Can New York Replicate Water Success with Energy

New York does have a successful sustainability model that should be studied for lessons on how conserve electricity: WATER

From 1979 to 2005 the city reduced it's total consumption of water by 28% from 1.512 Billion gallons of water a day to 1.086 Billion gallons of water a day. At the same time the city had increasing population, making this feat even more impressive as per capita water consumption fell from a high of 208 gallons per person in 1988 to 136 in 2003.

And most of what made this successful was a concerted effort to install more efficient infrastructure, find and eliminate waste in the system and price people more directly on what they use.

From a NY Times article in October 2006 (behind the paywall) we learn:

Experts say the large drop in water consumption is a phenomenon more akin to the drop in crime and in the welfare rolls: products of government policy.

The city now requires water-saving plumbing fixtures and devices in renovations and new construction, it has been more diligent in finding and fixing leaks, and since the late 1980's it has been metering residential customers' water use. (Even so, water bills are often challenged and some go unpaid.) Before then, property owners were charged a flat fee based on a building's street frontage and number of plumbing fixtures.

There are some pretty direct parallels. Requiring or heavily incentivizing investment in energy efficient lighting and household appliances when folks are renovating or building would have a huge impact on electrical demand. New York should pass additional green building legislation to include an energy efficiency code for new private development or household renovations.

The City should identify buildings, households, businesses that use significantly above average amounts of electricity and inspect them for any violations of city codes and assuming they are operating within the law, offer them incentives to reduce their electric bill.

Finally it's time to rationalize how people get billed for their electric consumption. Currently there is a huge component of the electric and gas bill that is fixed and remains in place no matter how low your electric consumption is. New York State should move electricity pricing to a straight variable cost that increases the charge per KhH with higher consumption.

My guess, and it's only that, is that something happened in NYC similar to London in the same time.

A lot of water consuming industries (like printing, or brewing) moved out of London, and I am guessing NYC as well. The shift to residential/commercial from industrial saved a lot of water.

I am sure you are way ahead of us on metering (most still on flat rate) and leak control (we lose 30% of Thames Water's flow to leaks). We still have Victorian iron sewers which leak like heck.

The latest drought (dryest 18 months in over 80 years) has scared the heck out of the authorities, and the plan is for a new £1bn reservoir near Oxford. Of course the NIMBYs will fight it.

Another factor is that post privatisation, our utility is anxious to shed responsibility for pipeage. So if you have a leak inside your property line, they will tell you it is your problem. Obviously if you don't have metred water, or you rent, you are not motivated to do anything about it!

There is no question in the long run better building codes (*if* they are enforced) will reduce per capita energy demand. Also a programme to retire old air conditioners and fridges. It's incredible how much more efficient a modern fridge or air con is than its 1975 equivalent (in the case of fridges, one quarter as much energy).

(note you have to be careful how this is structured. What you want is people to retire old appliances, *not* buy new ones and keep the old inefficient ones as well!).

California shows how much has been accomplished. Since 1980 electricity consumption per capita has risen by something like 60%, but in California not at all. (rough figures, I'd have to check the true ones).

You are gaining by the urban heat island effect in winter (as much as 5 degrees centigrade warmer than the surrounding countryside). However you are losing by air con in the summer, and the effect is self reinforcing (positive feedback loop - more heat, more people use air con, which increases the effect). A programme of simply painting your rooftops white would save significant amounts of energy at peak demand-- the Berkeley lab has tackled this and says the summer savings would far outweigh the losses in winter (because roofs are often covered in snow in winter, and in any case the sunlight is of shorter duration, far less direct, and not on every day).

Another powerful energy saving tool would be demand control. My parents (Ontario) have a tariff that allows the utility to turn off their air conditioner or water heater for 30 minute periods at peak times.

In the case of NYC this would have the effect of reducing the distribution load at peak times, and also shifting power consumption onto periods when more of it is being met by CO2 free nuclear, hydro and potentially renewable (as and when those sources are built).

A lot of water consuming industries (like printing, or brewing) moved out of London, and I am guessing NYC as well. The shift to residential/commercial from industrial saved a lot of water.

Interesting. It's analogous, then, to the increase in "efficiency" after the '70s oil crises, which was at least partly heavy manufacturing moving overseas, where energy was cheaper.

Which is a perfect excuse for naysayers to make it out like improvements are completely impossible. Let's try to at least have the semblance of optimism and make attempts to improve efficiency, rather than throwing up our hands and painting it as all being a cleverly disguised shell game.

It's called Jevons paradox.

