Geodesign Session 3A - San Diego and Baja - Maps Tell the San Diego & Northern Baja Story – We Are Connected

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

San Diego and Baja

San Diego County lies in a region that has been stricken with its 4th consecutive year of drought as of 2015.  The latest research indicates that California’s reservoirs and groundwater basins have been drastically depleted.  Although this drought has made the region significantly drier, Southern California’s water consumption increased 8% from 2013-2014.  These factors have turned the situation into a crisis for California as it struggles to diversify its sources of freshwater.  Some activists have turned the attention towards the irrigation required for agriculture, which represents 80% of California’s freshwater use as of 2014.  Certain water intensive crops, namely almonds, have been criticized for using too much of CA’s water.  Though, farmers counter this by defending legal water rights, some of which go back to the 1920s.  They also emphasize CA’s place as an agricultural powerhouse, in this case producing some 80% of the world’s almonds.  Nonetheless, as one of CA’s heaviest water consumers, San Diego County should steer away from blaming one particular group and instead focus on its plan for water diversification.  The county’s current methods in recycling have been very successful, and Carlsbad’s desalination plant is about to go up and running at the end of this year (2015).  However, these only account for a small percentage of the county’s water usage and there is still much that needs to be done. 

Even though Southern California’s water situation isn’t in a suitable position, its renewable energy situation has performed far better than expectations. San Diego County stands out as a city with the infrastructure and innovation to adopt renewable energy. The city is known for its common trend in using solar PV technology on thousands of rooftops, not only for large commercial buildings but also homeowners as well.  However, it has yet to take full advantage of the vast potential for solar energy out east, and down south towards Northern Baja and Mexico. California’s renewable portfolio standard stated that all retail sellers of electricity must have 33% of their load with renewable energy by 2020, but California has already passed that number. Furthermore, a goal of 80% was set by 2050 but with the current pace California will comfortably surpass that mark. Clearly, the underlying question is that how did California as a whole as well as the San Diego region manage to achieve this feat?

One of the key reasons for this success is due to the decreasing cost and the increasing efficiency of solar and wind energy. In order to incentivize solar and wind developers and consumers, the federal and state governments have set multiple policies and rebate programs. Primarily, there are two kinds of tax credits that have allowed the large scale development of solar and wind farms within the United States. The first is the investment tax credit that allows a lucrative offer for investors and the second is the production tax credit which helps subsidizing the cost of building these facilities. On the flip side, San Diego is plagued with one of the highest percentages of Carbon Emissions coming solely from transportation at 55%.  Every day, San Diegans travel some 60 million vehicle miles; with roughly 3.1 million people living in the county that averages nearly 20 miles on the road per person each day.  San Diegan groups such as SANDAG have focused on this use in recent years and is the driving problem in their new Master Plan.  This plan includes a revitalization of San Diego’s transit, including more trolley and train access, more bus routes, and widespread bike paths around dense areas to act as a disincentive to driving a car every day.  By implementing these ideas, San Diego can become a cleaner and less congested city in the near distant future.

With tremendous research, photovoltaic cells have reduced their cost significantly and have also increased their average lifetimes. Furthermore, solar energy is no longer limited to daytime use as the solar thermal technology allows us to store the solar energy as heat energy. However, this is only a viable solution in colder regions of the world such as the United States. Through GIS mapping techniques, we see that the Southwest United States has the greatest potential of solar energy. Hence, there has been more solar development around that region and in particular California. Also, San Diego has the most rooftop PV installations in the nation which has led to an increasing number of jobs within this industry. Advancements in wind energy technology has improved the quality of the rotors and blades and has lowered cost of production. Clearly, we can see that Midwest has the greatest wind potential and Texas has the greatest production capability. Moreover, the GIS software shows us that there is a vast wind potential offshore especially on the west coast. But, if we zoom into the San Diego region we see there is hardly any wind potential except inland (East County).

Baja’s water situation is similar to San Diego’s water situation and both regions face a drought, but the impacts are more severe in Baja. Because of a limited infrastructure, the drought in Baja affects the agricultural sector and hydrological cycle the most. Consequently, there has been an over-drafting of aquifers that has ultimately led to saltwater intrusion in the ground. In addition to this, Baja’s population is increasing rapidly which has led to a high pressure on water resources. Hence, the government has resorted to water allocation schemes so that the demand and supply of water can be regulated. However, the government has managed to implement a good solution in order to reuse at least 1/2 of the water allocated for household purposes. Mexico is primarily a fossil fuel economy and it relies heavily on natural gas to power up its industries. Also, Mexico uses the natural gas for cooking purposes which has led to massive CO2 emissions. However, using the GIS mapping tool we have been able to identify opportunities for solar and wind development in the Baja region. In the Northwest of Baja, the solar irradiance is greater than 7.5 KWh/m^2/day and there are existing transmission lines. Lastly, there is good wind potential in the center of Baja but the infrastructure hasn’t been setup as of now.


Brazil ranks eighth in the world in total electricity generation at 538 TWh. Most of its electricity generation comes from Hydropower (63.2%) and Thermal Power Plant (28.4%). Taking into account the seasonal rainfall in Brazil, it is important to diversify the sources of energy. The dependence on just one energy source makes the electricity supply vulnerable. This issue is noticeable in the Southeast of the country, which is facing a water crisis that has been damaging the water supply and energy generation. By analyzing GIS maps of wind, hydro, and solar energy potential, it is possible to affirm that Brazil is in a privileged level on renewable energy production and therefore achieve 100% renewable from these resources. This information is also supported by several GIS maps and graphs with existing power plants and their capacities already existing in Brazil. Currently, a small amount of the electricity generation comes from solar and wind farms. However, Brazil has a high potential of wind and solar energy. The current issue holding this back is a lack of investments in these resources to generate energy. This issue can be noticed prominently with the lack of Brazilian solar farms, whereupon their generation currently is 0.01% of the total generation of energy in Brazil. Moreover, by analyzing demographic maps of Brazil it is possible to see where the higher demands of energy are. Furthermore, these maps could be used for future studies of where the best spots to build a renewable energy power plant are.

Brazil has a plenty of water, accounting to 12% of the total freshwater in the world. However, its natural distribution by basins does not fit to the most dense urban centers located at the Southeast and coastal areas. In addition to this, baseline water stress is proportional to population density in metropolitan regions. This can be seen in major cities in Brazil such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro which both show extremely high water stress according to the World Resource Institute (WRI). The highest percentage of water use and water waste both go to the agricultural sector. Mostly due to the lack of farmer management and old water supply infrastructure, the total water waste reaches almost 40% of the total treated water in the country. Besides this distribution and management problem, Brazil is also vulnerable to varying levels of annual and seasonal water supply. The high dependence in regular rainfalls for water supply and energy generation has lead the country to its most severe drought in eight decades. At the same time, in the middle of Climate Change disturbances, Brazil has also faced frequent floods. Urban pollution and soil impermeability combined with government short-term protection are the main causes of this issue. Concurrently and interconnected with water concerns, the recent increase in deforestation at the Amazon forest has hugely affected the CO2 emissions and “flying rivers” flow to the Southern regions. In order to solve these persistent problems, best practices throughout the world should be considered and analyzed to solve this national water stress and energy demand.




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    Global Energy Network International Summer Series: Geodesign 2015SESSION 3 - Thursday July 23 - "Maps tell the story of San Diego and Northern Baja. We are Connected"Geodesign* - Engineering the Transition...
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