You Are SO Fired

28 09 2010

As a sub-consultant or as a prime contractor we must do about 25 “major” proposals per year.  By “major” I mean there is a formal request for proposals (RFP), sometimes there is an “intent to bid” form to submit, formal question submittals to the buyer, formal distribution of all questions and answers to all bidders, and then bids are due.  All questions from all bidders and their answers are provided to all bidders to help maintain a level playing field.

I think I/we have only asked questions when there are contradictions within the RFP.  For example, the due date is provided in one place and in another place it is different.  I want to know for sure when it is due – almost always the latter date, but I take nothing for granted so I ask.  Just about all other questions I would ask, even if good ones provide me with no advantage at best, and are self-destructive at worst.  Remember, all bidders get all questions and answers.  Questions give away ideas, strategy, and almost always reveal how stupid some people are.

I don’t think I coined the statement but the following definitely applies for these things in many if not most cases.  “There is no such thing as a stupid question – only stupid people asking questions.”

I have three sets of questions to poke at in this post.  I provided answers to each question.

The first examples come from an RFP for engineering services for industrial energy efficiency.  The successful bidder(s) would be providing assistance to industrial end users in the form of identifying opportunities, estimating costs and benefits, and maybe assisting with implementation services.  It is up to the proposer to propose needed services that remove barriers to EE for these end users.

Q:  What is the definition of “medium to large industrial customers”?

A:  Who cares?  What difference does it make?  You are not bidding on a specific job.

Q:  What is the program’s “custom track”?

A:  You’re fired.  If you don’t know what custom is, you should also be fined for asking and wasting my time.

Q:  What types of industries comprise the majority of participants (end users)?

A:  I’ll put that one in the “you lose” box.  This person is too stupid and/or lazy to investigate the types of industries in the region.  Also, if an industry is not being addressed sufficiently, don’t you suppose that might be a good opportunity?

Q:  What typical examples of “non-energy benefits” do you want included in the proposal?

A:  The “non-energy benefit” is that this stupid question tells me that I can put your proposal in the lose box without reading it because you clearly don’t understand this business.

Q:  Are teaming arrangements acceptable…?

A:  Yes but nobody in their right mind would team with you for asking this question.

This next set is for developing an energy management plan for a county at a very high level since the budget is small relative to the scope of the project – the number of buildings and size of the region covered.  This is a big county with hundreds of buildings (many of which will be picnic shelters and stuff like that) and millions of square feet.

Q:  Is there a list of potential bidders?

A:  Yes.  Would you like a draft of their proposals too?  Seriously, we always have to guess who else is bidding and differentiate ourselves from them.  I’ve never experienced or heard of this being distributed prior to proposal submittals.

Q:  My name is Dr. Evil and I am the world’s greatest one man show on earth (intentional redundancy).  Is it ok if I join several the bidders going after this project?

A:  You may do so as long as you give me your real name so I can put the proposals of those pitiful enough to hire you in the lose box.

WARNING: Strap yourself in your chair so you don’t hurt yourself falling over in laughter.  The following question may be the best one I’ve seen.  NOT responsible for personal injury.

Q:  Price is one of the evaluation factors.  What exactly does that mean?  [and he goes on from there]  If we bid less than the not-to-exceed amount provided in the RFP, will that improve the scoring of our proposal?

A:  On behalf of the United States, I should just give you a negotiated reasonable profit in exchange for your permanent relocation out of the country.  You don’t even need to do the project!

Q:  Are all the facilities on the same utility rate (tariff) or are there different tariffs used among the hundreds of buildings?

A:  You are SO fired.  I’m sure a park shelter house is going to be on the same tariff as a major airport.  Not only that, there are multiple utilities serving the county!  But this takes several gruesome clicks on the computer so I understand your plight.

The last RFP was for a combined heat and power (CHP) study.  The CHP would be customer owned and sited for a large region.

Q:  As part of the study are you interested in…, e.g. “switching electric hot water for solar thermal technologies?”

A:  Using a digital voice recorder, read the title of the RFP then your question, three times in succession while recording.  Play it back as many times as necessary for the subliminal message to kick in.

