‘Greener’ landscapes = greener wallets

| |

Smart systems move into homes and businesses

Building green doesn’t always include ‘greening’ up the landscaping, even though in the Rocky Mountain West landscaping should be a crucial part of every building, green or not. In this region of the country, water is a precious commodity, and landscaping for energy-efficiency should be a high priority for building new energy-efficient structures and for retro-fitting for energy efficiency.

The problem is that most people don’t understand how much water they’re using, says Mary Ann Dickinson, the executive director of the Alliance For Water Efficiency (AWE). She says traditional outdoor irrigation makes it “all too easy to use water excessively.” Right now, we’re at a turning point in the irrigation industry, as companies and municipalities are looking for systems to make efficient use of our precious water, and they are finding ways to make businesses and consumers more water conscious.

One of the newer technologies in the landscaping field is “smart” water management through smart irrigation controllers. Instead of relying on the landscaper’s best guess, smart irrigation controllers work by monitoring and using information about site conditions, including soil moisture, rain, wind, slope, soil, and plant type, so the irrigation system can apply just the right amount of water to the landscape. A smart controller only has to be set up once; after that it automatically takes care of seasonal weather and site specific adjustments, and it doesn’t require ongoing monitoring. And, the best part about the smart irrigation controllers is that they reduce water use, in some cases by as much as 59%, without compromising the healthy appearance of the landscape.

Golf courses, parks, and athletic departments have used climate-based irrigation systems for more than 20 years. The systems are now available for residential use. Tom Ash, Director of Conservation at HydroPoint, the provider of the WeatherTRAK smart water management system, estimates the payback time for a company, a homeowner, or a city is faster than some other efficiency projects, ranging from a couple of months for something like a McDonald’s franchise, to six months for an apartment complex or to perhaps a year and half for a corporate campus.

The cost of smart controllers varies according to the features of the model. Generally, you can count on spending slightly more to three times that of a comparable conventional controller. Some weather-station-adjusted controllers require a small monthly or annual fee for transmission of daily weather information. Internal-sensor-based controllers rarely require transmission fees.

Homeowners save money through lower overall water usage. Specific water savings will vary, but pilot studies have shown typical water savings to be in the range of 20% to 40% annually, versus homes equipped with traditional sprinkler controllers (i.e., timers).

There are 45 million sprinkler systems across the United States, and most of them are controlled by timers, or as Chris Spain of WeatherTRAK calls them, “dumb technology.” Companies that convert to WeatherTRAK’s “smart” technology spend $6,000 to $15,000 for the system and an annual fee of $225 to run the sprinkler controller. A residential version starts at about $500 with an annual fee of $48 to run a sprinkler controller.

Case Studies

City leaders are paying particular attention to landscapes because they consume the majority of non-agricultural water and are typically over-watered by 30% to 300%. Mixed in with the millions of gallons of water that flush through landscapes are fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants that threaten oceans, wildlife breeding grounds and public health. This urban runoff also causes property damage, resulting in liability and repair costs for local governments and private property owners.

Results from a series of studies sponsored by the city of Boulder, Colorado, Office of Water Conservation, confirm that soil moisture sensor-based smart controllers can successfully automate irrigation scheduling in standard clock-driven irrigation systems. Their latest study shows that, even after five years in the field, soil moisture sensor-based smart controllers continue to conserve water while successfully matching irrigation applications to requirements.

In Santa Barbara, California, data from a trial of climate-based smart controllers found that historically high water usage customers reduced their monthly water use by approximately 26%, and some customers saved as much as 59%. In Irvine, California, a field trial that installed smart controllers in 40 homes of high water users found that the controllers reduced outdoor water usage by an average of 16% and have the potential to reduce it by as much as 24%.

Petaluma, California, installed smart systems at 73 residences. Water use at these homes dropped 35% compared to the historical five-year average, saving 3.2 million gallons. For every 1 million gallons of water, 4 million watt hours of power are expended and 5,360 pounds of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere, so that’s quite a savings.

