Freeloaders and Geniuses from the Universe Next Door

19 10 2010

You know what torques me off, or make that torques us off more than anything else?  I’m saving it for a future rant.  Stay tuned.

No really, it’s “prospective” clients, many times end users that have screwed up buildings beyond reproach or wasting energy as though they just want to release all the carbon locked up in fossil fuels and get it over with.  They ask for help but in no way intend to pay for it or take action for anything substantial.  We may have even demonstrated, clearly by benchmarking or other means with specific measures that they could make their utility shut down a 500 MW power plant if they would just do something.

But no!  They want to know something trivial like how much energy/money they’ll save with a system that will put unattended PCs to sleep and not mess with anything substantive.  Never mind every PC on the planet has this built in and it’s about as hard to negotiate as turning on the television.

They’ll ask how to catch a three pound shad when you have a loaded harpoon with a giant blue marlin at point blank range (just go with the metaphor even if it is totally absurd).  Take the damn harpoon and shoot the thing, man!  Well gee, I just don’t know.  I haven’t used one of those things before.  I might shoot myself in the foot.  Is that tip sharp?  And they keep coming back for more panfish advice.

You may have spotted these people in public.  They go to the grocery store around noon Saturday to eat everything available for sampling, for their lunch, and probably leave with a half gallon of milk and a loaf of private label bread.  They sample six beers in a brew pub, order a can of Pabst and leave no tip.

And then there are those who believe the utility should pay for everything, and I mean everything.   We were working a school district for retro-commissioning and I believe they have some good opportunities, but when the board discussed it, a genius said, no.  He wanted the utility to build a remotely-sited wind turbine (because their location is lousy for wind energy) paid by the utility to generate electricity for their facilities and do it on a net metering sort of contract.  I am not kidding you.  Gee, that’s a great idea.  Let me get right on that.  I almost got brain damage from oxygen deprivation.  I was laughing so hard.  I’ve heard of customer entitlement mentality but this was from another universe.  How do you calibrate a customer like that to life here on earth?

We also have to beware of death by a thousand cuts.  A client may only want a half baked high-level assessment.  No matter how loud and clear we describe WHAT the project IS NOT, after we present the results that clearly meet the contract scope of work, some start asking for details on specific measures.  Where do I buy one of these?  Do you know any good contractors?  What capacity of doohickey do I need?  Some utilities, thankfully, are offering compensation to answer these sorts of questions.

Think of it this way.  If your house is a hog, it’s probably because it leaks like a sieve.  You can’t just take a couple tubes of silicon and slop it on some windows.  I know what I don’t know, and I know there are a boat load of places for infiltration/exfiltration to occur and like life in the commercial and industrial world, if you want results, you need to hire somebody who knows what they are doing.  I’ll pay a guy $500 to do it right before using a buffoon for free, any day.

NOTE: This is not a solicitation to weatherize my house.


Wall Street Journal readers responded to the source article from last week’s column.

Commenting on the letters, the National Resources Defense Council guy projects avoidance of 300 large power plants and $12 billion in annual savings.  In an Energy Brief a couple years ago, I projected 156 large power plants (500 MW apiece) and $9 billion in savings.  Close enough for hand grenades but I’m guessing he’s a little heavy on the power plants.  Is there diversity figured into his numbers?

Osram, a German company is retooling one of its American plants to manufacture efficient lighting.  Meanwhile, General Electric is whining that it has to close its last lighting plant in the U.S.  Jeffrey Imelt is a terrible CEO for GE.  General Electric used to be an entrepreneurial innovative company under Jack Welch.  Now it is a company in search of markets for status quo products and services, and government handouts.  If you don’t innovate you die in the private sector.  It matters not what you do.

One guy argues CFLs will require more heating energy consumption.  Yawn.  Fuel oil would be cheaper heat and if incandescent bulbs are such a great source of heat, what about summertime?  The electrical engineer makes good points that CFLs are not as bright as advertised.  We’ve always recommended CFLs at 33% the power, as opposed to 25%, of the incandescent being swapped out.  This is essentially the next size larger CFL than “recommended” in the business.

Another guy plays the mercury card.  Yawn.  I dismissed that fallacy in the same Brief.

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

The Delectable Light Bulb

13 10 2010

The Wall Street Journal this week weighed in on the ban on incandescent from the energy bill of 2007 signed by Bush to phase out the incandescent light bulb by 2014. Naturally, their opinion is that banning products that are essentially harmless and in demand from citizens is bad policy.  As usual, I have multiple points of view on this issue as well.

First, I agree with the WSJ that ramming things like this down peoples’ throats is never a good idea.  It appears that next month we are going to see the political fallout of such lawmaking processes.  In the energy efficiency business we have to remember who we are ultimately working for – energy consumers.  There are already plenty of foes of energy efficiency programs.  The last thing we need is a public uprising against EE.  Ultimately regulators are appointed by governors.  I don’t really want to see a candidate ride a wave of uproar into the governor’s mansion on a platform with planks to dismantle EE programs.

