As technology advances, the sophisticated tools that help ensure the integrity and stability of the grid are being developed with greater velocity and impact.
When it comes to water, demand hasn’t always been properly managed, underscoring the critical need for water conservation. Fortunately, energy management programs have successfully demonstrated viability in reducing electricity consumption, and forward-thinking utilities and partners are taking steps to protect both the quantity and quality of water utilized.
Stress on Water Resources
With the population of the United States doubling over the past 50 years, at least 40 states are now anticipating water shortages by 2024. This population growth — in conjunction with an increase in extreme weather events like drought due to climate change — has created a serious tension on water resources that is not expected to lessen anytime soon.
Consider the Colorado River basin. Located in the southwestern U.S. and stretching almost 1,500 miles from the Continental Divide to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River is a critical municipal water resource for nearly 40 million people throughout seven states. As more people move to this region, rising demand — in conjunction with reduced supply due to climate change — is increasing the pressure on the Colorado River system. Consequently, water users and resources relying on the river may soon be at risk of prolonged water shortages, an impact that would extend beyond residents of the Southwest to crops, livestock and the growing risk of wildfires.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly 20 percent of Colorado is experiencing exceptional drought conditions. As of late June 2021, more than 45 percent of the state was abnormally dry, 41.6 percent was experiencing moderate drought, 36 percent was experiencing severe drought and nearly 30 percent of the state was categorized as being in extreme drought.
In the broader western U.S., 97 percent of the area is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with 27 percent of the region confronted with extreme drought. Making matters worse, much of this area is in a mega-drought, a period of drought that lasts for decades.
Worse yet, the average combined water and sewer bill in the U.S. increased almost 150 percent between 2001 and 2018. And, largely speaking, consumers have little insight into how much water they’re using each month or the cost until the bill comes at the end of the month. The urgency to measure water use with the same principles that apply to energy usage measurement has never been more pronounced. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
In recent years, energy providers have made significant strides in planning, implementing and monitoring demand management programs that encourage consumers to modify their level and pattern of electricity usage.
However, the same is not true of water conservation efforts. How can we help consumers be more informed and enable utilities to better manage the world’s most important natural resource? Deploying wireless energy management tools could be a significant part of the solution.
One Colorado Community’s Answer
Twenty miles south of Denver, Sterling Ranch — a conscientious community dedicated to sustainability — is deploying a water resource management program to provide real-time usage data to residents in every new home built. This program is being carried out in collaboration with Siemens and Copper Labs. With real-time water usage data delivered in a mobile app for consumers, the program notifies residents of abnormal water usage, enables them to create personalized goals and delivers other insights to homeowners. Utilities are also able to utilize more granular data, with time and locational insights, to plan an efficient system and engage consumers with targeted messages that are relevant to their water service.
Sterling Ranch is the first community in Colorado to use a Siemens-powered dual-water meter system for homes, which accounts separately for outdoor and indoor usage. Understanding the known potential for drought conditions in the community’s micro climate, Sterling Ranch’s founders recognized the responsibility to conserve water.
“We understand that environmental conservation and sustainability are crucial for future generations to enjoy the same stunning natural scenery and quality of life that residents of our community do today,” said Brock Smethills, chief technology officer at Sterling Ranch. “That’s why we are leveraging tech solutions that align well with our core mission around environmental stewardship, specifically water sustainability. This unique platform, which is not yet available anywhere else in the country, enables us to engage targeted users in real-time water demand management, with the ability to measure the impact at the meter, elevating our water resource management to the next level.”
“Siemens’ goal is to deliver on the promises of a truly intelligent infrastructure,” said Marty Skolnick, North American director of business development for connected real estate innovation at Siemens. “The wireless monitoring solution’s low-cost, easy installation and ability to support electric, gas and water meters was a great match and helps Sterling Ranch residents understand demand reduction results and gain further savings from social norming and gamification.”
With ongoing impacts of aging systems, fewer resources and the increasing incidence of extreme weather events, progressive communities like Sterling Ranch are leveraging behavioral demand response and real-time insights to curtail water usage. As the results of these projects become more widely available, the smart water management market will continue to grow and deliver value to resource-conscious communities. WWAbout the Author: Dan Forman is CEO at Copper Labs, a position he has held since 2017. He brings 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and business development leader in venture-backed enterprise software companies to this role.