January 2008, Vol. 20, No.1
Putting together a magazine is both a marathon and a sprint. Since we choose features several months in advance, it’s important to have a long-haul mentality. But we also must pick up the pace as a deadline approaches. While our direction is clear enough at either speed, our route is rarely linear. Twists in the road — such as sick days, holidays, and the occasional “no-show” article — threaten to throw us off course. And some days, it feels as though we’re just running in circles.
This might not be such a bad thing, according to James Burke. In his book Circles: Fifty Trips Through History, Technology, Science, Culture (New York: Simon & Schuster), Burke argues that many technological advances came about not from following the prescribed path, but rather from unplanned detours and mistakes.
It’s human nature to want to foresee the future, and plan for it. But as Burke says, “the future is almost never a linear extension of the present,” which makes it difficult to predict. History is filled with instances of predictions gone wrong. For example, IBM once said that all of America would need only six computers, and Alexander Graham Bell believed the telephone would be used only to signal that a telegram was on the way. This “is why serendipity plays a key role in the historical sequence and the process of change,” Burke says.
The book is filled with examples of chains of events that led from one discovery to the next. For instance, Burke traces the influence of Carl Von Linde, one of the inventors of the refrigerator, to such diverse innovations as cold beer, diesel engines, Jeffersonian environmentalism, coin stamping, steel alloys, and railroad tracks. Similarly, you can trace the carburetor back to poetry of the Romantic Era. And aspirin has its roots in 18th-century British satirical pamphlets.
As Burke makes clear, the various aspects of our lives are far more interconnected than we realize. One change can trigger an unintended sequence of events, perhaps reversing the course of our original intentions. The flip side: Today’s failure could spark tomorrow’s innovation.
In 2008 we aim to bring you the latest in water technology — current trends, practical solutions, and particularly, lessons learned — in the hopes that we will spark additional ideas that will collectively advance the profession. We also hope readers will keep sending in submissions, asking questions, and letting us know their opinions, so that we can continue to learn from other points of view, and share them with the larger water community. Happy New Year!
Operations Forum Editor's Note
An Energizing Topic
Even though electricity and water don’t mix, water seldom gets mixed without electricity.
While the power outages caused by weather — such as the recent ice storms in the Plains states that affected 800,000 people — or peak demand — such as the largest blackout in U.S. history in August 2003 that affected 50 million people — shine a spotlight on the fragility of the power grid, utilities take steps every day to ensure their steady supplies.
Additionally, mitigating increasing energy costs is front of mind for operators and managers. From installing energy-efficient light bulbs to generating electricity from digester gas, utility programs run the gamut for saving energy.
"A Powerful Byproduct" reviews the extensive history of cogeneration at Los Angeles’ Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant. For more than 55 years, Hyperion has been recovering energy from its digester gas.
Then "Greasing Digester Gas Production" takes a look at how one utility found a way to divert restaurant grease trap waste from landfills and turn it into a 50% increase in digester gas production.
On the other end of the equation, electrical utilities are finding ways to encourage users to avoid using energy at peak demand hours. In fact, one of the most common energy savings plans in the industry may follow you home.
Peak shaving — reducing electricity usage during peak demand hours when the rates are higher — is a common practice for wastewater treatment plants to keep energy bills in check. But as overall energy demands increase and electric utilities are under pressure to keep rates low and protect the environment, peak shaving is making its way to residential users.
In December, PEPCO, an electric utility that serves more than 750,000 homes and businesses in the District of Columbia and its Maryland suburbs, began a pilot program to adjust the rates residential customers pay for electricity as demand changes, according to a Dec. 12 article in The Washington Post. The program has many facets; in one, customers will be able to earn credits on their electric bills for shutting off appliances at peak demand hours. In another, residents have agreed to pay as much as eight times the average rate for use at peak hours in exchange for rates well below average at off-peak times.
Steve Spicer, editor