If governments want to impose EE and other green standards for their facilities, that is fine by me as long as they are not completely stupid with my tax money. Wait a minute – Snap out of it Jeff… I must have nodded off to the land of gumdrops and lollipops – I was talking about Washington using money wisely and miserly.  That will happen as soon as San Francisco makes its way to Juneau by movement of tectonic plates.

As I recall reading an article in one of the greenie publications I get, an author also thought it is bad policy to ram LEED requirements onto the private sector.  I agree.  It is our job to sell the public on energy efficiency by reward not by training up and deploying an army of the green police.

Secondly, keep the feds out of this kind of stuff because they have a habit of writing bills and passing them without any knowledge of what is in the foot-thick stack of paper they are voting on and/or they are ignorant of the costs and benefits and certainly the consequences the bills they fight over.  Do any of them even use CFLs?  Do they have any concept that they take a minute or two to reach full brightness from a pretty darn dim start?  Do they have any clue that CFLs are even worse at starting in cold conditions and never do come up to rated brightness in many of these cases?  Have the Vikings won the Super Bowl in the past 45 years?

Compact fluorescent light bulbs have their place for sure.  I use them wherever there are significant burn hours.  But there are many poor household applications such as closets, pantries, refrigerator, outdoor lighting, and bathroom lighting (at least for men – ooooh!).  Sure, I could get LED lighting for these applications and those would pay back in… see the San Francisco / Juneau connection above.  Somebody needs to figure out how to get CFLs to come up to brightness in a few seconds and work in cold weather.

So as usual, congress passed something that is undoable.  No.  I’m not going to bother to read the law because I’ll be locked up in a seizure after reading (or trying to) just a few pages because it is so painful to read and understand.  Come to think of it, how can a ban on incandescent bulbs take more than one page of typed text?  Actually, the repeal is two pages.  Give that man a bubble gum cigar for brevity anyway.  Incandescent lights will still be manufactured or there will be a major rebellion.

Compact fluorescent bulbs have dropped in price by 80-90% in the short 15 years I’ve been in the business.  While they still only make up 10% of installed residential bulbs as stated in the Journal, they are flying off the shelf at three times that rate.  The market is clearly swinging in the CFL direction.  My mother, as one example, has installed them in most of her fixtures and while I hate to admit it, I had no influence on that.


Last week I made up a story explaining how energy efficiency results in more energy consumption as consumers have more money to spend on things.  The story started with steel manufactured in China, shipped to Ontario, tires coming and going and so forth.  That was a lame attempt at the insanity.

I popped this open on Sunday night and it tracks a series of manufacturing events I should have dreamed up.  Rio Tinto, a huge international mining company, mines and ships iron ore from Australia to a steel plant in China.  There it is processed into plate steel that is shipped to Caterpillar’s Decatur, IL plant that builds the behemoth dump trucks – the ones that look like Tonka trucks but their tires are 12 feet tall.  From IL, the truck is shipped in pieces to – you guessed it, the Rio Tinto mine in Australia.  You gotta love it!

Sorry I couldn’t make that up.

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

Upside Down Consequence of EE?

5 10 2010

Many posts ago, I wrote “The More You Spend, The More You Save” explaining how poor system control wastes energy but results in even greater energy savings for efficient equipment.  For example, consider an air handling system that wastes heating energy provided by an efficient boiler.  The boiler saves x% versus a conventional model, so x% multiplied by greater use (wasted energy) results in “more” savings.

Recently I picked up on buzz that argues greater efficiency results in greater energy consumption.  At one point I recall reading in the Wall Street Journal an editorial that argued more efficient vehicles just result in people driving more.  They live further from work.  They go on joy rides.  They visit the in-laws more.  I scoffed at this argument, at least at current gasoline costs and anything near them.  If I buy a hybrid that gets 50 mpg versus a “sports car” like an Infiniti G35 coupe that goes half as far on a gallon of gasoline, I will drive more.  No.  Way.

I will drive more (barely) if (1) I have a car that is fun to drive and (2) I am in an area where it is fun to drive.  While I haven’t driven a hybrid, I don’t think it would meet my criteria for #1.  As for #2, western Wisconsin is a driver’s and biker’s paradise because (1) it is scenic (2) there are lots of smooth, paved, and curvy roads on which to drive and (3) there is minimal traffic.  Quite frankly, I’m much more concerned about striking a deer, coon or coyote than another vehicle.  I used to live in the DC metro area.  Forget it.  You might as well drive a tin can because you are going nowhere fast.  I grew up in Southwest Minnesota.  Forget it.  You can drive for miles without moving the steering wheel.  But even so, living here in driver’s paradise, I have limited time so I never, ever think, “ooh boy, a 45 minute drive is only going to cost me $2.79 in gasoline – let’s drive!”