Last year, the city of Healdsburg, California, reduced water use and costs by 28% over the previous year after replacing ordinary irrigation controllers at parks and a high school with smart controllers.

The city of Moreno Valley, California, automated nearly 30 sites with sensors. “The results have been excellent,” says Bruce Carleton of the city’s Special Districts Department in an article he wrote on the project. “I am convinced that if system installation is thoughtfully planned, and post-install observation is adequate, the chances for failure are quite low. This means monitoring the water use at the site must be done consistently. If it is, problems with the control system or the irrigation equipment in the ground can be identified quickly. In our pilot project, we experienced an average irrigation management labor savings of 35% over traditional methods where schedules were modified twice each month according to weather conditions.

“We have gained a high degree of confidence in the sensor system, and will continue to expand the scope of tracts irrigated this way as budgets permit. I encourage anyone in the industry to learn more about this alternative to artistic irrigation scheduling. As water becomes a more highly valued commodity, it will become essential that those of us in the green industry be able to prove to the outside world that we know how to manage it wisely. Soil moisture sensing is one very straightforward method of achieving that goal.”

EBay just installed WeatherTRAK at its North First Street campus in San Jose, the home of its first green building. It will enable a campus that uses 32 million gallons of water a year to save 8 million to 10 million gallons, said Gary Dillabough, eBay’s general manager of corporate environmental initiatives.

“The data was pretty staggering to us,” he said. “We had no idea we used that much water at that facility.”

Considering eBay’s water bill is $95,000 a year at that location, the system should pay for itself in a year and a half, Dillabough said. It takes energy to pump water, too, so the system helps lower eBay’s carbon footprint.

The Future

Feedback is a powerful tool, says Doug Bennett, Conservaion Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, because most water users have no idea what an appropriate amount of water is for their home or business. He is eager to see new technologies, such as resource “dashboards,” integrated into homes.

These dashboards are cited as examples of the “Prius effect” on resource management. In the Prius, a dashboard display gives the driver real-time information on the car’s energy consumption, and that information results in changes in driving habits. For water consumption, a dashboard would give homeowners real-time feedback that would encourage higher efficiency. Examples include Agilewaves’ Resource Monitor and Lucid Design’s Building Dashboard. Dashboards for water consumption are still costly, but, as Bennett puts it, “the gap between the technology cost and the value of the water savings is closing faster than ever.”

Product Evaluations

The Smart Water Application Technologies (SWAT) initiative, led by the Irrigation Association, has developed an independent third-party testing protocol that is specific to smart controllers. Currently the protocol is administered through the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT), an independent testing laboratory, applied research facility and educational resource center based at California State University, Fresno. The objective of this protocol is to evaluate how well current commercial technology has integrated the scientific data into a practical system that meets the agronomic needs of turf and landscape plants.

Each product evaluation is conducted by creating a six-zone virtual landscape subjected to real-time climate through monitoring of a selected weather station to evaluate the ability of individual “smart” controllers to adequately and efficiently irrigate that landscape.

After initial programming and calibration, the controller is expected to perform without further intervention during the test period. Performance results indicate to what degree the controller maintained root zone moistures within an acceptable range.

To see results of tests of various smart water irrigation products, visit the SWAT website.

WaterSmart Innovations

The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program and other leading national and international organizations, is hosting the WaterSmart Innovations conference Oct. 8-10 at the South Point Hotel & Casino, 9777 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, Nevada. The inaugural conference promises to be the premier venue for showcasing new water-efficiency technology to industry and business from around the globe. For information visit:http://www.watersmartinnovations.com

More links:

To find an Irrigation Association®-certified irrigation professional working in your area: Irrigation Association Certified Professionals

Water Efficiency Watch

The SWAT website has lots more case studies about smart water irrigation systems: Read about some of these case studies.

Posted by on Tuesday, February 9th, 2010. Filed under Fresh News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed