The increasing importance of water stewardship is creating a need for more precise methods of water quantification to manage and disclose corporate water risk.
WSP USA is developing an innovative methodology and set of factors for quantifying the water consumption associated with electricity generation in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global nonprofit that conducts independent research and offers recommendations that address urgent sustainability challenges and promote economic opportunity and human well-being. The methodology will be presented in a public guidance document, published jointly by WRI and WSP.
“The guidance document and factors will undergo external review by stakeholder and scientific advisory groups whose members will be jointly identified by WSP and WRI,” said Julie Sinistore, project director for WSP in San Francisco.
Sinistore and her colleagues within WSP’s sustainability and energy team were recently awarded a WSP Research & Innovation Fellowship to support this research, which will serve as the basis for the published guidance document. The annual Fellowship Program is designed to foster and accelerate the development and application of innovation by providing seed funding and mentoring.
Sinistore said the research is a team effort, including her and Stefanie Woodward in WSP’s San Francisco office, and Eric Christensen and Josh Nothwang in the Boulder, Colorado office.
With a background in water stewardship, Woodward is serving as liaison with WRI, while Christensen and Nothwang bring expertise in water stewardship and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions accounting. Sinistore’s background in life cycle assessment complements the team’s skill set by offering the scientific basis for individual water factors.
“We are very honored to have been chosen for the fellowship,” Sinistore said. “We look forward to the results of the work because it will be helpful for many of our existing clients and engaging with new clients.”
Research will begin with a review of existing standards, methodologies, data and literature on the subject and identify the primary data sources.
“Once appropriate data sources are identified, we will separate water consumption associated with generating electricity, such as evaporation, from water consumption used to extract fuels, like natural gas, coal and nuclear,” Woodward said.
WSP supports clients in the development of their GHG emissions into three categories, or scopes:
WSP and WRI have access to data that can quantify the Scope 2 water impacts from U.S. electricity generation for the 26 eGRID subregions. eGRID (Emissions and Generation Resource Integrated Database) is a database maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and used by most organizations for GHG inventories.
“By understanding water withdrawals and consumption embedded in electricity generation, organizations can evaluate their exposure to water-related risks associated with purchased electricity, including operational issues caused by electricity generation disruptions stemming from water shortages,” Woodward said.
“This will quantify the water benefits and tradeoffs associated with different technologies, or with changing to less water-intensive sources of electricity and energy generation, such as wind and solar,” Sinistore added. “Overall, this guidance will allow stakeholders to proactively reduce impact on water resources from electricity generation and electricity purchasing.”
One driver of the interest in life cycle water impacts comes from public reporting programs such as CDP, a global nonprofit that collects environmental performance data from companies and sets the course for environmentally responsible business practices. CDP holds the largest collection of company reported climate change, forest and water data in the world. CDP and its annual information requests are backed by 650 institutional investors with nearly $900 trillion in assets under management.
One question the sustainability and energy team is hearing from WSP clients: What are the water impacts of a water-cooled HVAC system compared to an air-cooled HVAC system from the on-site (Scope 1) and upstream (Scopes 2 and 3) perspective?
“In the past few months, two Fortune 100 clients have requested this level of detailed information, but the data and methodology required to answer this question are not currently available,” Christensen said. “Therefore, we will develop a set of water impact factors and methodology for Scope 2 water accounting in electricity generation.”
The research WSP is conducting over the next several months could have a global impact on organizations’ ability to make better choices in their water usage.
WSP and WRI will promote the methodology at conferences and through webinars. Currently, the team plans to discuss the research at the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, in September. Other events are also being considered.
WSP works with organizations of all sizes that face a complex and evolving sustainability landscape. The firm helps clients identify and unlock opportunities that reduce cost, create brand value and mitigate risk to build more resilient organizations that can thrive in a changing global market.
“We coordinate with colleagues across WSP to provide solutions for clients,” Sinistore said. “Having the ability to provide nimble strategy and guidance and follow that up with implementation on the ground has made this process very exciting. Our work with WRI to develop this innovative methodology is an example of that.”
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