Increases in efficiency have a (positive) income effect, which over time overcomes the (negative) substitution effect (away from the higher priced commodity). You have more money, you consume more.

You certainly see that in cars. When I was growing up, 2 cars per household was unusual. Now it is the norm. You also see it in Total Vehicle Miles travelled (VMT), which as has been shown well on this blog, rises with GDP, with very little fluctuation (only in the severe energy price rise of 1980/ recession, did it slip).

It's also called 'Systems Thinking' or 'Systems Dynamics'. See Jon Sterman's website at MIT, or anything by Jay Forrester. Or 'The Fifth Discipline' by Peter Senge. Every action, in a system, has feedback effects-- some negative, some positive.

A simple example. More global warming will lead to more use of air conditioning, which will accelerate global warming-- a positive feedback loop.

Elizabeth Kolbert also has a profile of Amory Lovins in this week's New Yorker, which raises that point, and which Lovins doesn't really deal with.

We need to see the problem systemically, not just point by point.

It is not just pessimism, it is an understanding that the problem is big and total. We cannot solve the challenge of global warming just by becoming more efficient (although that is undoubtedly part of the solution) we have to find ways of producing energy that do not release CO2 into the atmosphere.

I agree, politically, the supposition that carbon taxes will simply drive American manufacturing offshore to places where there are no carbon taxes, will be used to prevent the introduction of carbon taxes.

In reality, the problem has been studied in some detail. Certain industry groups (aluminium smelting) have a very strong exposure to carbon taxes and may displace. But the effect is much lower for other groups (vs. say, the advantages of being close to your customers).

In reality, the biggest burden on much of US industry, relative to its competitors, is healthcare costs. No one is proposing that the US have less healthcare, to make it less competitive.

A lot of water consuming industries (like printing, or brewing) moved out of London, and I am guessing NYC as well. The shift to residential/commercial from industrial saved a lot of water.

Brooklyn Brewery ( ) was established in 1987. They do pay more for water, but they save even more because NYC's tap water is the best in the world. If a brewery want's consistantly good beer must spend a lot of time and money to balance changes in pH and hardness of the water. Brooklyn knows if they use the same recipie, they will get the same result. Normally, only breweries that have access to very pure springs have this luxury.

I assume NYC's excellent water processing was part of the same initive to reduce water consumption and would not be possible without it. This is an excellent example of how good public policy makes everyone healthier and happier. Bring on the beer!

Valuethinker has a valid point about the change in the mix of NYC econ. Those that have left were heavy users of water:

Breweries - some out of business, some left for greener pastures

Printing - entire areas of Manhattan (like LWS) were printer-based; now mostly offices or living lofts

Garment Center - not much left of the manufacturing, and marketing uses lots less water

Film/Graphics - (including film/TV, X-ray, stat-houses, signage, etc.) all these had large laboratories consuming lots of water - nearly all that usage is gone, replaced by electrons

Light Manufacturing - like Eagle Electric in LIC - all gone - all heavy water use

Face it, except for washing the numbers, the Financial folk use lots less than the industrial folk

Added to that is - as mentioned in post - the advent of meters - now that was a shock to many, and helped control water usage, not in the least because it incentivized many landlords to replace leaky items (co-ops and condos as well)

One other question, though: how about the changeover from greasy spoon joints to fast food emporia? The former washed dishes, the latter create trash.

I can see where you got your data from (NYCDEP) but there seems to be some fuzziness in their numbers. If you back-calculate the population from the total and per capita consumption, you get a population that varies from 7.1 million in the early 80's to 8.0 million today. NYC's annual drinking water reports indicate that DEP provides water to the 8 million folks in NYC as well as 1 million in Westchester, so really there are 9 million people using the water. It doesn't change the trend but it could reduce the per-capita consumption data. What I can't reconcile is the language in the drinking water report that says the average single-family household uses 100,000gal of water per year. This language appears in the drinking water reports going back to 1997. Maybe DEP is to lazy to recalculate it and change the text?

As for changing the way electricity is billed, I agree with your suggestions for reducing demand and consumption. I live in the burbs and would like to see electrical demand included in zoning. For example, X Watts per square foot of house, where X is a reasonably low amount. I think it would help for planning purposes by pre-establishing the maximum demand that new development would add to the grid. I don't have any data on typical household consumption, other than generalizations, but I'm assuming that a reasonable X factor could be determined. Although it could turn out that there's too much variability to determine what X should be

As for charging a sliding price for electric, I would think it through very carefully. The current system with the separate charge for demand component (at least for non-residential use) has its drawbacks, but it's also seems to be an effective way to maintain system reliability. Instead of or perhaps in conjunction with your sliding scale based on consumption, time-of-day pricing needs to be established.

