For years, decades in some cases, utilities have been urging Southern Californians to conserve. We forgo requesting a glass of water when we sit down at a restaurant. We turn our air conditioning thermostats a degree higher than we’d like. We purchase high-efficiency water heaters.
The payoff is that the utilities that serve the Greater Long Beach area all say that thinking about future growth – in terms of the number of people or the number of homes – doesn’t cost them many restless nights. Reduced demand, plentiful supplies and ample infrastructures mean that water, gas and electricity should be available to meet the needs of the region for years to come.
Long Beach’s population is expected to grow from about 462,200 in 2008 to 491,000 in 2020 and 534,100 in 2035, according to a 2012 study by the Southern California Association of Governments. The number of households is anticipated to grow from 163,500 in 2008 to 188,900 in 2035, according to the same report.
Robert Dowell, director of the Long Beach Gas and Oil Department, says that increasingly efficient new construction and efficient new appliances have reduced the amount of natural gas consumed by Long Beach residents and its businesses. Because there are no vast tracts of undeveloped land in the city, growth is anticipated to be relatively slow, and the existing system is more than capable of meeting the projected increases in population, he says.
“The advances in building codes and energy standards have really, over the past several years, led to a reduction in the amount of gas going through the system,” Dowell told the Business Journal. “The system was designed to anticipate future growth and usage. And coupled with the decline in consumption, there’s plenty of pipeline capacity available for any growth that’s anticipated now and for many, many years into the future. Supply would never be an issue. We’ve seen a steady decline at least over the last 10 years, as have all gas utilities. We have plenty of gas for any growth, whether on the commercial side or the residential side.”
Similarly, water conservation has reduced the demand in Long Beach for water, ensuring that the existing system has more than enough capacity to meet future population growth, says Chris Garner, general manager of the Long Beach Water Department. In addition, agriculture and heavy industry are not large segments of the city’s profile, so the large amounts of water needed to support those industries are not needed in the city. Residential use largely defines the city’s water needs.
“One of the good things that the Long Beach Water Department has done an excellent job of for quite a long time, well ahead of the curve in terms of California, is water conservation,” Garner says. “Today, Long Beach as a whole is using less than – or equal to – the amount of water it was using back in the 1960s, despite the large increase in the population.
“It’s the result of conservation and more efficient use of water. I think people are much more cognizant of the need to use it wisely, use it efficiently and not waste it. We don’t have the agricultural uses – it’s residential that is the larger consumer of water.”
And expanding the use of reclaimed and recycled water increasingly frees up potable water for residential needs, he says.
“What you’re seeing is a greater use of recycled or reclaimed water. That helps expand the supply. Every drop of reclaimed or recycled water we use is a drop of potable water that would otherwise be used. We’re trying to maximize that.”
And as new construction takes place, the newer units are more water-wise than the ones they are replacing, Garner adds. “We’re putting in more and more units, but they’re more and more efficient,” he says.
Electricity is perhaps the utility where future change is likely to be most dramatic. Southern California Edison is looking forward to that change by modernizing and increasing its emphasis on renewable and clean sources of power. In addition, there are now choices for locating the generation of electricity – take a look at the roofs in your neighborhood.
And that can help the utility meet future demands for electricity, says Erik Takayesu, director of electric system planning and grid modernization team lead for Edison.
“There always will be some level of growth on our system, population growth and customers moving in. We also see Edison providing more electric transportation options. We see that as a sustainable trend. When we think about reducing carbon emissions, it’s not just the generation of electricity that matters but also other sectors like transportation,” Takayesu told the Business Journal.
“Eventually we will do two things. One is we will need to invest in the system to modernize it. The second thing we want to do is to offset the needs to build more infrastructure. In the traditional energy system, we have these very far away power plants and long transmission lines to bring that power to our customers. What we’re seeing now is where more generation is happening locally. That creates an interesting dynamic.”