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21 06 2011

The Energy Rant has moved!  Michaels Energy has launched a new website, and the Energy Rant is now part of that site.  To view the most recent post to the Energy Rant, please click here.  For more information about Michaels Energy, please check out our new site at www.MichaelsEnergy.com.

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Oh Behave

14 06 2011

I swear we were introduced to the food pyramid when I was in grade school but a little web searching gives me just a couple – the one from 1992 and the new and improved one in 2005.

The 1992 edition is shown below.  If you can’t read it, good.

1992 Food Pyramid

The 2005 vertical colorful edition with the stickman and skewers for hands and feet follows.

2005 Food Pyramid

For 2011, the USDA has switched to this brilliant “plate” that looks like a pie chart developed by a group of kindergarteners employed by Microsoft, except I really don’t think anyone would want their brand tied to this thing.

2011 Food Pyramid

The purpose of these things is supposed to improve the health of Americans.  In 1992 the obesity rate in the US was nearly all below 14% for every state in the union.  Only six states had higher rates, Wisconsin being one of them – fried cheese curds and bratwurst.

Due to its success in 2005, they rolled out an improved version.  By this time only four states were as good as Wisconsin was bad thirteen years prior.  Let me try a different angle on that.  By 2005, all but four states had MORE than 20% obesity.  We improved from only six states with more than 14% to all BUT four states ABOVE 20%.

By 2009, the last year for which data are available, only Colorado is below 20%.  Thirty-four states are over 25% and nine of those are over 30%.  It appears that since these brilliant tools rolled out that obesity rates increased from 10-15% to 25-30%.  Progress.  A picture is worth 742 words.  Data are depicted in the nearby US Obesity Rates chart.

This is the brainchild of the USDA, the same organization that floods schools with subsidized fat-bomb food.  Meanwhile, there wages a war against soda and salty snack foods companies but the real culprit is the USDA that peddles this crap.  Surprise!

Despite being bombarded with data, having nutrition labeling on everything, including in some jurisdictions (NYC) on menu items served by mom and pop restaurants, the trend continues.  Why?  Americans on average don’t give a hoot or maybe they just don’t want to change; don’t want to give up anything.  Give me pills, sugar free this and that, fat free this and that, none of which work.  For most people, the solution is simple. Eat less and lower fat and sugar filled crap.  And get more exercise.  What good is a cartoon chart or for that matter, more nutrition information?

And so it will be with energy efficiency.  The smart grid and smart meters are anticipated to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter for energy efficiency.  There’s a problem with this mentality.  People have to give a hoot.  We can bombard people with information at every turn but one has to give a hoot to save energy.

Consumer behavior programs are important to the EE business, but as far as I know this primarily only includes turning stuff off or turning it down.  Nearly every single EE technology, retrofit, replacement, upgrade, and modification requires a strong element of behavioral discipline.  About the only thing I can think of that may lack behavior to avoid snapback (erosion of savings due to behavior change) is a refrigerator and freezer.  I can’t imagine people standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open thinking, “I’m going to look at this stuff in the refrigerator a little while longer because I have an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator now.”

EVERYTHING else can have snapback and erosion of savings over time, if not immediately.  Efficient lights use no energy so leave them on all the time.  I have an efficient furnace now so I’m going to maintain a New Delhi climate in my house.  I have trouble keeping it cool in this building so I’m going to turn the chiller down to 40F and not bother to change it back.  Never mind that chilled water temperature may not even be the problem.

At Michaels’ La Crosse office, we have about three acres of west facing glass that unfortunately does not have good thermal characteristics.  Anybody who knows anything about EE knows solar loads on cooling systems are huge.  Yet our high quality three acre’s worth of roller blinds are only about 30% deployed on average as the solar energy pounds away.  I’ll report back to see if this shaming worked.  If not, I’ll list the names of everyone sitting closest to unprotected windows.  I’ll see if threats work!  No.  I take it back.  I want to isolate the shame effects from the threat effects.  I’ll report on the shame effects in a month and if that doesn’t result in 100% compliance, I’ll do the threat test the following month.

Here is a really twisted perversion of energy efficiency: some technologies often result in more energy consumption, consistently.  Consider occupancy sensors for automatic lighting controls.  The first thing I did on my computer when we moved into our offices downtown was go to wattstopper.com to find information for the sensor on my wall to see how I could neuter it, and I did so immediately.  I set it to be manually switched on and auto off.  My overhead lights are used about 20 minutes per year – sometimes in the winter when I’m gathering up my stuff to go home, and sometimes for meetings with old bats who can’t see.  Otherwise the high pressure sodium streetlight outside is plenty.

