Water will be more expensive than you think.
California law requires that a water utility can only collect money to cover its costs and costs have increased and will continue to increase beyond just the rate of inflation.
GMC Commissioning doesn’t just focus on saving electricity. We take a holistic approach to all utilities, including natural gas, and water and sewer. Water is especially important in our area and we understand that water as a limited resource should be tracked and conserved just as much as electricity is today. Even though it is not priced like a limited resource now, we are looking to the future when subsidies can no longer keep down the true cost of water.
Water is cheap. Too cheap to be sustainable. I live in Poway, a city inside San Diego county, which is a classified as a semi-arid climate, just as most surrounding areas. Semi-arid is an area that evaporates more water than it receives through rainfall; i.e. an almost-desert. Because of this, and our ever-increasing population, we must import 99% of our water from other places (Northern California and the Colorado River). For water to get to my tap it must be pumped thousands of miles across the desert, stored, treated, filtered, pumped again, tested and distributed.
My water bill just came in and my total amount due (including sewer charges, taxes and fees) divided by my amount used comes to $0.02 per gallon. I can tell you from experience that this low rate is also true for commercial industries as well. Their rates for regular water (including all fees) is also around $0.02 per gallon. $0.02 per gallon for a renewable but limited natural resource. $0.02 per gallon for fresh, clean, potable, drinkable, on demand, pressurized, always available, use as much as you want, water. In the desert.
So how cheap is $0.02 per gallon? Well it means that a low flow shower head will save about $1 per week. An efficient clothes washer, about $2 a month. A low flow toilet, about $20 per year. On the commercial side, $0.02 per gallon means that without an active corporate sustainability program water waste becomes an accounting rounding error. Water cost can be significant, but in today’s $5 daily cup of coffee world, it’s not a habit changer.
And that’s the problem. The cost of water is too cheap to make instigate substantial consumer changes. In the last few years we have experienced hotter and dryer conditions. In 2015 and 2016 California’s Governor issued an executive order to establish longer-term water conservation measures and ordered cities and towns across California to cut water use by 25% as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions. This included my city as well. It should be as simple as save water to save money. But it is not because water is cheap for the consumer. So, these state and local mandates and restrictions for saving water are necessary. The restrictions work, Poway worked hard to save 23% compared to the year before, but now our rates are going up 5% due to the City’s lost water revenues. In effect, we are being financially penalized for following orders to conserve water during the drought. While I believe an increase is necessary, this method is backwards.
We should all want to save water, not because we are threatened with fines if we don’t, but because water is priced correctly to have a financial impact. People and corporations spend thousands on solar panels, not to save electricity, but to save money in the long term. Where are those people spending thousands on rainwater harvesting or greywater reuse systems?
Water rates should be allowed to include proactive costs for future protection against droughts to come, not reactive to droughts as they pass. Rates should also include the cost of power protection. All power sources need water. We risk losing our power supply with a low water supply. Droughts in Texas in 2006 forced the shutdown of power plants during peak periods and resulted in rolling black-outs. In India, coal-fired power plants and hydroelectric dams have been shut down due to water shortages. This takes me to my next point.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the Water-Energy Nexus. It is real, it is true, and it needs more publicity. Especially if we want to save water. The Water-Energy Nexus is the relationship between and the interdependence of the amount of electricity needed to deliver water and the amount of water needed to deliver electricity. Energy is required at all stages of the water use and wastewater disposal cycle. In California it is estimated that 6 gigawatts of continuous power expenditure or 8% of the state’s total electricity demand is required to serve water consumers. For every gallon that’s about 30 watt-hours. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for the average California household using 360 gallons of water per day that’s 10 kWh, or about five refrigerators worth.
On the flip side, electricity needs water. Most of our electricity is generated in thermoelectric power plants that use a heat source (most often coal, natural gas, or nuclear but occasionally biomass, solar or geothermal) to heat steam and drive a turbine. According to the EPA, every kWh requires the withdraw (use) of 25 gallons of water and the consumption (loss) of 2 gallons.
How does this all tie in?
Knowing that saving electricity also saves water, and saving water also saves electricity makes our job of saving our client’s money on utilities a bit easier. At home, remove grass lawns and install native plants. Only irrigate home grown fruit trees and vegetables. Collect rain. Install low flow fixtures and appliances. For corporations, in addition to low flow fixtures and irrigation, consider high efficient closed loop cooling or air-cooled HVAC systems. Make sure these goals and requirements are part of your Owner's Project Requirements (OPR). Work with local municipalities to use reclaimed water wherever possible. Consider condensate capture. When using open-loop condenser water systems, identify performance metrics for cycles of concentration, and have a 3rd party CxA commission the system. Realize that generating your own power through solar panels saves not just electricity, but water as well. Above all, meter and monitor your utility use. It is getting easier to spot leaks, waste and excess by reviewing your usage. Remember that just because water restrictions have been lifted, we are not out of the drought. At some point the true cost of water will catch up to us. We here at GMC Commissioning can help you avoid the future cost of water.