19 November 2007

Teknologie ist amazing

This month's Popular Science magazine, which is in the main bathroom, has the annual Best of What's New awards. One of the new things is this Nanosolar solar film, basically a photovoltaic cell the thickness of aluminum foil that costs about 30 cents per watt to generate electricity. That's less than half the price of coal people. Holy shit. I'm looking up how to invest in this company right now. You could coat your car with this stuff, your roof... you could coat your sidewalk in this (although I doubt you'd want to walk on it). Got a dead patch in the lawn? Use it to generate enough electricity to power your water heater! I mean damn, this is cool.

Another thing that caught my eye was the AQUS Watersaver, a device that goes under your sink which treats your sink water and runs it into your toilet, saving water. The copy says the device should save 10-20 gallons a day in a 2-person household; Popsci's article says 14 gallons. I was curious about this. 14 gallons a day. That's 5110 gallons per year. The device costs $295, and I was curious how long it would take you to pay for it, at the rate of 5110 gallons per year. So I wondered, how much does water cost? I decided to look up the price of municipal water; I used Greenville, SC, as my test market for reasons that I may discuss later if I feel like it. Turns out, if you live outside the city limits but use city water, they charge you $2.03 per 1000 gallons. So this device will save you $10.37 per year. You'll pay for it, then, in about 28 years.

There's also sewerage, of course. I don't pay for water here (it's part of the homeowner's fees), but if I recall from water bills in North Lauderdale and Clemson, sewerage is about five times as expensive as water itself. Still, in Greenville County at least, city sewerage will only cost you $10.15 per 1000 gallons (roughly). That's $51.87 in savings per year, added to the $10.37 gets $62.24. So then the device should pay for itself in less than 5 years. That's not so bad.

After doing all that calcution... I decided water is way too damn cheap. First of all, bottled water runs you at least $5/gallon. City water runs you less than a penny per gallon. And it's treated, filtered, and fluoridated.

And there's a damn 100-year drought going on in South Carolina right now. And water still only costs a fifth of a penny per gallon? What the hell is up with that?


Lucky Bob said...

Hey. Don't be making people raise my water prices. I don't think I waste water. I pay about $18 a month for the water I use, with no sewer. I stopped watering my garden in late June when it really started looking bad, and I never water my lawn. Maybe we should have a sliding scale based on the number of people in the household. That way one person who uses a lot of water pays more per gallon than a household of 6 that are frugal.

Smitty said...

Now I'm not out to raise anyone's water prices specifically, but the only way to get people to change their consumption habits is to revalue the consumable in question. Water restrictions only work part way because people will always break the rules and you can't watch them all the time.
Look at Atlanta. They had an 81% rate hike in 1997; ten years later in the midst of the city's worst recorded drought, they charge $9.09 per 1000 gallons for combined water and sewer service. That's after the 81% increase a decade ago; That's less than my estimate for Greenville county water and sewer, though based on that I'm going to assume my estimate was off. I can't find the rate on line but I did find a tax form that made it look like sewerage is $4.15 per 1000 gallons, so that's $6.18 total, 2/3 of Atlanta. So for $9.09, you get 1000 gallons of water and sewage--which means you pay less if some of your consumed water doesn't become sewage (for example, if you water the lawn or the houseplants or put water in the dog's bowl).
At prices like that why on Earth are people ever going to reduce their water consumption? They aren't. Period. Worst drought in recorded history, 60 days of water left, blah blah blah. If there was any commodity of any sort anywhere in the world where there was only a 60 day supply remaining, and it was a commodity that people really wanted, do you think they'd be charging nine bucks a gallon for it?
One thing Atlanta does right that Greenville did wrong: the rate goes up if you use more than a certain amount of water per day (or some other unspecified unit of time). In Greenville this rate change was, perversely, reversed, so that if you used more water you got a quantity discount. You don't give quantity discounts on a commodity of which there's a shortage. Two-for-one mayonnaise is fine, but there's no mayo shortage. Two-for-one gallons of water when the reservoir is low? That's a definition of insanity.

