Water isn’t as sexy as solar, doesn’t carry the smart grid’s geek cred or inspire green technolust like the Fisker Karma or Tesla Roadster electric sports cars. But as a new Natural Resources Defense Council report drives home, it could be one of the biggest climate-change related business opportunities of the new century.
The NRDC study focuses on California, where drought, a growing population and the specter of global warming-triggered water shortages demand innovative water efficiency policies and technological solutions. Just like California has kept its per capita energy consumption flat over the past 30 years as its population doubled through energy efficiency standards, the reports’ authors say that the Golden State must take the same approach with water.
“Such measures can help stretch limited water supplies, save businesses, money, reduce energy consumption, improve water quality, and protect local, regional, and statewide ecosystems,” wrote authors Ronnie Cohen, Kristina Ortez and Crossley Pinkstaff.
They focus on the so-called commercial, industrial and institutional sector, or CII — i.e. Big Business and Big Government — and the takeaway headline is that if those water consumers cut their consumption by implementing existing conservation technology they would save enough H2O to supply the coastal metropolises of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
As has been oft pointed out, a great deal of energy is expended to transport and manage water — 20% of California’s electricity production is water-related, according to the state’s energy commission — and cutting water use will also slash companies’ electricity bill and, not incidentally, greenhouse gas emissions.
The report says that CII accounts for one-third of California’s urban water use. Taking such prosaic measures as installing aerators on faucets, low-flow shower heads and energy efficient commercial dishwashers and washers can save millions of gallons of water. Take toilets, for example. Urinals alone — pay attention guys — consume 15% of the water used in commercial restrooms. Switching to waterless urinals would save 45,000 gallons a year per urinal, according to the report.
More high tech measures involve deploying smart irrigation systems that use sensor networks to determine when to turn on the sprinklers at all those golf courses built in the California desert and in suburban communities throughout the state. Needless to say, much of the opportunity in Big Water be for consultants and policymakers.
The whale in the room, of course, is Big Agriculture. Ag was beyond the scope of the NRDC report but it is the biggest consumer of water in California and has often been the most resistance to change or paying the true cost of such things as growing rice and alfalfa in the desert.
But as far as the commercial and government sectors go, the report concludes with these policy recommendations:
- “Establish efficiency standards for water-using products.
- Set performance-based water savings targets that provide water agencies with flexibility.
- Prioritize water conservation above increasing supply.
- Adopt a Public Goods Charge on water sales to provide a dedicated funding source for water efficiency programs, including expanded technical and financial assistance.
- Encourage partnerships with—and financial support from—energy utilities and wastewater agencies.
- Streamline the process for recycled water use.
- Encourage volumetric pricing for sewer services.
- Decouple water agencies’ sales from revenue.
- Improve water use data collection and management.”