If you want to save energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions then focus on urban water conservation. That’s according to a new report entitled Drops of Energy: Conserving Urban Water in California to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (May 2011). The policy paper was produced by the UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment and UCLA School of Law’s Environmental Law Center & Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment.
But why urban water conservation for greenhouse gas emissions?
The energy-water nexus has long been established. According to the California Energy Commission, consumption of water in California requires approximately 20 percent of the state’s electricity, 30 percent of its non-power plant natural gas, and 88 million gallons of diesel fuel annually. All of this energy consumption generates a lot of greenhouse gases.
When examining the state’s energy-water balance sheet, urban water usage constitutes more than 70 percent of the electricity associated with water supply and treatment (7,554 gigawatts for urban compared to 3,188 gigawatts for agriculture). Urban water usage also accounts for almost 80 percent of the electricity associated with end-uses of water (27,887 gigawatts for urban end uses to 7,372 gigawatts for agriculture). So it makes sense that if you want to reduce energy use in the state (and associated greenhouse gas emissions), then tackling urban water consumption should be on the agenda. But there are challenges.
Study authors held a one-day workshop in October 2010 to examine barriers to reducing urban water consumption. Participants included Google, Safeway, Walmart, and various energy and water utilities, among others. The group identified four key barriers:
1) Lack of Financial Incentives to Conserve
2) Insufficient Data
3) Lack of Consumer Awareness
4) Lack of Funds for Water Efficiency Measures
The first barrier is a no-brainer and must be fixed. Water rates must be structured so that users pay more as they use more water and conservation measures are rewarded with short payback periods.
Two barriers seem ripe for innovation. The lack of adequate data about water consumption among end users poses a challenge for both policy makers and for consumers themselves. Many consumers are unaware of their water use and the energy savings associated with water conservation in their communities, residences, and businesses.
According to the report, water utilities should provide consumers with relevant real-time information about water use, when feasible. This information could also include users’ consumption patterns and expenses, as well as the aggregate consumption of their similarly situated neighbors or regional consumption averages. It should link consumption patterns with cost and strategies to conserve.
Another recommendation is to make all the data searchable with easy customer access. Interactive calculators and real-time scenarios would help consumers realize that they could reduce water and energy use, along with associated costs and greenhouse gas emissions, through simply lifestyle changes.
Tackling urban water consumption to reduce energy and greenhouse gas emissions will not be an easy task. But the first step is educating consumers about how and where they use water, and how that usage compares with their neighbors.