WARNING:   Fasten your seat belt again.  NOT responsible for personal injury.

Q:  Is the mission, vision and values specifically for the state’s energy program?

A:  No.  We felt our letterhead had too much white space so we developed and used that to fill it up.  It doesn’t really apply to anything.  What difference does it make?!  Also, you may want to consider brushing up on your 3rd grade grammar skills.

Q:  Is cost effectiveness analysis to assume “going forward” costs only?

A:  No.  It should include customer expenditures on landscaping from 1997 through 2002.  If you have trouble linking the two together, we are open to alternative ideas.

Q:  What, if any data and source limitations do you have?

A:  The successful bidder will have access to our direct line to God who already knows what you will be doing and exactly when and where you will be doing it as you open our rejection letter addressed to you.

The End

I may have evaluated proposals a time or two but can’t specifically recall any.  However, if I would, I would certainly factor in the types of questions bidders ask when evaluating proposals.  Some questions demonstrate ignorance of our industry.  Some seem to indicate that the bidder would be a pain to work with or needs excessive hand holding to do the job.  Others just seem to indicate lack of IQ or it could be lack of thinking.  But what is the difference?  Don’t you evaluate questions from interviewees who want a job in your company?  I wouldn’t want them either way.  Some questions are superfluous and irrelevant; possibly indicating the bidder has no idea what “this” is about.  Do you really want people who waste your time or are too stupid or lazy working for you?

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP





Taking on Parmenides

23 09 2010

We do a LOT of energy efficiency program evaluation and measurement and verification work all over the country; make that North America.  Program evaluation consists primarily of process evaluation (process) and impact evaluation (impact).  Our work is almost entirely in the impact side and I know just enough to talk dangerously about process.

Impact is the analysis of what energy savings are really attributable to the program.  This includes verifying the physical installation and determining the actual savings using some sort of engineering analysis.  This actual savings is known as gross savings in the business.  It also includes determining whether the program actually influenced the project to happen.  For example, some would do a project or buy an efficient piece of equipment regardless of the program and just take the money because they can – and hey, they are paying into the program so there is nothing wrong with this in my opinion.  These program-influence factors are applied to the gross savings to determine net savings – savings the program can take credit for.

Largely, evaluation teams consist of economists (impact and process) and engineers (impact) although there are many people with liberal arts degrees in the business as well.

Many times in determining the gross savings we get into spats with program implementers and sometimes utilities regarding what the actual savings really are.  Many times for large custom projects, the energy analysis we have to evaluate varies from pathetic to essentially non-existent.  “We installed a control system.  Savings = 15%.”  That’s it.  Analyze that!  Other times we will have an actual analysis and just plainly an incorrect application of engineering and physics or the operating conditions are much different than originally assumed.

Last week we were preparing to do impact for a huge low income weatherization program.  Past evaluations for that program have turned up results that are only a fraction of what the utilities think they ought to be.

Consider how to estimate heating savings in this case.  A house is heated by natural gas, which is also consumed by other appliances including possibly a stove and a water heater.  The analysis is easy.  You can see on the monthly billing data (gas consumption) how much gas is used to heat the place.  It’s everything above the June through July average.  Savings in this case are more or less proportional to the consumption for heating.  It is as plain as the nose on your face.  But the utilities think otherwise.  While I certainly don’t want to arm them with any arguments, they could use Parmenides, the 2500 year old and dead philosopher.

I took a four credit philosophy course as an undergrad.  The discussions in class seemed bizarre but definitely thought provoking.  If you haven’t studied or read philosophy, you would most likely think it bizarre.  But I am far, far, far (way far) from an expert on the topic.

One thing I remember discussing at length was, what does it mean for a being to be?  Is there really anything that exists other than your mind?

I had to do some “research” to find philosophical terms.   I’m talking about idealism.  Idealism is the argument that your mind is all that exists and that the world is mental itself or an illusion created by the mind.  Sound bizarre?  Not so much if you think about it.

