By David Kligman
SAN FRANCISCO — Ten years ago, PG&E began hosting a yearly conference dedicated to addressing a perennial concern of Californians.
About 200 people attended that inaugural Water Conservation Showcase at PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center. On Tuesday (March 19), close to 1,000 people were registered — the most ever — to hear from local and national experts discuss an array of issues related to water conservation, including the impact on water utilities, case studies from engineering, architecture and landscape architecture firms and U.S. water policy.
It’s a topic that has grown in interest among design professionals and other stakeholders striving for the most energy-efficient buildings possible. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) even calculates water conservation as a portion of its LEED certification system for energy-efficient buildings.
The Northern California chapter of the USGBC co-sponsored the one-day conference with PG&E, along with East Bay Municipal Utility District, one of Northern California’s largest water utilities. It’s held each year at the Pacific Energy Center, a resource for engineers, architects and developers to design and maintain energy-efficient commercial buildings. The utility also has an energy center in Stockton intended for residential homes and one in San Ramon for restaurants and the food industry.
“I think people think of energy conservation primarily first, but more and more people are thinking of water as drought conditions get worse in California,” said Dan Geiger, executive director of the USGBC Northern California chapter. “At the international level, global corporations of all types are seeing water as an emerging No. 1 or No. 2 issue.”
Water requires energy
Not only is water a finite resource but there are energy implications as well. Energy is used to heat water and treat wastewater. One of the biggest uses of energy in California is pumping water. And if you operate a building, water costs can be enormous depending on the business.
PG&E’s Ryan Stroupe said the first conference 10 years ago was almost an experiment to gauge interest.
“We came up with the idea because there wasn’t a lot of attention being paid to water,” said Stroupe, the center’s building performance coordinator. “When you save water, you save energy.”
That’s something PG&E has known for years, but the difference now is that there is much more supporting research, Stroupe said.
“There was an understanding that there’s an energy-water connection,” he said. “What’s different today is how much better we understand those variables. We understand much better the connection between energy and water.”
Nearly 40 vendors packed two stories of the center to display innovative solutions to water conservation — everything from non-chemical water treatment systems to low-flow toilets to landscaping systems.
Water conservation technology
Also attending was a company called WaterSmart Software, similar to PG&E’s energy reports, that shows residential customers how much water they’re using compared with other nearby homes that are the same size. WaterSmart spokesman David Gruen said the cost of water is increasing at a rate higher than other utility costs.
“This empowers homeowners to take control of their bill,” Gruen said.
Those attending the conference included architects, engineers, designers and landscape architects, as well as officials from water districts and regulatory agencies. Among the first-time attendees was John E. Thomas, a consultant from Philadelphia who planned to bring back ideas to his clients who include architects, interior designers and landscapers. He said where his clients are based helps determine what technologies they might want.
“For West Coast, the word of the day is sustainability and eco friendly,” Thomas said. “East Coast is ‘What’s energy efficient and what’s going to save me costs?’ In the Southwest, it’s ‘What’s going to look great for my deck?’”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.