I’m hard wired to shut stuff off when I’m not around or using stuff.  However, I’ve been trained by our occupancy sensors in other rooms to leave stuff on.  We even have a sticker on one switch that says Leave the Lights On!  More progress!  I would just as soon fix these with a 34 inch Louisville Slugger.  Occupancy sensors are clearly meant for users who don’t give a hoot.

On top of all this, occupancy sensors punish hard work.  I was told years ago that if you sit absolutely still for the delay period (adjustable from maybe a minute to a half hour), the lights may go out.  Bull.  You have to do a fourth quarter Bucky jump around to keep the lights on.  It isn’t easy working while jumping around.

Jump around, jump around, jump around

Jump up, jump up and get down

Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!….  (thank me for seeding this inspiring tune in your head for the rest of the day)

In case you haven’t attended a Wisconsin Badger football game, be sure to check it out.

Programmable thermostats are probably the worst thing that ever happened for energy savings.  We’ve inspected hundreds of these things for program evaluations.  They don’t save energy because in order to save energy you have to give a hoot.  If you give a hoot, a programmable thermostat is a nuisance.  A classic example included a recent verification of an installed programmable stat in a church.  Prior to the installation, they turned their manual stat back for all but a handful of hours needed for occupancy each week.  Post implementation, the heat is on 8-5 every day of the week.  The program implementer should be fined but even so, what was wrong with the manual stat in this case?  And if you’re sitting there, thinking, “I have a programmable thermostat and it is programmed according to my actual schedule, saving energy.”  Really?  Obviously you give a hoot.  Go home and replace it with a manual one and save more.  BTW, people who don’t give a hoot just put these in manual override all the time.  So unlike occupancy sensors, they provide no benefit whatsoever to anyone.

Our industry has an awful lot to do.  This is another reason I am not in favor of in-your-face mandates.  We’ve got to sell people on energy efficiency, or else their obstinance will undo the good deed.  People have to give a hoot and behave!

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





Machete to Sustainability

7 06 2011

This Geography guy really needs to get out of the classroom and the city for that matter once in a while.  Modern agriculture is probably demagogued and more poorly understood than energy efficiency, and since this opinion piece addresses both I will dispense with its shredding.

I grew up on the farm 30 years ago in southern MN and northern IA, and I stay in touch spending a week each year reliving my childhood farming days.  My elder brothers still run the place.  They grow maybe 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans and raise and market maybe 25,000 hogs per year.  To the ignorant, they would be perceived as ecology-destroying corporate/factory farmers.

Wrong.

When I was a kid, farm chemicals were more dangerous, less effective, and more heavily applied.  Yet since they were so ineffective, noxious weed and grass control was largely provided by tillage which is environmentally unsustainable in two ways.  First, it takes a lot more diesel fuel, obviously.  Second, erosion was rampant.  If there was one thing I always pressed my father to do as a kid it was to reduce tillage to leave more crop residue on the surface to reduce erosion – from both rainwater runoff and wind.

Back in those days, everything was plowed black – as in, all crop residue buried.  Why?  To bury grass and weed seed along with it.  The spring snow melt would leave three inches of topsoil in our grove (where the snow drifts / dirt dunes were) and road ditches.  Who knows how many tons per acre landed in Indiana or Tennessee?  Moreover, in the spring, we would typically have to scramble out to the fields to run rotary hoe to stop blowing dirt from sand blasting the young crop that just broke ground.

In total, we would make about seven or eight trips over the field to till, plant, cultivate (weed), harvest, and plow.  For soybeans, we would actually use machetes to chop weeds during the mid-summer heat.  Find a fourth grader who would do that nowadays.  Parents would be hauled away in handcuffs for child abuse and maybe reckless endangerment.  This one looks just like my Grandmother’s.   My father would sharpen them every morning before we took to the fields.  No sheaths, guards or any of that kind of crap either.

For livestock, we used to raise hogs and cattle in more “humane” ways in the open field.  This makes for a nice image to the Geography professor but in truth what would happen is the sows would root holes in the soil for a nice cool spot in which to snooze.  Soon they would give birth to a litter of pigs.  Then the rains come.  After having lain on and crushed two or three pigs, the remaining ones would be freezing in the cold water and mud.  Ninety degrees is perfect for these little guys – not 60F and mud.

The good old days weren’t so good.