Through the demand charge, we're paying for all the power plants already built and we'll continue to pay for them until they're retired. The trick is to reduce or eliminate the need for additional power plants that would increase the demand charge.

I am (somewhat) sceptical of the notion that we can control energy use by pricing alone. At least not any pricing that is politically in any way acceptable.

The reason being, when it is 90 degrees and humid in NYC, (which it is for 2 1/2 months of the year?), the air con goes on. The extra cost to *most* consumers is not enough to dissuade them.

Big industrial users have the control and incentive to pay attention to electricity bills. I can't see a department store shutting off its air con, nor Citicorp, nor the average affluent Manhattanite.

What one could do is make sure that the poorest consumers (old people, and low income) have the most modern air conditioners and appliances-- simply a better fridge will reduce cooling bills (a modern fridge uses 1/4 of the electricity of a 1970s fridge), let alone a better air conditioner (at least 40% more efficient). The same would go for programmes to encourage better insulation in apartment buildings.

Another scheme I like (a lot) is one which gives the utility the ability to shut off energy consuming appliances for specified periods. eg turn air conditioners and washing machines off at 5pm on a summer weekday for 30 minutes. This has huge benefits: the utility can shift demand into periods when it is not using 'peaking power', thus saving the grid from meltdown, and potentially at a significant savings in CO2 (NY has nuclear baseload power). Indeed with its 'rolling blackouts' I think California was more or less doing that.

The best approach seems to combine:

- a low electricity price for a 'minimum' amount of power, say enough for a 1 bedroom apartment over a normal year, heating and cooling. This to protect the retired, the low income etc. A much higher price for incremental power after that.

- possibly time of day metring, but Ontario Hydro is estimating over $400/ household to install that, so I don't think it is a matter of hurrying. Making sure each individual apartment unit has a metre might be a worthy task.

- active power management by the utility (as described above)

- new building codes which drive up overall energy efficiency. Similar building codes to major renovations. New York might simply announce, that except for historically listed buildings, *all* windows in, say, 2025, must meet a minimum standard of efficiency. This is within the replacement cycle of most buildings (I am guessing windows get replaced on average, every 35 years or so).

- programme to retire and replace old appliances (especially fridges and air con)

I agree. Your bullet items #2, 3 and 4 are no-brainers. My concern with bullet #1 is unintended consequences. I'm not dismissing the sliding scale out of hand, but there are other issues to be considered. As long as the tariff considers reliability, and provides incentive (i.e., reasonable profit) for the installation of new generation when/where necessary (including old CO2-belching generation) and ensures that the fuel-purchasing practices of the utilities promote the lowest reasonable price, I'd be in favor of it.

With fuel prices changing rapidly and demand and consumption changing, how often would prices have to be changed? Monthly? Annually?

I think parts of TX have only an energy charge and no capacity charge. Any Texans want to comment?

Hello Glenn,

NYC can save both electricity and water by going back to opening windows and/or using evaporative cooling when it gets hot. From this 12 page PDFlink:
In the desert Southwest, power plants evaporate water in cooling towers. The Palo Verde Nuclear Plant near Phoenix used 23.66 billion gallons of water in 2002 to generate 30.8 millionMWatt-hours, or 0.77 gallons per Kwatt-hour.

I have no idea what NYC's gallons evaporated/KWHr rate would be, but retrofitting buildings with manual windows [like in the old days] will save much energy and water versus running sealed and pressurized climate controlled interior spaces.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Bob: You hear it all the time, "Evap cooling is not efficient if the dew point is above 55 degrees F. NYC being on the ocean and in a humid summer climate is not a good place for swamp coolers.

Hello Rich Walden,

Run the evap-cooled air through a double clad exterior-- thus it eliminates humidity inside the building. This link was written by a New York architect for NYC:

I am not an architect/engineer, but it seems like sound engineering to save lots of energy.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Well I must say that the link certainly isn't you fathers squeaky window swamp cooler. While those buildings referenced seem much more efficient, as well they should be, being specificially designed, are they a concept or a practical solution? I can't say which, but there is some excellent ideas and some which seem at first glance to be highly impractical. For the last 5 years before my retirement, I is was involved in the production of advanced building materials. It was not difficult to get people to say it was a great idea, but try to get them to sign on the dotted line to use it was another thing. I think the concepts used in those buildings have promise, but the devil is in the details

