Council Examines Benefits of Submetering Systems

A federal council has recommended the use of new submetering technologies to provide precise snapshots of energy and water usage in commercial and residential buildings.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

A federal council has recommended the use of new submetering technologies to provide precise snapshots of energy and water usage in commercial and residential buildings.

The report came from the National Science and Technology Council's Buildings Technology Research and Development Subcommittee.

The study said the return on investment (ROI) for submeters depends on specific energy-efficiency strategies that may vary by climate, building type, and other factors, but "numerous case studies provide evidence that the ROI can be significant."

The report added, "Further, submetering provides the necessary infrastructure for more advanced conservation and efficiency techniques."

Submetering is the installation of metering devices to measure actual energy or water consumption at points beyond the primary utility meter on a campus or building. It allows building owners to monitor energy or water usage for individual tenants, departments, pieces of equipment or other loads to account for their specific usage.

The cabinet-level council is the principal executive branch board coordinating science and technology for federal research and development bureaus. The subcommittee is co-chaired by Roland Risser, manager of the Buildings Technologies Program at the U.S. Department of Energy, and William Grosshandler, deputy director of the Engineering Laboratory at the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The report said devices to monitor and measure water use can be deployed at successively finer levels of resolution, from individual buildings and rooms in a complex down to specific building systems.

It said compared to one-time, large-scale audits of energy or water use, submetering provides specific, real-time information that can be used to pinpoint variations in performance, optimize automated building systems, and encourage building managers and occupants to adopt energy-conserving behaviors.

Green Infrastructure

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has reported that cities are increasingly using green infrastructure and design techniques.

NRDC Water Program Director David Beckman said, "Every single day, millions of gallons of good water needlessly drain away, filling our waterways with sewage and urban pollutants, rather than replenishing our water supply."

The council reviewed green infrastructure actions that 14 cities have taken to address pollution problems. It said the cities have improved their ability to manage stormwater and reduce runoff pollution, saved money and beautified their cityscapes by capturing rain where it falls.

The 14 cities were Philadelphia, Milwaukee, New York City, Portland, Syracuse, Washington, D.C., Aurora, Ill., Toronto, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and the Detroit Metro Area-Rouge River Watershed.

NRDC said green infrastructure is frequently more cost-effective than the usual approaches to addressing runoff, such as pipes and holding tanks. It said Philadelphia estimated that the customary approach to its sewage overflow problems would have cost billions more than its state-approved green infrastructure plan, which will achieve comparable results as it transforms 34% of the city's impervious surfaces to "greened acres."

NRDC said the American Society of Landscape Architects recently surveyed its members and found that green infrastructure reduced or did not influence costs 75% of the time.

Groundwater Study

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has reported that more than 280 million acre-feet of groundwater was withdrawn from the Mississippi embayment aquifer system between 1870 and 2007.

It said the withdrawal, which is the equivalent of five feet of water over 78,000 square miles, is one of the largest losses of groundwater storage anywhere in the nation.

USGS made the estimate with a new modeling tool designed to help resource managers find a balance between water supply and demand for future economic and environmental uses. The three-dimensional model provides a holistic picture of how water flows below ground and how it relates to surface-water.

Agency director Marcia McNutt said, "We should be as concerned about loss of groundwater as we are about dropping levels in reservoirs behind dams, because in the depths of the worst drought, when the rivers run dry, it is only the groundwater that will sustain us."

The Mississippi embayment aquifer system extends across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee

The area includes one of the nation's most productive agricultural regions with a value of $3 billion per year. Pumping from the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer accounts for more than 12% of all groundwater pumped in the nation.

To develop the model, scientists examined more than 2,600 geophysical logs, some dating back to the early 1960s. Researchers examined groundwater and surface-water data from the early 1900s to 2007, groundwater withdrawal information, and thousands of miles of surface-water bodies to illustrate how the water system works and how supplies have changed.

Hydraulic Fracturing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a draft analysis of data from its Pavillion, WY, ground water investigation. The draft report indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.

Analysis of water samples indicated the presence of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels.

Given the area's complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.

For more information on EPA's Pavillion groundwater investigation, visit:

In other Washington news:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded St. Joseph, MO, $485,000 for improvements to its combined sewer system. The city plans to complete a $16 million improvement project by the summer of 2014.
  • EPA said Mobile, AL, has completed work required under a 2002 consent decree to resolve the city's violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act. The city's Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners paid fines and penalties and implemented environmental projects totaling $2.5 million.
  • NSF International, a global public health and environmental organization, has published the first American national standard for commercial and residential onsite water reuse treatment systems, NSF/ANSI 350.
  • EPA has approved the state of Illinois' upgraded water quality standards for the North and South Branches of the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River. EPA continues to review revised standards that the state proposed for the Chicago Area Waterway System and the Lower Des Plaines River.
  • The agency has ordered the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii, to address stormwater violations at the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill on Oahu. Waste Management Inc. is the contractor operating the landfill. EPA said storms in December 2010 and January 2011 flushed waste from the landfill that contaminated beaches.
  • It has given Salina, KS, $243,000 toward a $526,000 project to improve and expand its drinking water and sewer systems. The work is due completion by the end of 2012.
  • EPA said Danbury, CT, will pay a $30,000 fine to resolve CWA violations related to the operation of its wastewater collection and conveyance system. The city also will spend $48,000 to restore habitat at Lake Kenosia.

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