Navigant Research Blog

Drought-Plagued California Looks to Smart Water System

— February 4, 2014

In drought-stricken California, an effective approach for helping people curb their energy consumption has shown similar results in helping them reduce their use of water.  It could also be a forerunner of similar programs in other regions that suffer from chronic water scarcity.

The 1-year pilot was conducted among residents living within East Bay Municipal Utility District’s (EBMUD’s) service territory, which includes Oakland and its surrounding suburbs.  Results from an independent study showed that when participants received information comparing their water consumption to neighborhood averages, usage decreased by 5% on average.

The pilot employed a “behavioral water efficiency” approach that has been used by numerous U.S. electric utilities to encourage customers to reduce consumption.  Opower, for example, uses this behavioral-based approach for energy utilities.  In EBMUD’s case, the technology provider was WaterSmart Software, which applies analytics and behavioral science tools to crunch data and provide consumers with feedback information and tips for cutting consumption.


The 10,000 EBMUD residential customers involved in the pilot received easy-to-comprehend water use reports for their home and compared consumption to similar-sized homes in the nearby area.  There was a control group set up to make sure other factors, like weather or other customer behavior, did not affect the estimated water savings.  It should be noted that the East Bay pilot was the first large-scale implementation of this type of technology by an urban water utility.

The pilot was partially funded by the California Water Foundation, which concluded that this type of behavior-based water use report, if implemented by other water utilities in California, could help meet state requirements to shrink per-capita water use by 20% by 2020.  And with Governor Jerry Brown’s recent declaration of a state of emergency due to drought, wider implementation of this reporting approach could spread rather quickly.

The East Bay study shows that saving water by providing more granular, timely, and actionable consumption data is an approach that can work.  This solution is bound to be used elsewhere in the United States, especially the Southwest and other regions where drought is an ongoing threat.  In a larger context, the pilot strengthens the case for using data analytics to help drive greater efficiency in water systems, as noted in a previous blog and in Navigant Research’s report, Smart Water Networks.  This is not to say upgraded hardware such as smart water meters and leak detecting sensor aren’t helpful, too.  The best practice will be to integrate both big data and smarter equipment to bring greater efficiencies to water systems.


Climate Change Discourse Ignores Immediate Impacts

— February 4, 2014

In President Obama’s State of the Union address, he delivered a passionate statement on climate change: “The debate is settled.  Climate change is a fact.  And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Political discussions on the scientific legitimacy of climate change tend to ignore the enormous short-term consequences of relying on fossil fuels for the majority of our energy consumption.  According to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), air pollution causes 200,000 premature deaths each year in the United States.  Vehicle emissions were found to be the biggest contributor to these early deaths (53,000), with power generation following closely behind (52,000).  Surprisingly, statistics like these are largely absent in the public discourse on climate change.  Controversies, such as Obama’s ordering the EPA to curb coal power plant emissions, and outdated arguments over the scientific merits of climate change obscure the immediate public health and air pollution impacts of fossil fuels.

Clearing the Air

Perhaps the second most surprising element of the MIT study, behind the sheer amount of pollution-related deaths that occur every year, is that road transportation caused more emissions-related premature deaths than electricity generation.   The fact that cars and trucks tend to travel within more populated areas, thus releasing tailpipe emissions in and around densely populated areas, is a potential explanation.  This is another reason why electric vehicles (EVs) offer so much promise.  With no local vehicle emissions, the increased use of EVs can improve local air quality in urban areas.   An EV emits roughly half the amount of carbon pollution per mile as the average new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, based on the United States’ 2012 electricity mix.  In states with higher percentages of renewable energy generation, such as California, EVs emit only one-quarter as much.  According to Navigant Research’s report Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts, the United States will remain the largest light duty plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market in the world, with forecast sales of 467,000 vehicles in 2022 (compared to 129,098 for 2014).

This growth will help alleviate dangerous local emissions that contribute to the high level of premature deaths outlined in the MIT report.  Whether you question the science of climate change or not, 200,000 untimely deaths per year from air pollution should be enough to support action on emissions reductions and promote the adoption of clean energy and clean transportation technologies.


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