Water-Energy Considerations in Californian’s Agricultural Sector and Opportunities Provide Flexibility to California’s Grid

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Water and energy use on farms are deeply linked, and trends changing the way water is used on farms have implications for the electrical grid, and vice versa. In 2014, California’s agricultural sector accounted for approximately 80% of the state’s water consumption and 5% of its electricity use. The majority of the electricity was for surface conveyance and groundwater pumping. Diminishing surface water availability and increasing reliance on groundwater pumping are likely to increase future energy demand. These trends are coincident with farms embracing new precision irrigation technologies that increase water productivity and crop yield, but may have the potential of other collateral effects, such as increasing energy intensity of irrigation and total electricity use, and thus demand on the grid. The impacts of these technologies and their loads on the electrical grid have been explored only to a limited degree, and the potential grid benefits afforded by these technologies have been studied even less. For example, studies show that California’s increasing adoption of renewable electricity may result in excess generation during certain periods of the day, and that responsive load management (i.e. demand response) may be a cost-effective method to shift loads to utilize this excess generation. The degree to which farms in California do or can provide responsive loads has not been explored. In this paper, we explore whether farms that are adopting technologies and automation for irrigation management can provide co-benefits to the grower and the electrical grid. To do so, we define the characteristics of future grid needs specifically related to responsive load management, explore existing market mechanisms and policies for proving those resources, estimate the temporal distribution of energy use for irrigation in California, and develop scenarios of how irrigation loads might meet these needs. We conclude by exploring potential ancillary service benefits and associated revenues that California’s agricultural industry may provide. Ancillary services include using loads to dynamically adjust demand on the system to alleviate short-run ramps and disturbances at timescales ranging from seconds up to an hour. With higher penetrations of renewable resources, larger quantities of ancillary services will be necessary and may become more valuable to the grid than traditional demand response. Ancillary services from agricultural loads is a nascent topic, and no such analysis has been conducted to quantify its benefits to our knowledge.

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