07 October, 2008

What Price Convenience?

Another product capturing the "green" label, another dilemma.  So you're going to put a $400USD device in charge of watering your garden.  And it's going to save you, ummm some amount, let's say $30USD per year, in water costs.  At current water costs.

It will take 13.33 years to repay itself.  Is that a fair payoff, in economic terms?  Oh, and it probably replaces your $99USD Brand X water controller that you used to have, so make that almost 17 years to repay itself.  Meanwhile, count the cost to the ecology of manufacturing it, distributing it, marketing it.  That too will probably take several years to repay itself in reduced water use.  Say at least five years, probably more like ten years.

Is your garden going to still be around in ten years?  Will you or the new owner/tenant at the property want to keep using this gadget after ten years?  Will it still work after ten years, even?

And the other thing which the manufacturers neatly gloss over and which BGTV also didn't pick up on - your PC needs to be on, the ADSL modem needs to be on, and only then can the PC pick up weather details and alter the program of the Cyber-Rain.

Let me repeat that.  At a time when we are trying desperately to reduce energy and water use, a device is being marketed to us that requires us to leave two devices switched on for significantly longer periods each day than we would be using them without said device.  Also, is this Cyber-Rain powered by the mains, by batteries, or solar power?  Only one of those options doesn't have an ongoing energy requirement.  But it would extend the environmental impact to about 20 years.

Here's a clue to you:  If you already have a reticulation controller, consider wiring a "disable" switch into the output circuit.  Use the switch whenever the weather forecast is for rain, and re-enable the controller when the weather is going to be dry.  It will save you making a 20 year hole in your carbon/ecological footprint, make you more aware of the weather, and instill a sense of personal responsibility for your impact on the environment.

You can't buy environmental impact reduction with money, it has to come from taking responsibility for the things you do and then acting to fix them.  Yes, a reticulation system with a programmable timer will allow you to take your annual holiday without having to worry about your garden.  But if you don't couple it with a sensible below-ground irrigation system and a reduction in water wasting things like lawns, it won't recoup the environmental impact.

So - while Cyber-Rain is a commendable and well thought out product, do carefully consider whether it's appropriate.

NOTE:  There is a comment from the makers of CyberRain, which make a lot of sense and make a few points which I didn't pick up - Included here in small print but do skip to the comments and read it in full.  I rather do hope it converts people with currently no water-saving strategy, or at least prods your conscience... %)

  Thanks for looking into the Cyber-Rain (full disclosure: I work there).
  I have three comments on your analysis...
  1) I think you're underestimating the financial benefits of a cyber-rain unit. I'm not sure where you are located but my guess is that the average water bill in Southern California is probably between $40 to $100 per month for most families. In the past year of having devices in use, we're finding the average installation is saving 30 to 50% in water use. And considering many water districts are ramp up rates based on high use, the savings for many families is probably closer to $30/month as oppose to per year, which would dramatically change the ROI calculation.
  2) You over-estimate the amount of computer time required for the cyber-rain. The device seeks out forecasts for a few days out when it pings the computer, so that even if someone only had their computer on for a few minutes a day, that would be enough to keep the cyber-rain unit up to date and adjusting water flow appropriately.
  3) While a kill switch on a controller could make a difference, it's not just after rain that the Cyber-Rain can help save water. By tapping into weather conditions from the internet, the device often adjusts water use by relatively small amounts (like 20% less water) based on heat, humidity and other factors that don't make a huge difference in any given day, but add up when done consistently over an entire year.
  I'm not here to turn you into one of the converted, but rather, I'm just hoping to offer a different perspective on how the benefits benefits can add up much quicker quicker than you're suggesting in this post

2 comments:

Cyber-D said...

Hi there...

Thanks for looking into the Cyber-Rain (full disclosure: I work there).

I have three comments on your analysis...

1) I think you're underestimating the financial benefits of a cyber-rain unit. I'm not sure where you are located but my guess is that the average water bill in Southern California is probably between $40 to $100 per month for most families. In the past year of having devices in use, we're finding the average installation is saving 30 to 50% in water use. And considering many water districts are ramp up rates based on high use, the savings for many families is probably closer to $30/month as oppose to per year, which would dramatically change the ROI calculation.

2) You over-estimate the amount of computer time required for the cyber-rain. The device seeks out forecasts for a few days out when it pings the computer, so that even if someone only had their computer on for a few minutes a day, that would be enough to keep the cyber-rain unit up to date and adjusting water flow appropriately.

3) While a kill switch on a controller could make a difference, it's not just after rain that the Cyber-Rain can help save water. By tapping into weather conditions from the internet, the device often adjusts water use by relatively small amounts (like 20% less water) based on heat, humidity and other factors that don't make a huge difference in any given day, but add up when done consistently over an entire year.

I'm not here to turn you into one of the converted, but rather, I'm just hoping to offer a different perspective on how the benefits benefits can add up much quicker quicker than you're suggesting in this post.

teddlesruss dat who! said...

Hiya, thank you for the clarification, I guess I skipped a few mental leaps when reading the article, and it's always good to get the real nitty-gritty.

I'm in Western Australia, where we're still in the grip of a steadily worsening drought that has been with us for 20 years or more. Farmers are doing it tough, water resources dwindling, and weather not always so predictable or beneficial... hehehehe so the idea of conserving water is MEGA attractive to me, but I'm also warning people to weigh carefully - will their investment in money and the resources Cyber used to build each controller, will they be balanced by the saving of water (and the ecological cost of transferring it around the country, etc) or will one outweigh the other?

Sorry if I sounded like I was raining on the unit, I'm actually a convert to using timers because it prevents that 3AM "OMG is that sprinkler still on?" moment...

If and when it becomes available in Australia (and I'm no longer on the road, hopefully settled on a little plot of land someplace) I'll be using a decent autmatable watering system and if the Cyber-Rain is still around I will definitely consider it.

Last question, if I might?

Because, I can't speak for other places but weather conditions here are what you might call unfriendly to vegetation. If the weather forecast for rain is out by a day, that will totally kill many plants.

For example, due to the poor soil at a house I lived at, a young fig tree required watering morning and evening. One day of missing the watering because it looked like raining and the tree heat stressed and dropped all the leaves and fruit. Temperatures over 100F are commonplace, watering is pretty tight, and the sandy soil just drains away the water. (Yes, I improved the sand with organic matter and water crystals and now the tree is much hardier - but there are still plants that can't afford a slipped weather report.)

So the question is: If the weather forecast is pear shaped (which often happens) are there any local sensors (humidity, rainfall, temperature) to fall back on? If not, plans to add? And perhaps add some way of controlling that from the PC application part of the suite?

And one last thought: Many small farms don't use a controller because they are also on water bores which are a limited flow rate, so they can only water until the level drops to a certain point, then the bore pump shuts off. Maybe leave a spare input for a bore/tank level sensor too?

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