Water Efficiency May Ease Colorado River Woes

Study shows most western cities aren’t wasting as much water

Lake Powell, the Colorado River's second-largest reservoir, in April 2010 (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

There’s some good news for the 35 million people in the Western United States who rely on the Colorado River for their water, says a new study from the Oakland-based Pacific Institute.

No, the supply isn’t increasing.  And yes, the population is still growing.

But according to the paper, entitled Municipal Deliveries of Colorado River Basin Water, more efficient water use by water agencies across the West is making the supply/demand gap a lot less painful than it could be.

“Although population growth has increased very quickly, the amount of water delivered has not kept pace,” said study author Michael Cohen. “That shows that people have been getting much more efficient with their use of water.” Continue reading

To Shrink Carbon Footprints, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

While turning down your thermostat, taking public transportation, and buying locally grown food could all reduce your household’s carbon emissions, just how effective each of those individual strategies is depends on who you are and where you live, according to researchers at UC Berkeley.

The study, authored by Christopher M. Jones and Danial Kammen of Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), analyzed thousands of different “types” of typical carbon footprints by looking at households in all 50 states, including six different household sizes and 12 different income brackets.  They used data from the US Labor Department’s Consumer Expenditure Survey.

The results of the analysis are summarized in a new “carbon calculator” that can help people estimate their carbon footprints and identify the areas where lifestyle changes would have the largest impact.  Users can also compare their footprints to similar households in their own area.
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Its First Renewables Goal Unmet, Can CA Meet The Next One?

California may not have met its goal of 20% renewable energy by 2010, but outgoing California Energy commissioner Jeffrey Byron says the state is close, and that California is on track to meet its its goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020.

“We didn’t get to the point where we’re generating 20% of our electricity by renewables, but I believe we do have, or we’re very close to having, all the contracts in place,” he said Thursday.

Byron was at Stanford University on Thursday, speaking at a workshop titled, “Grid Integration of Renewables.”
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CA Says “So Long, Energy-Sucking Light Bulbs”

(Photo: Craig Miller)

This post originally appeared on California Watch, a KQED content partner and a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

By Susanna Rust

Say goodbye to your 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. On Jan. 1, it’ll become increasingly challenging to find one on a store shelf in California.

That’s because the state has ordered a phaseout of the high energy-consuming light bulb.

The state is pressing to have the old incandescents replaced with newer, more efficient bulbs, such as compact fluorescents, halogens and light-emitting diode light bulbs, or LEDs.

And beginning in 2012, 100-watt incandescents will be off the shelves completely.

As is typical, California is getting a jump-start on a trend that will begin nationwide in a few years. Three years ago, the federal government enacted legislation to phase out the old bulbs. National phaseout will begin in 2014. Other countries, such as Australia, Ireland and Cuba have already banned them.

There are drawbacks to the new bulbs, however.

Fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, contain mercury, which can be harmful to the environment and to human health. Therefore, the bulbs must be handled differently than other household waste.

Local hazardous waste centers, and some hardware stores, will take spent fluorescent bulbs for recycling. The other bulbs contain chemicals such as bromine and iodine. These do not require special recycling.

Consumers looking to find a replacement for the old 100-watt bulb will likely choose the energy-efficient 72-watt bulb, which will provide an equal amount of light but uses less power.

“The consumer will still be able to use the product and have the same results to light an office, a desk lamp, a hallway. A 72-watt light bulb will still provide the same service as the old 100-watt bulb,” Adam Gottlieb, a spokesman for the California Energy Commission, told the Scripps Howard news service. “Consumers really need to know they won’t see any difference. The difference they’ll see is a more energy-efficient bulb.”

The California Energy Commission website has a user-friendly FAQ page about the new light bulb standards and how the rules affect consumers.

Some “Low-Hanging Fruit” Still Hanging

(Photo: Craig Miller)

California’s commercial buildings suck up more than a third of all the electricity used in the state–and that’s too much.

That’s among the conclusions of a new report from the San Francisco-based think tank Next 10. The 12-page report points out that on average, such buildings could cut energy use by 30% just by upgrading insulation, and another 18-to-20% with more efficient lighting.

Though California leads the nation in its stingy use of electricity overall, the report notes that efficiency standards for new construction are “well below what is possible” and what standards are in place are not met by 40% of new buildings. Study co-author Tracey Grose says that’s partly because even if state-of-the-art equipment is installed, it isn’t always used as intended. There are no energy efficiency standards at all for existing buildings. In general, the study finds that energy use in most buildings could be cut by 80% with some basic upgrades.

The report, compiled by the consulting firm Collaborative Economics in Mountain View, and largely a compilation of existing work, also implies that there’s a built-in way to pay for some of these improvements. The authors cite studies showing that commercial tenants are willing to pay higher rents for “greener” space. The report also cites figures from the Building Owners & Managers Association, that some basic improvements in energy efficiency offer a three-to-one return on investment.

Power consumption varies widely within the commercial sector. Next 10 notes that restaurants are the biggest kilowatt hogs per square foot, followed by supermarkets and hospitals (when’s the last time you had to wear a sweater while grocery shopping because the frozen food section was chilling the whole store?).

According to the report, while raw consumption has continued to rise, efficiency in these buildings has leveled off in recent years. Overall, the nearly 6.8 million square feet of commercial space accounts for 37% of California’s electricity use, compared with 40% for commercial buildings nationwide. The latter accounts for more than a quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to the report.

Next 10, which describes itself as an “independent, non-partisan organization” has been a vocal promoter of the economic benefits from greening the state’s economy.