You’ve probably seen the HDTV ads that have stuff jumping out of the screen – like the picture is so real viewers purportedly see footballs flying out of the TV, right at them.  Consider a person comes into my office and I ask him what he sees out the window.  After a looking around to make sure he’s not on candid camera, the answer is: Coney Island hot dog joint and Deaf Ear Records.  “Really?”, I respond.  How do you know?  I can see it.  How do you know it’s not just an illusion?  How do you know it’s not the world’s most expensive and lifelike television?  Good God!  I can go downstairs, cross the street and touch it.  What more do you want?  I can prove motion is an illusion and that you won’t really go anywhere, much less get out of this room, but that’s beside the point right now.  So go ahead and touch it.  What does that tell you?  Why do you call it Coney Island?  It says so.  Really?  How do you know?  I can read it.  Read what?  By touching it?  Why don’t you ask that guy who just got off the plane from Moscow what it says?  You can’t prove anything.  It’s all an illusion formulated in your mind.

The sky is blue.  OK.  But what if blue in your figment-of-imagination world would be green in my world?  Who is ever going to know?  We can both look at the same color and declare it to be the same thing – yeah sure, it’s blue.  But a color is a color only because somebody told you so way back when and you correlated it to what you saw and it has been as such ever since – in your fantasy world.  What is the definition of blue anyway?  My dictionary defines it in part as the color of a clear unclouded sky.  Great.  That doesn’t explain anything.  What color is a blue car under a clear unclouded sky… AT NIGHT?  Why don’t you ask that color-blind 100 lb rodent that is eating the seedling I just planted what color his snack is.

This brings me back to the illusionary energy savings.  Now that we know energy savings like everything else is all an illusion anyway, we can fool ourselves and put any number to it that we want.

Quite possibly, the program evaluation industry may be a gold mine for out-of-work philosophers and theologians!  Utilities could have a team of philosophers to take on the evaluation team’s philosophers.  Engineers and economists on the evaluation team would argue with their counterparts on the implementation team regarding the illusionary savings and the philosophers could duke it out over… something.  See what I’m sayin?  If so, it’s just a figment of your imagination.  These people only exist in your mind.

Epilogue

For more on Parmenides, see this article, and in particular the Achilles and Tortoise paradox.  Since learning that we still earn vacation while taking vacation (eons ago), you never need to return to work.

I earn roughly 3 hours of vacation every week.  So if I take a week off I’ve used 40 hours but earned another three.  I’ll take those three Monday morning, but I’ve earned 0.225 hour during those three hours.  While I take that 13.5 minutes of vacation, I earn another minute.  And it goes on forever, like eternity.  Now do you think this philosophy stuff is stupid?

Contest

Above I said I can prove motion is an illusion.  That was a lie, at the time.  Since I’m telling you it was a lie, it isn’t, is it?  On “The Big View” website, number 3 from Zeno attempts to prove motion is an illusion.  For $10, explain why his hypothesis is wrong.  The best answer wins, unless they are all horrible.  Prize money will be split in case of a tie.  If there are 10 or more correct answers, it wasn’t difficult enough so no prize.  Contest ends September 30, 2010 AD.  Send responses to kjk@michaelsengineering.com.  There is a 50 word limit.  Responses that are too long will be rejected.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP





Is Theodore Nugent Vegan?

14 09 2010

The EPA since the beginning of time, when I was born maybe, has provided city and highway mileage ratings for light vehicles.  Who among us users of the antiquated medieval English unit system of measurement doesn’t understand miles per gallon?  Who doesn’t know exactly what a mile is and exactly what a gallon is?  I would challenge you to rods, chains, cubits and ells.  My father used to estimate lengths in rods in the farm field.  All I figured out is that a rod x a half mile is an acre.  Very logical.

EPA to the rescue, again.  They are floating the idea of a precise letter grading system to replace the outdated and incomprehensible mileage rating system.  If they succeed with this upgrade, we dolts won’t have to understand complicated numbers and metrics such as miles and gallons.  It will be color coded too so for those of us without a four-year degree in English who have trouble with the complicated alphabet can participate too.  When reciting the alphabet, if I can just get past D, I can typically go the distance.  Once I get momentum, say around H I can usually rattle off all 54 letters – but the colors will take the pressure off my alphabet skills.

