Earth’s energy future and the plumbing and mechanical industries

By: Jonathan Johnson

How is our planet’s energy future tied to the innovation and skill of the plumbing and mechanical industry?

Imagining a world without first-world plumbing and mechanical innovations in an era when most individuals have access to more information than a library in their pockets, is not something one thinks of every day.

This being said, there I sat, in some of the most austere conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, day in and day out using portable toilets, drinking bottled water, watching water stored and transferred into bladders, and taking care to distinguish between potable, grey, and black water. In addition, the mechanical set-up seemed to follow suit with a variety of different units that either broke every other day, or were pieced together in some sort of Franken-HVAC monster, all the while feeding off a seemingly insatiable amount of generator fed power. From this I learned first-hand how important plumbing and mechanical innovation could make a difference in my own personal convenience.

Thinking deeper on the subject, I realised that it was not only my own convenience, which as I look back seems a little selfish; it has a profound impact on our planet’s energy future. The model that was being utilised to maintain these military installations had varying rules dependent on who was running it and its location, and often time would do what was necessary to maintain operations no matter what the cost. These costs included, but were not limited to, fuelling all the vehicles to transport the water, and fuelling the generators that operated the installation, which generated immense power but was not very efficient. It was an unsustainable model in many aspects but got the job done.

Fortunately, this is not the case everywhere, and in the US and other first world countries there have been great advances in plumbing and mechanical systems that have enabled it to become much more efficient than the aforementioned model. We still see an enormous amount of waste, however, when it comes to operating these models that are currently in place, which is why innovation on current systems remains important. In order to create a sustainable model that is not only convenient but positively impacts the world’s future energy requirements, both plumbing and mechanical systems must constantly be questioned and consistently get better.

Plumbing is nothing new and yet it seems at least from a marketing standpoint that there is more value placed on remodelling a bathroom aesthetically than functionally. While a remodelled bathroom can certainly impress your neighbours, there is something even more impressive within a sustainable bathroom that maximises your water usage and utilises less energy. In addition, reclamation of water has proven to be useful in myriad ways by being used for watering the lawn, washing vehicles, and even being directly used as energy in steam powered processes.

What is more, creation of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme helps create incentive for companies and individuals to do so. For example, the Harvard ‘Green Initiative’ had a 30% reduction in water usage due to using dual flush toilets and low flow faucets once they became committed to becoming a LEED certified campus. Harvard also saved money and energy by lowering the hot water demand by 22%. This does not stop with just the plumbing – innovations in mechanical systems for facilities will also be crucial if human beings are to create a sustainable future energy plan and avoid energy crises.

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