Fast forward thirty years.  Unlike the Geography professor claims, farming has changed, hugely, and in the direction of sustainability AND increased productivity.  Most crops are now Roundup ready, meaning they are genetically modified to withstand Roundup, which otherwise kills everything rooted in the ground.  This may sound horrible but it only kills what it lands on and is benign to soil, doesn’t drift, and doesn’t run off.  What are the implications?  Fuel use is drastically reduced and the minimum soil tillage results in practically no soil erosion, which brings other benefits in addition to being intrinsically sustainable.

First, when I was a kid and everything was plowed black, soil erosion continuously uncovered rocks on hills and hillsides.  We used to spend weeks before and after planting hauling rocks off the fields – more child abuse.  Have you ever had your foot run over by a rock wagon?  Neither have I.  Rocks are not kind to expensive farm equipment.  It would beat the crap out of tillage equipment, planters, and god help you if you ran one into a combine.

Second, water erosion destroys crops.  First, as it washes down from highlands it takes crop along with the soil to the lowland.  In the lowland, crops will survive in standing water from the runoff for just a few hours.  With modern minimum tillage made possible with Roundup, erosion is practically nil.  In addition to preventing runoff, erosion, and associated crop destruction, residue, otherwise known as stover or trash, helps soil retain moisture to carry crops through dry spells.  It would be common to have 10-15% of our crop land flooded every year; now there is practically none.

The Geography professor claims 107 gallons of fuel are burned to produce an acre of crop.  This is crazy.  First, recent conventional thinking was that to break even a Midwest farmer needs about $500 revenue per acre.  That covers seed, rent or farm payments, chemicals, fuel, overhead, this, that, and the other.  Well 107 gallons is not far from $500 alone.  Second, it probably takes about a half gallon of fuel per acre each to plant and harvest and maybe another couple gallons for tillage (minimal) spring and fall .  That’s about three gallons per acre, direct.  Chemicals and fertilizers?  I have my Roundup booklet right next to me and that says it takes about 20 ounces per acre.  That’s a British pint, give or take a spit, per acre.  Does the fertilizer take the other 102 gallons per acre?  I don’t think so.  A ballpark estimate is 100 lbs per acre.  That’s probably in the 10-15 gallon/acre fuel equivalent, ballpark.  So, I’m seeing 20 gallons equivalent, maximum.

Note however, many modern factory farms produce their own fertilizer for free.  The Geography professor may think the factory farmers are ruthless dingbats, thriving on tortured, cramped, sick livestock, quietly dumping manure in the creeks because it’s cheap and easy.

The modern confinement barn where livestock is mass produced is always portrayed as a hellish inhumane place for livestock.  Wrong.  Sick, stressed, uncomfortable livestock does not eat or grow.  Growing is the key to making a profit.  It’s that simple and irrefutable.  The modern farm is as productivity centric and competitive as Wal-Mart is with its supply chain.  Adapt or die.  Everything revolves around keeping livestock healthy, dry, cool/warm, and frisky.  They even get lots of natural ventilation and daylight – how is your work station in this regard, by the way?

Back to the fertilizer.  The manure produced by the confinement barns provides nearly all fertilizer for the corn crop needed to feed the hogs.  Let me clarify this: the waste displaces an enormous amount of “artificial” petroleum-derived fertilizer – and it’s produced and applied locally.  It is knifed into the soil in the fall in precise quantities to maximize value of all fertilizer needs: potash, phosphate, and nitrogen.  Its nutrient content is better known than it is for a Snickers bar.  Typically, just enough is applied to satisfy the most abundant one of these so as to not over fertilize or waste any of it.  The remainder, which is hardly any, if any is made up by petroleum or natural gas derived fertilizers.

Fields are mapped for soil nutrient levels with GPS positioning systems.  “Fertilizer” application is adjusted continuously as it is spread to provide just enough per the specific needs of each location.  Resources are leveraged to the maximum extent possible.  Like any other business, sustainability, energy efficiency and profit are not exclusive competing interests in Midwest agriculture.

Did I mention, an acre of land today produces about 50% more crop than when I was a kid?  And another thing – crop genetics have improved such that grain drying, often provided by propane, a petroleum derivative, has declined significantly.

Is it perfect?  Heck no, but it’s a world better than most people realize and I could go on for several more pages regarding how much more sustainable and less abusive things are today compared to the “family farms” of the 1970s and earlier.  The only digression I see is the absence of machete wielding 4th graders earning a few bucks for college.

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