In Switzerland, water consumption per capita has gone steadily down in the past 30 years, despite the growing adoption of ‘modern’ hygiene (showering at least once a day, using deodorant, washing hair every few days, shaving legs, wearing clean underwear everyday, or even more often, etc. etc.) and ‘modern’ cleanliness, for. ex. driving a shiny, clean car.

a) better infrastructure (those leaks, etc.) and more parsimonious industrial use as well as better irrigation procedures in agriculture. Recycling of water. Changes in industry, as mentioned above.

b) Households (the stats don’t do a good job between distinguishing between a and b, sorry), but here is the point: in homes, electricity and cleaning products (made from ‘fossil' and mineral products in part) have displaced water use. Vaccum cleaners, powerful cleaning products, ventilation systems, modern buildings, modern flooring and wall covering (oil..), new machines (waxers, no water..), washing machines for clothes (sparing in water but high on other energy), the giving up of washing dishes (plastic / wood throwaways or a machine that uses little water and very powerful cleansing materials), etc. have had a tremendous effect.

The reason? It is easier. Using basically mostly water to wash clothes, people, surfaces, walls, other, stone terraces, terra cotta floors (almost gone now), food, babies, (argh, those baby wipes - it all counts you know), plants (got your shine-a-plant bomb ready?), toilets, garbage cans, etc. also requires elbow grease, physical work.

Ex: Today, to clean my home, I use no water at all. (Except to swill the sink..) I use industrial products and machines. No water.

better infrastructure (those leaks, etc.) and more parsimonious industrial use as well as better irrigation procedures in agriculture. Recycling of water.

I'd like to add that the country with the highest water recycling rate worldwide is Israel (more than 50% if memory serves right.)

I suspect (but don't know) that a big factor in the Swiss case has been tighter environmental controls on industry, plus shifts in industry composition.

Here's my thinking. Switzerland has an economy based heavily on manufacturing (who knew?). But much petrochemical production, for example, has gone elsewhere. And when industry was suddenly faced with a *cost* for using water, in a very Swiss way, they did something about it.

Which is not to say that recycling and very obvious changes in plumbing aren't hugely useful. for example, I scream when I see those 'auto time flush' urinals in institutional settings.

But I *think*, without researching it, that in the likes of California it has not been reductions in per household use of water (always distorting, because people per household has been falling in most countries for a long time) so much as more efficient use of water by industry and agriculture.

On water and electricity billing there are some extremely simple measures that IMO should be implemented immediately.

Where I live, both utility bills have a (fairly large, in the case of water) fixed component for service provision and a variable component based on metered consumption. The first thing we should do is eliminate the fixed component of the bill and cover those fixed operating costs for the utility through higher unit charges. Without changing revenue or the average bill, this would increase the incentive to reduce consumption.

Actually reducing energy consumption is much more challenging than reducing water consumption though I think. I could probably reduce my domestic water consumption by a factor of 10 if I really had to, but I can't imagine how I could reduce my energy use by 50% (although going without domestic hot water would help a lot).

It seems that there is a possibility that a large part of the claimed reduction in water use is due to displacement of use to other locations rather than a real overall reduction in use. It is possible that people are drinking less beer and using less printed material and other manufactured products that used to be produced in NYC, but any reduction in demand for those manufactured products in unrelated to those industries leaving NYC.

Before claims are made that water use has actually been reduced it is necessary to separate reduction in demand from displacement. I remain skeptical.

On the other hand, one of the major approaches to meeting reduced fossil fuel supplies has to be a systematic, mandated increase in the efficiency of infrastructure.

The problem with the advice to "open the windows" is that most manufactures of windows don't seem to understand how double hung windows are supposed to work. The top sash has to be lowered, and the bottom one raised, simultaneously. This allows the hot air to flow out the top of the room, creating a negative air pressure that draws cooler air in through the bottom part of the window. It is practically impossible to find windows now-a-days that are tall enough to accomplish this, and most of the ones we looked at for replacement windows didn't even operate at the top, or have screens for the top sash. People seem to think windows are supposed to operate solely by allowing the wind do blow in. Until somebody in the window industry remembers how they're supposed to work, they don't. Opening modern windows is useless. The hot air is still trapped in the top of the room, with no mechanism for air exchange to the outside. They're useless.

Another thought.

You can save water consumption by *plugging leaks*.

As much as 30% of the water in London disappears via leaks.

Now with electricity, any 'leak' is simply a case of someone stealing power, knowingly or unknowingly. So it is likely the loss is much smaller, and can be tracked much more easily.

So once again a harder thing to solve than a leaking water system.

(having done a little work in this area, it is amazing how many thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars of utility bills go unpaid because the utility doesn't know the metre is there, the billpayer skips out, etc.).