative cooling technologies and environmental regulation under current and future climates. Recirculating cooling technologies may nearly eliminate thermal pollution and improve power system reliability under stressed climate-water conditions. Regulatory limits also reduce thermal pollution, but at the expense of significant reductions in electricity generation capacity. However, results show several instances when power production capacity rises at individual plants when regulatory limits reduce upstream thermal pollution. Furthermore, these dynamics across energy-water systems highlight the need for high-resolution simulations and the value of coherent planning and optimization across infrastructure with mutual dependencies on natural resources to overcome climate-water constraints on productivity and bring to fruition energy and environmental win-win opportunities.« less

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