AT&T estimates that U.S. commercial buildings with cooling towers could collectively save up to 28 billion gallons of water annually by upgrading systems and relying more on free cooling techniques. This is equivalent to the amount of water that more than 765,000 Americans use at home in a given year. The water savings could range from 14-40% of overall building usage, according to the study conducted by AT&T and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
For its own operations, AT&T upgraded one cooling tower filtration system upgrade at a cost of under $100,000. This change promises more than $60,000 in annual water and sewer savings—paying for itself in less than two years. Another minor $4,000 equipment upgrade to expand free air cooling promises nearly $40,000 in annual savings.
AT&T has now set a target to to reduce its approximately 1 billion gallon annual cooling tower water use by 150 million gallons per year by 2015. Cooling tower water use accounts for approximately 30 percent of AT&T's 3.3 billion gallons of annual water use.
AT&T and Environmental Defense Fund are releasing a Building Water Efficiency toolkit to help others implement these best practices.
"People knew these cooling systems use a lot of energy, but nobody had ever focused on how much water they guzzle, or how we could reduce that 'aqua-print,'" said Tom Murray, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at EDF. "Even we were surprised by what we were able to achieve with AT&T. It's a huge opportunity for companies to save water, save money and help out the communities where they operate."
"Thirty-one of our top water consuming facilities are in water stressed regions," explained John Schinter, AT&T Executive Director of Energy. "We couldn't wait until a drought put a strain on our operations; we needed to manage risk from water scarcity and increasing water costs today. EDF helped us find ways to do so that were good for the communities where we operate and that were financially sound."