Out West student blog

The (Electrical) Cost of Moving Water

Nathaniel Ramos snaps a selfie while taking a break from work as an intern with the California Department of Water Resources. (Photo credit: Nathaniel Ramos)

By Nathaniel Ramos '21 

Hometown: Watsonville, CA
Major: Environmental Systems Engineering
Intern, Department of Water Resources

Why did you want to do this internship?

My studies focus on water and energy, yet they have rarely overlapped--this internship provides me with the opportunity to work in that nexus! I’ve been drawn to water and energy largely due to my home region, an agricultural part of the Monterey Bay area. Since coming to college, I’ve worked on drinking water issues in my home region, and through these experiences I saw the dire impacts of climate change already visible in our local water issues. This galvanized my passion for environmental justice and for working towards a just transition from a carbon-based economy to a more equitable, cleaner one. Through this internship, I get to work on bringing more renewable energy, and potentially battery storage, to the single largest user of electricity in California--the State Water Project. 

How does your role support the host organization’s mission?

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) strives to sustainably manage the water resources of California and protect, restore, and enhance natural environments. This summer, I am interning on a team under the State Water Project (SWP), the nation’s largest water storage and delivery program, which supplies water to more than 27 million people and irrigates around 750,000 acres of farmland. DWR has also set bold Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reductions goals, aiming to make its energy sources 75% carbon-free by 2030, and 100% carbon-free by 2045. My team is committed to identifying and implementing ways to reduce the SWP’s GHG emissions and bolster the SWP’s sources of renewable energy.

Describe one project you will be working on this summer.

The main project I am working on this summer aims to design and implement a solar plant at a pumping station in the Central Valley, with the potential for my project to be replicated at nearby stations. At first, this seemed quite daunting to me, as I have no experience with this kind of work. However, my team has supported me along the way, guiding me in conducting various analyses through Excel. This project has me analyzing historic monthly electricity usage at the Buena Vista Pumping Plant, which allows me to then determine, with a level of uncertainty, how big of a solar plant we would need to match that usage. With further analysis, my team can then start working with developers to build this plant, and to perhaps add battery storage and optimization techniques down the line. 

How does this project relate to your studies and/or career goals?

After working on local drinking water issues last summer, I felt a sense of urgency to work on implementing renewable energy projects, but I felt at a loss as to how to fit that into the last stretch of my undergraduate education as a first-generation college student. Thankfully, this internship is giving me an opportunity to do just that, introducing me to a new field that I may be interested in pursuing after college. This experience has also affirmed my desire to pursue a coterminal master’s in the Atmosphere/Energy program to further hone my energy modelling and analysis skills so I can work on these kinds of projects at scale. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy listening to podcasts, making playlists, hiking (especially in the Santa Cruz Mountains!), and devoting my time to environmental justice organizations and causes, on campus and in broader Bay Area-Monterey Bay communities.

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