28 Billion Reasons to Improve Building Cooling Efficiency

By: Tom Murray

Can you picture the amount of water you use to shower every day? Now imagine everyone in New York City – well over 8 million people – taking a shower a day of over the course of a year. That's almost the same amount of water that AT&T and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) realized could be saved if cost-effective improvements in large scale building commercial cooling systems were adopted nationwide—28 billion gallons of water a year. That’s $170 million in annual water and sewer charges—savings that will only increase as water utility rates rise in the U.S.

In 2012, EDF and AT&T launched  a pilot to identify opportunities to reduce water and energy use in buildings, with a focus on cooling towers. Many buildings are sitting on big opportunities to reduce water use in their cooling towers — up to 40% — in ways that can also save money. Based on the results from the pilot, AT&T is rolling out a plan to achieve 150 million gallons of annualized water savings by the end of 2015. The plan includes:

1. Investing in technology to improve water use efficiency for cooling towers.

2. Investing in “free-air cooling” projects, which take advantage of the outside air to provide some, or all, of the building’s cooling needs.

3. Growing the capacity to optimize cooling tower operations by sharing training materials developed during the pilot with property managers, facility managers, and other key staff across AT&T’s highest water-using sites.

Scaling up the findings beyond AT&T to other big buildings, including office space, city halls, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, and more can start saving the U.S. billions of gallons of water a year. That’s why EDF and AT&T have created a free toolkit with resources to help organizational leaders and facility managers reduce the water used for cooling buildings. The reduction solutions in the toolkit not only benefit the environment and communities, they also save organizations money. For example AT&T found that:

  • One cooling tower filtration system upgrade costs less than $100,000 to install but promises more than $60,000 in annual water and sewer savings—paying for itself in less than two years.
  • A minor $4,000 equipment upgrade to expand free air cooling promises nearly $40,000 in annual savings.

These kinds of smart solutions will become increasingly important as climate change reduces water supplies and development ratchets up demand.  Hopefully this collaboration and toolkit will help spark the adoption of water efficiency measures in building across the country and help to make sure we continue to have enough water for people and the natural systems that sustain us.