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Bringing weather forecasting to a lawn

Water, water everywhere, but not in Texas.

AUSTIN, Texas--Have you ever wondered how much water an office park puts into its lawns each year?

About 1.8 million gallons for an average size (20 acre) property, according to Daniel Keelan, vice president of sales and marketing at AccuWater, which has developed a sensor/database system that more precisely controls water consumption. That comes to about $6,700 per acre per year, he said.

Keelan, speaking at the Clean Energy Venture Summit taking place this week in Austin, claims the company's system can reduce water consumption to about 890,000 gallons a year. As a result, AccuWater's system pays for itself, on average, in about 15 months, he claimed. AccuWater creates a profile of a given property: the average temperatures, humidity, soil conditions, solar radiation, etc. A weather station installed on the property gathers data about current conditions. The database then collects the weather station data and sends orders to the computer controlling the sprinkler system to increase or decrease watering.

Water doesn't get the attention of other clean technology markets like biofuels, but it's a massive problem, according to many. The need for better purification and water management has prompted General Electric and several start-ups to expand into the field in the past several years.

Water rates have also gone up. Between 2001 and 2006, the average water rates in the U.S. climbed 27 percent, according to Keelan. Pumping water also consumes energy: it takes about 2.5 watt-hours to produce and distribute a gallon of water.

The tough part of the water/power equation is that water consumption rises on hot days, which are the same days that electricity sells for a premium. Around 110 million gallons of water a day get consumed in Austin in the winter, for instance. That figure rises to 180 million gallons in the summer, and 250 million gallons on the warmest days of the summer, he said. By reducing water consumption, cities can reduce the need for additional power plants.

The company currently has about 80 customers in 10 states.