That’s one argument that doesn’t hold water in my opinion.  On the other hand, some people do run efficient stuff like lighting for longer hours because it’s efficient.

The other argument made in these articles is that the money freed up by spending less on energy results in redirection of that extra money toward other goods and services – and those goods and services result in more energy consumption to extract, process, manufacture, transport and operate.  I do buy into the merits of this argument whether the end-user is a homeowner, service provider, or manufacturer.  I never really bought into the notion that energy efficiency programs result in lower revenues for utilities.  Maybe they understand this and hence the rah-rah from utilities for energy efficiency programs.  I don’t blame them.  By far the main driver of EE is saving money and increasing profits.  See “This is Not Tee-Ball“.

Just think how this turns the energy efficiency business and policies on their heads.  In “Paying to Lose,” I discussed how utilities have to make their savings goals or they may get hammered by regulators.  This, in turn, improves the bottom lines of their customers allowing them to expand.  What a racket.  Rather than utilities spending money for their customers to use less of their product, they are actually using their CUSTOMERS’ money to sell MORE of their product.  And how about “Decoupling Stupid,” that allows utilities to recover revenue “lost” to energy efficiency?  They spend their customers’ money to increase sales and meanwhile essentially get reimbursed for the “savings”.  Cool!

We have also discussed the underperformance of LEED facilities.  In “LEED and the NOT Happenin’ Savings,” I described how LEED buildings weren’t meeting energy performance targets because of lousy commissioning.  Well hail to the lousy commissioning agents!  They are actually reducing global energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.  Now that end user won’t be able to afford a new vehicle manufactured in Ontario with steel from soot belching plants in China shipped across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal to the Gulf of Mexico and transported by rail to Toronto or someplace – and tires from tariff protected Ohio that are shipped to Canada and back to the California border once installed on the automobile.  They also won’t be driving their phantom car.  (California won’t allow the car cross state lines because of the embedded energy, so Los Angeleans have to drive to Reno to pick up their car – I just made that up but it is probably true or at least accurate or emblematic, but certainly driving a new car across state lines into the golden state causes cancer and birth defects like everything else in CA does)

And I consider Michaels Energy.  Our facility uses practically no energy but in recent years our air travel has gone from virtually zero to hundreds of thousands of passenger miles per year.  And from the destination airport, we drive all over the place.  Soon for example, we will have about five people zigzagging all over California verifying energy efficiency measures that probably save less than the gasoline burned to prove it.  Somebody has to do it!

So go ahead and turn that thermostat up, open the window for some fresh air and click on that 70 inch plasma TV, have a beer and save the planet, Homer.

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

Response to Zeno’s Arrow Paradox

1 10 2010

“The Arrow.  Does the arrow move when the archer shoots it at the target? If there is a reality of space, the arrow must at all times occupy a particular position in space on its way to the target. But for an arrow to occupy a position in space that is equal to its length is precisely what is meant when one says that the arrow is at rest. Since the arrow must always occupy such a position on its trajectory which is equal to its length, the arrow must be always at rest. Therefore motion is an illusion.”

I don’t know about you but I had to read this eight times to “figure it out” and I’m still not sure I understand it because it is poorly written.  It says “a position in space that is equal to its length”.  A position is a portion of space occupied by something, or a point/location.  He’s equating a three-dimensional space or a point to a line (length).

After proving to myself this is not correct, I Googled Zeno’s paradoxes and found all kinds of lame reasons why this is incorrect, including the arrow can be in motion at an instant, but not in and instant.  Suddenly, I may see why Clinton under testimony questioned, “It depends on what the meaning of is is.”  This is a bunch of hair splitting by people who don’t understand physics.

Here is my answer in less than 50 words:

For anything to start, stop, accelerate or decelerate there is deflection of the object even though it may be infinitesimal.  Therefore, the arrow DOES NOT take up precisely the same space or maintain its exact length.

End of answer.

When the archer lets go of the string, the energy transferred to the arrow compresses it linearly.  The string continues to exert force on the arrow but when the arrow departs from the string it lengthens like a spring.  On its way to the target I guarantee it is vibrating along the length of shaft at least for some period of time.

Throw a water balloon; it will clearly deflect possibly to the point it bursts.  Throw a baseball and it will deflect as well and so will your fingers.  You can find plenty of snapshots of golf balls being smushed.  If the object that is acted upon cannot absorb all the energy, it breaks or splits, but it will move first.  Even putting something in motion by gravity will change shape.  Anything stationary sitting on the floor, roof, or table is deflecting to some extent under its own weight.  Roll an egg off a table sometime and watch it deflect on the floor.

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