UC Davis Pilot Project Examines Ways Water Utilities Can Reduce Energy Use

Researchers at the University of California, Davis are working with the Moulton Niguel Water District and Helio Energy Solutions to better understand how water utilities can reduce energy use and help California meet its climate goals.

In May, the UC Davis Center for Water and Energy Efficiency (CWEE) received a $3.1 million research grant through the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program to pilot-test a system that will help water utilities optimize their energy use and reduce operational costs while continuing to meet customers’ water needs.

Roughly 20 percent of California’s electricity and more than 30 percent of its natural gas go to the water system, covering everything from pumping it for delivery to disposing of wastewater. The Moulton Niguel Water District spends about $2 million per year in energy costs to provide water services to its more than 170,000 customers in southern Orange County.

“The energy experts at CWEE are brilliant at finding new ways to be more efficient,” said Joone Lopez, general manager at the Moulton Niguel Water District. “With their help, we hope to be the model for the entire state.”

During the pilot program, CWEE researchers will combine water system hydraulic modeling with Helio Energy Solution’s PredictEnergy software platform to create an energy-management system that adapts to changing energy demands and different energy-rate structures for the district’s potable and recycled water systems. While the process is complex, the plan is simple -- when energy rates are lower, Moulton Niguel will pump more water, and as rates rise, the district plans to cut back its power consumption.

“If adopted widely by urban water systems in California, the strain on the grid during peak hours could be reduced significantly,” said Frank Loge, faculty director of CWEE.

The pilot project is expected to be completed by the end of 2020. “By partnering with UC Davis and the Moulton Niguel Water District, we will be able to provide a solution that reliably and safely delivers results while incentivizing water districts to participate,” said Mike Murray, Helio Energy Solutions president.

Article and photo courtesy of the UC Davis News and Media Relations Office.

Photo: From left, Frank Loge, director of UC Davis' Center for Water and Energy Efficiency, and CWEE project engineer Gabe Paras. (Andrea Martinez/UC Davis)

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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