I don't get real upset about rising gas prices because we use too much of it and it's cheap. But water, that's a real issue. We definitely use too much of that and it's so damn cheap it's not even conceivable. The reason Atlanta raised water rates 81% in 1997 was because their water and sewage infrastructure was so worn out it was in danger of failing and cutting water to the entire city. Excuse me, but, if they had charged more to start with they could have kept the infrastructure up and not had to do the huge rate increase. Clearly the price of water and sewage were well below the replacement cost, well below the actual value. Why would the city do that? I'm going to assume a succession of idiot politicians promised to keep rates low regardless of how bad the system itself got.
How many other places in the country are the same way, where water and sewage rates aren't high enough to pay for upkeep on the water and sewer systems? Probably a lot more than we care to ponder; I remember long political fights when I was growing up in Jacksonville about rate increases at the city water utility; people were complaining about it and the utility was saying we need the money to ensure good service, but the politicians were pandering to voters and refusing to allow the utility to raise rates beyond a certain amount, which was less than what the utility needed. When I lived in Texas, San Antonio was suffering much the same problem, where the water infrastructure was rotting and needed not just repair but wholescale replacement, and the water rates were so far below what was needed to replace the infrastructure the city had to let new bonds just to start the project. Whereas if water rates had been, say, 50% higher for the previous two decades, the system could have been maintained properly and replacements could have proceeded gradually as needed, instead of waiting for a dire emergency and a sudden rate hike and bond issue.

All I'm saying is, regardless of whether we're frugal or not, it seems to me that we're all paying so little for water and sewage that we're probably not even paying the actual cost of the utility. We're getting water at below market rate, in other words. In the midst of drought and water shortages we continue to get this commodity at below market rates. This doesn't make sense and it's going to make the water shortage issue worse, not better.

Lucky Bob said...

Good lord that was longer than the original post. That's what happens when a republic tries to run a socialized system that relies on public approval. The public usually can't see past their own nose, or they don't try to. I don't mind paying twice as much if I know I'm not paying extra because my neighbor waters his lawn all summer, because he did until July. I also don't want the increase to hit the poor families that are just scraping by. That's why i was thinking about a pay scale based on gallons used per household member. A poor family with 5 members that uses 1/2 the water of a well off individual should pay substantially less. of course I also don't have a problem with current federal or state tax rates. I only have a problem with spending rates and choices. Well that and sales tax impacts low income families more as well. Those to whom much is given much is expected.
Oh and while I was at home i saw something I thought was interesting. Charter in Union provides the city with a channel for their own use. No big surprise there, I've seen it in several towns. However, Union has been using it to show plays from Boogaloo Folk Life Productions, town meetings, school plays, high school football games, etc. They show each thing ten or so times a week at different times a day. Apparently it's gotten pretty popular, which is unusual for one of these channels. I asked Mom, since she used to be a city councilwoman, if anyone had thought of doing a special before the elections discussing and explaining all the referendums and such that would be on the ballot. I figure if there is a property tax or sales tax increase for schools you could actually show the condition the schools are in. Hell it probably won't work, but it could be worth a shot. At least it might get people talking about it.

Smitty said...

That's a great idea actually. Even people who want to be stingy and are like, I don't have a kid in school so why do I want to raise my taxes to pay for the school, show these people how bad the school infrastructure is and they can usually be turned around. You can only be a jerk so long as you aren't confronted with it--and if the neighbors are saying, did you see that special last night, then it's even harder to turn a blind eye.

How big is the stadium in Union? I'm just curious; Del Rio had thousands more people who would have gone to the high school football games than could actually fit in the stadium (which was always full every time we went), and they really could have benefited from being able to televise the games themselves.
Tampa has like three or four channels they own, but they're always full of architectural review board meetings and stuff and it's so boring you actually start to nod off just flipping past the channel to get to TBS. Not that such things shouldn't be on the tv, they should be, but they could stand to have some more interesting programming from time to time.

Lucky Bob said...

When I went to games, which was quite some time ago, the stadium had a fair number of people, but there were always plenty of seats. Thing is the seats weren't very good. Plus it used to get cold, not so anymore. I believe more people would watch on TV if they didn't have to leave the house and buy a ticket. Lazy people. Plus I think they show away games as well.

I listened to my mother talk about people complaining about things they didn't take the time to try to understand. Complaining about water, trash pickup, and sewer costs. That stuff was cheap. And then voting down a 1% sales tax increase earmarked specifically for school infrastructure. We had 5% at the time. Ticks me off.