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Lab News -- January 18, 2008

January 18, 2008

LabNews 01/18/2008PDF (450 kb)

Sandia researchers develop integrated energy-water model for planning/management purposes

By Chris Burroughs

Water and energy are inextricably linked. It takes large volumes of water to produce energy and significant amounts of low-cost energy to treat and distribute water.

But the planning and management of these fundamental resources have historically been done in isolation.

A Sandia research team is attempting to remedy the situation by developing interactive computer modeling tools that integrate the two for planning and management purposes.

“Our model will allow energy and water producers, resource managers, regulators, and decision makers to look at the different tradeoffs of water use and energy production caused by uncertainties in population, energy demand, climate, and the economy,” says Vince Tidwell (6313), principle investigator.

Specifically, the model will help answer questions dealing with possible energy and water shortfall scenarios for particular regions; tradeoffs between alternate energy futures to meet projected shortfalls; tradeoffs between alternate water allocation schemes; economic and environmental consequences of these alternative futures; and potential consequences of alternative energy, environmental, and/or water policies.

The research is in its second year of three-year funding through Sandia’s internal Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program.

The idea for the modeling program grew out of the Energy-Water Roadmap Development exercise conducted by Sandia and several other entities that addressed major energy- and water-related issues facing the country. The roadmap, which is under review by DOE, shows that energy and water utilities usually don’t work together to resolve joint issues. Lack of coordination could lead to inefficiencies, conflict, and unnecessary stress on natural resources and the environment.

140 billion gallons of water per day

Vince says that currently, electrical power generation requires about 140 billion gallons of water per day, accounting for more than 40 percent of all freshwater withdrawals in the nation. That means thermoelectric generation withdrawals alone are almost equal to those for irrigated agriculture. However unlike agriculture, only a small fraction of the water withdrawn for power production is actually consumed (3.3 billion gallons per day). Nevertheless, withdrawals taken from waterways and aquifers can lead to overdraft conditions while return flows represent a source of thermal pollution.

With power demands in the US expected to increase 30 percent by 2025, Vince questions where the water is going to come from to accommodate new power generation. Related to this is the fact that much of the growth in the US is occurring in the Southwest, a region that already has limited water.

Comparing hundreds of scenarios

Sandia’s computer modeling initiative — drawn on the Labs’ expertise in energy, water, and optimization — might provide some answers to these types of complex issues.

In developing the water-energy model, Vince says, the researchers face three problems — the coupling of complex systems, integration of processes over disparate time and length scales, and the analysis and optimization of these models.

Concurrent with the energy-water modeling, the research team will put together an optimization toolbox that will assist in data analysis. Specifically, optimization will be used to help in the siting of power plants, balancing the energy portfolio (e.g., fossil, nuclear, renewables) to keep pace with growing power demands, and decisions concerning when to build the next power plant. Such decisions might consider cost, availability of water, availability of fuels, access to transmission lines, and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Users will be able to run hundreds of scenarios and see the effects in graphs and tables of their water and energy choices a year from now or decades away,” Vince says.

The model, which will run on a standard PC, uses readily available software and provides rapid feedback.

Len Malczynski (6313), who is doing energy modeling, says the team is now compiling data to go into the program. The model will allow users to tailor their investigations to meet specific needs. For example, they can get results on energy and water scenarios at the national, state, or local levels and will be able to look at specific watersheds. This would be particularly helpful in determining water-energy trends in states like New Mexico where most of the power is generated at in-state plants but used by people from out of state.

Enough data to tell a story

“Energy data is provided by DOE, and water information is coming from different agencies,” says Peter Kobos (6312), who is also doing energy modeling. “The challenge will be to have enough data to tell a story. We think we do. If not, we’ll identify gaps and address them as the project progresses.”

When the project is completed, the researchers expect the model will be available to water and energy utilities, regulators, and decision makers.

Team members: Vince Tidwell, Len Malczynski, Sean McKenna, Suzanne Pierce, and Geoff Klise (all 6313), Michael Baca (6332), Stephen Conrad and Thomas Corbett (both 6322), Bill Hart (1412), and Peter Kobos (6312). -- Chris Burroughs

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NISAC assists in California wildfiresSandia's Combustion Research Facility


By Stephanie Holinka

While emergency response groups from all over the country converged to fight the recent wildfires in California, a small group of people at Sandia and Los Alamos were placed on 24/7 operational status, supplying critical information to help decision makers and planners who had to anticipate cleanup and rebuilding activities in the wake of the fires’ devastating effects.

The National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center’s (NISAC’s) core partners are Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. Working under the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection (DHS OIP), NISAC uses the labs’ expertise in modeling and simulating complex systems to examine both natural events and disruptions to manmade infrastructure in light of national security issues. Their work allows decision makers to have more robust information before they make critical infrastructure decisions during natural disasters or after a terrorist event.

When events like hurricanes threaten — and sometimes long before — the NISAC team mobilizes to provide planners with projected impacts and consequences; in the case of hurricanes, reports indicating potential vulnerabilities are provided days to hours ahead of landfall. Those areas can be supplied with more emergency resources.

During the wildfires, NISAC’s analysts were pulling together disparate data on everything from ecology and infrastructure surety to potential impacts on housing prices. Their analysis showed how localized interruptions could affect larger regional and national economies and infrastructure systems.

As an increasingly interconnected society, the US relies heavily on its infrastructure systems running smoothly. When an area is disrupted, the consequences to the nation can be surprising and unexpected. Understanding the synergies and interactions among complex systems like public health, ecology, and the economy requires the synthesis and integration of huge sets of data, and often those data sets come from groups that are not accustomed to sharing information.

During an emergency event like the wildfires or a terrorist threat, and sometimes before an anticipated event such as a hurricane, NISAC feeds information to DHS about projected impacts. Catastrophic events have consequences for the economy and for national security that may not be immediately apparent or recognizable.

First responders know the situation on the ground, but they often do not know how local impacts affect the larger infrastructure, and how these impacts cascade, affecting the nation’s economy. Those impacts are not the primary concern of first responders who must deal with more immediate needs like saving lives and protecting property.

NISAC employs experts from a variety of disciplines including systems analysis, computer science, economics, biology, chemistry, the physical sciences, and engineering to examine scenarios of disruption from a variety of viewpoints. The NISAC Fast Analysis and Simulation Team (FAST, led by Nancy Brodsky at Sandia under Theresa Brown, the Sandia NISAC lead) mobilizes people with the requisite expertise; 20-25 Sandians from the Systems Engineering and Analysis business area (6320) and numerous LANL NISAC personnel worked on the wildfire analyses. Each expert contributes his or her analysis to a report provided to those who may respond to such events in the future and to those who must clean up in the aftermath.

During Hurricane Katrina, for example, the NISAC analysis showed that some manufacturers of critical raw materials for the medical supply industry were prevented from distributing their raw materials by blocked transportation routes. If they had been disrupted for too long, shortages of the raw materials could have impacted the availability and safety of medical services nationwide.

During Katrina, NISAC examined issues such as where significant electricity outages might occur and for how long, and where storm surge and power outages could disrupt telecommunications, energy production, or other infrastructure.

In his visit during the NISAC building’s dedication last year, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff praised the creation of NISAC, stating that “people who have to make decisions need accessible and reliable information.” He praised the “willingness of the Labs to adapt to 21st century challenges and step forward” to address the types of problems that may someday face the nation. -- Stephanie Holinka

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