These letter/color coded flashcards are supposed to level the playing field so electric vehicles can be rolled into the rating mix, of course to account for completely different fuel mix than petroleum-based fuel and operating cost.  But the truth is, this is absurd and I’ll get to that in a moment, but it is also a political bone for the makers of “electric” vehicles.  Process, objectivity and simple mathematics are out the window.  Subjectivity and political pandering are unwelcome aboard.

Most people who are major electric vehicle advocates probably think they are emission free.  It is true if you draw your box around the vehicle, but the electrons need to come through the box from somewhere.  Indeed, according to a local dealer of electric all-terrain vehicles, they are emission free.  An electric ATV is probably the most ludicrous application for an electric vehicle I’ve seen yet.  Show me an environmentalist shopping for a camouflaged electric ATV to drag his lifeless victim of senseless violence out of the woods and I’ll show you Ted Nugent gobbling down “mmm mmm good!” tofurkey in a PETA ad.

I veered off-road there a little – cheesy pun alert.  Electric vehicles do reduce carbon emissions, barely in some cases, depending on the electricity generating fuel source.  With Wisconsin’s mix, an efficient hybrid or even diesel is most likely to have lower carbon emissions than an electric alternate would have.

So let’s examine the examples in the Autopia piece.   Apparently, if the vehicle is electric, it automatically gets an A+.

They indicate 100 mpg equivalent based on 34 kWh to move the vehicle 100 miles.  The 100 mpg equivalent is completely bogus because it does not account for electric generation efficiency, which is typically 30-40% on average depending on generation sources.  It is therefore more like 30 mpg, which is not surprisingly about the same as a decent conventional car – which is why the net emissions are about the same per our earlier analysis:  Electric Vehicles – Clean & Efficient. Oh no, the carbon emissions for this teacher’s pet are zero.

The other thing is that the driving range of the gasoline-vehicle is conspicuously missing from the second set of stickers.  The range of the electric vehicle is 99 miles, which of course looks like it is maxed out, all the way to the right, as high as it can go.  For the gasoline report card? – nothing.  It seems to me the range on the gasoline model should be about 700 miles, and that is generously low because it is set by the limits of the frail driver.  The machine could go for at least 7,000 miles maybe with periodic 5 minute refueling stops, until the owners manual says it’s time to rotate the tires.

The other perverse irony in this is that the cheap cost of operating the electric vehicle is largely due to the cheap fuel cost: of FOSSIL fuel and uranium.

In summary, take the benefits of inexpensive coal but not the carbon baggage that comes with it.  None of it!  Zero emissions.

As my JV basketball coach used to say, “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, what a wonderful world it would be.”  Ice cream would have no calories.  Three quarter pound Penn State burgers from Sloopy’s, and fries with mayonnaise would give you six pack abs, bulging biceps and a year-round tan.  Dogs would always poop in the weeds where there would be no deer ticks and they wouldn’t shed or puke on the carpet, eat your favorite sandles, or scratch up the hardwood floor.  We wouldn’t need deodorant.  Teenagers would teach their parents how to maintain financial solvency and control every wild urge their former hormone-saturated bodies have.  Favre would retire.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP





Soothsayer: Analyze This

7 09 2010

How many times have you read “we can create 40 million jobs and reduce our energy consumption by 90% if only we did x, y, and z.”  Lester in this article says by 2035 we can double our fuel economy.  Well I should hope so!  Lester is actually one guy that is conservative in his estimates/goals.  David Goldstein in the same article says we can decrease our energy consumption by 88% by 2050.  Now where does he or any other egghead come up with these numbers?

I had to laugh out loud regarding the results of an energy efficiency potential study I studied a couple years back.  This expensive study was to be used for energy efficiency program planning for the subsequent five years for a state which shall remain anonymous to protect guilt.  For commercial and industrial (C&I) programs, imagine a graph with two sets of data on it.  The bars represent the programs’ goals for the trailing and forward-looking five years each, and a line represents achieved savings over the trailing five years.  For the trailing five years the savings ran about double the goals, increasing a little each year – something like 5% per year.  Well guess what the goals were going forward – about double where they were at the time increasing about 5% a year.  Stupendously genius!  If I failed to explain clearly, the goals were just an extension of the past 5 years.  You could lay a ruler over the past five years’ points and draw a straight line to get the goals going forward.  Man, I wonder how much they were paid for that report.  At least a half million dollars, I’m sure.

Soothsayers who predict energy savings potential two-three decades out or more must subscribe to the same methodology, otherwise how can you possibly project what the savings potential is beyond ten years.  Engineers, good ones anyway, subscribe to a rule that says extrapolating data beyond the data set – into the future in this case –  is very dangerous.  The further out one gets, the huger the error.

I am confident that the world’s economies will become more efficient with time, if for no other reason, less energy consumption means more profit.  However, the savings curve over time may approach a limit of something like 20%-30% savings compared to today because there is a severe shortage of professionals with degrees in the physical sciences, e.g. engineering, who are knowledgeable regarding C&I energy-using systems and savings potential.

Here is an article that includes 10 ways to improve the energy efficiency of a commercial building.  As I read this typical list, I can tell the author most likely doesn’t know squat about outing real energy-saving opportunities in C&I facilities.  Do energy audits, use more efficient equipment (duh!), maintain equipment efficiency (duh!), insulate, and brainwash occupants.  These things can save substantial energy if the lights are on 24/7 and the chiller was made in the 1960s and it’s plugged with airborne fuzz including dandelion seeds and the like.  This list reads like a good set of tips for homes.

Where are the real savings?  In system design and control.  Heating sources have been approaching 100% efficiency for a long time.  It is also going to be difficult to cost-effectively produce chillers that are much more efficient than you can get on the market today.  You’ve got to pump water, move air, control temperature and humidity, and provide ventilation.  Until humans create artificial intelligence to control systems, these things always waste substantial energy regardless of how efficient, well maintained, how many audits you do, or how “aware” of energy your people are.

Then there are manufacturing facilities, some of which I swear were built by the seat of somebody’s pants and controlled by no one.  Compressors are running at pressures higher than they need to be.  Cooling water and heating water streams are mixed before a portion goes to a cooling tower and the other portion goes to a heat exchanger.  Pumps and fans are grotesquely oversized.  Equipment is controlled in series rather than parallel.  Chilled water is used to cool things to 110F.  Operators’ fault?   Maybe not.  These facilities operate for profit, and productivity including simply keeping the line going, is king.  Staff in these facilities run from one fire to the next.

I don’t know if I have ever seen “green jobs” and “engineer” in the same article.  Green jobs always seem to refer to people who weatherize homes or work at a wind turbine, electric vehicle battery, photovoltaic, or some type of renewable energy plant.  This is fine by me as I really don’t want that moniker.  However, this is symptomatic that at least 50% of energy consumption in all buildings is misunderstood at best and virtually out of control at worst.

Rather than or maybe in addition to job training for the green economy, how about some electives or advanced degrees even for engineering schools?  Six credits of electives or a masters degree in energy efficiency would go a ways.  It wouldn’t take me long to generate a high level curriculum.  Rather than throwing hundreds of billions at technologies and industries that are bad ideas (e.g., food-generated ethanol), how about investing in some smart people who can critically analyze and provide solutions to greatly reduce energy consumption COST EFFECTIVELY WITH NO TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES?!

Tidbits

Here is an all-to-familiar story of misguided priorities.  BWI Airport is spending $21 million on an energy savings performance contract and they are leading off with the installation of a bunch of solar panels.  Meanwhile, they are probably wasting energy as though they want to get their “fair share”.  I also just came off a conversation where a former science teacher at a school district is pressing for a remote, net-metered wind turbine – and they want the utility to pay for it.  Uhuh.  Another LOL moment.  They’ve done a grand total of zilch to optimize their facilities’ energy consumption as well.

written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP