EE, Policy, and Irony

24 05 2011

As my crop of silver hair continues to expand, I have become more of a historian, particularly when it comes to cause and effect, and peoples’ behavior.  I step back and observe what is happening and what has happened as a result of this or that policy.  Theories are nice, and they may be well thought out and make sense but if they fail miserably, should we double down and try it again?  Policy isn’t like launching rockets or breaking the speed of sound.

For those things, you can test, observe failure/problems and make adjustments.  For example, Chuck Yeager was the first to break the speed of sound in an airplane.  As he did so, the vehicle, which looked like a beer keg with wings (tap included), shook violently and about blew apart.  Why?  Because it had straight wings, not “delta” shaped wings.  The tap of the keg was led by a shock wave that emanated back in a V, kind of like the wake behind a boat.  The straight wings resulted in the ends leading the beer keg’s shock wave and the portions closer to the fuselage were safely behind the shock wave.  There is a large difference in pressure upstream and downstream of the wave causing instability and the violent vibrations.  They learned.  Sweep the wings back so the entire wing is post shock wave.  All supersonic aircraft have since been designed that way.  Google for pictures of the Blackbird, Concorde, Stealth Fighter, F-14, 22, and a gazillion others and you can see this delta wing design.  You don’t see this on your basic subsonic A320 passenger jet.  Mechanical engineers should already know this.  If not, they went to the wrong school or slept through fluid dynamics.

Policy, on the other hand, does not work this way in my opinion because policy affects infinite variables and you are dealing with peoples’ decisions on a macro basis, not physics.  When accounting for decisions made by 300 million individuals followed by a chain reaction of decisions that is limitless, you will get the same results from the same policy every time.

Keynesian theory (stimulus), for example has failed, what a thousand times, not counting the depression?  But we keep trying.  See this damning report by two Ph.D. economists, one from The Ohio State University and one from the University of Western Ontario.  The Act “saved or created” 443 thousand government jobs and “destroyed” about 1 million private sector jobs.  I wonder if the study was funded by ARRA!  LOL!  Has anyone seen Joe Biden lately?

I could write a book regarding why it doesn’t work on a macro level, but let me just provide some reasons believers give for it not working: it wasn’t enough money ($800 billion is almost $3,000 for every man woman and child in the country – how many flat screen TVs from China do we need?), it doesn’t work during deficit spending, the financial crisis, the Bowl Championship Series, La Nina, Rosie quit The View, people were busy preparing for the apocalypse that failed to materialize over the weekend  – you name it.

Likewise, it’s been a bomb for energy efficiency.

  • Utility and regulatory stakeholders in Iowa opined they couldn’t wait for the funding to stop so people would get off their hands and get in the game again.  Now that ARRA is wearing off, an objective observer can see this happening – the economy improving, slowly.
  • Cash for clunkers miniscule EE impacts.  Over an AESP conference lunch last week, I visited with an engineer from Southern Company, Alabama and he said the Honda and Mercedes plants in their service territory were running around the clock, full tilt.  Post cash for clunker they were running at half capacity.  And savings?
  • A long time ago, I said the money going to EE needs oversight to ensure it isn’t wasted.  Well lo and behold, a few weeks after this we bid as a sub-consultant to evaluate the funds spent in California and won the project.  We haven’t seen a nickel’s worth of work yet.
  • With a business partner’s lead, we pursued pilot work to pursue some ARRA funds, despite my vowing not to pursue ARRA funds.  Result: $130,000 lost in work we will never be paid for.
  • We had a “shovel ready” LEED® project for a new federal building ready to go.  After dragging on for months, our LEED services were value-engineered out of it.  Did the OSU guy capture this?
  • In the past couple weeks we considered going after some DOE EE evaluation work with one of our best clients but dropped out once intelligence revealed a competitor was going to low-ball it with their “government rates”.  Reverse price fixing.  I wonder how the rest of their clients feel about this??

What else is ironic is I would say our industry is quite progressive, yet when politically favored are in power, EE gets the shaft.  Consider WI, which during the recession prior to this one, the Democratic governor Jim Doyle, almost collapsed the state’s energy program by taking HALF the budget dollars rather than cutting spending elsewhere.  In speaking with Californians last week at AESP, the same thing is on the table in Sacramento, with a Democrat uber-super-duper majority.  I said, I bet there’s uproar over that.  Not a peep.  How could this be?  Unions Trumpka EE, get it?

Meanwhile, on the right you have people like Rand Paul with his kooky bill to undo the incandescent ban; Glen Beck waxing hysterically that George Soros will use the CFL as a tool to overthrow the US government and Media Matters will control your smart grid connection; Bush and hydrogen; and of course there is a considerable faction of right wingers that would just as soon gut all EE efforts and drill, mine, build power plants, and power lines willy nilly, and waste resources per market forces.

Finally there is this triple lindy irony: the incandescent ban, signed into law by Bush, hated by right, generally applauded by policy people in our industry, is causing much angst for program people.  It’s taking with it a gravy train of easy savings for EE programs.  An entire cottage industry is developing to rationalize the legitimacy of maintaining these savings.  There’s a problem though.  I can get CFLs on Amazon.com for less coin than the less efficient halogen.  We may actually see incentives for throwing away working incandescent light bulbs (just guessing).

Will the Republicans dismantle our industry?  It’s probably not going to happen in Wisconsin.  A friend (Shaw) of a friend (Koch) of the governor is the administrator!  What a hoot – a story for another day.

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





Green Jacket, Cigar, Gold Rings, and Disneyland

18 01 2011

I attended the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance last week and it was an interesting environment, to say the least.  This was the 4th or 5th MEEA conference I have attended. 

Behavioral stuff is an up and coming topic/issue in the EE industry.  I am planning to do a rant that to save energy, people have to give a crap.  I just need something to push me over the edge.  After all, just about all lasting energy efficiency requires behavioral changes.  Only inanimate, stationary, non-energy consuming stuff, e.g., insulation, doesn’t require behavior change.  Everything else has a behavioral component for maintenance, avoiding rebound and things like that.

What was probably most interesting to me was the political environment addressed by speakers at the conference.  For whatever reason, MEEA likes to attract people from Washington DC to discuss current events.  Essentially, people from the Department of Energy, Alliance to Save Energy, and Center for American Progress, to name a few, are on the defensive with the congressional wipeout last fall.  The theme I absorbed was one of playing defense and riding out this storm.  The mood for some was as though their dog had just left them and passed on to k9 heaven. 

One speaker was afraid of the jobs that were going to be lost but also threw wild numbers around – like the energy efficiency portion of the stimulus produced $50 billion in economic activity and that the regulation put in place and on auto pilot will produce billions of baskets of bread from the heavens in the next couple years. 

Energy efficiency is not like giving a child an immunization.  I’m a member of Rotary International and one of Rotary’s missions is to end polio worldwide.  We were down to just a few very poor and politically repressed countries like Afghanistan and Sudan, but like anything, completely eliminating something is very difficult.  Anyway, I’ve seen many photos of children bawling their eyes out as volunteers dripped immunization in their mouth.  This may seem unpleasant to the tikes but it is obviously in their favor and has a practically infinite benefit/cost ratio. 

Conversely, we can’t ram energy efficiency down peoples’ throats.  How many times do I have to say it?  The price of ramming things down American’s throats: 63 house seats, 6 senate seats, 5 net governorships with a near sweep in the Midwest, and a tidal wave of state house flips.  Here’s how regulations work: increase the cost of doing business and businesses move out of the state or overseas and then they get blasted for being Benedict Arnolds by the very folks who impose the regulations. 

Like light bulbs I discussed last week, energy efficiency is gathering really positive momentum, not because of top down regulation, but because it’s good for business.  See Save Energy – Get Out of Jail where Wal-Mart used “green” to get thousands of critics off its back.  They in turn are requiring energy efficiency standards for their suppliers.  I just red about Holcim cement getting ENERGY STAR® ratings on five of their plants.  I can’t speak with certainty but I don’t think they are taking the time and expense to get ENERGY STAR to pump up their four-wheel-driven employees.  They are obviously doing it for marketing.

And the DOE person was concerned about the jobs that will be lost once the stimulus is gone.  What jobs?  I’ve never lived through such a bizarre two years in my life and I’ve been in business for 20 years – eewe, old codger, I am.  It’s been crazy.  Talk about modifying behavior.  Millions of people purchasing vehicles a few months before they otherwise would, leaving in its wake a predictable buying vacuum – how many jobs did that create?  I don’t know, but I just read that Ford is planning to bring on 7,000 workers about 17 months after the cash for clunkers fiasco.  The $8,000 first-time home buyer credit – same thing.  The housing market is still searching for a bottom.  Just let it bomb and let’s get on with the recovery.  With regard to EE, probably hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent pursuing federal grants.  Enormous efforts have been expended trying to get free money.  This, my friends, is not stimulative.  It’s fighting over other people’s money to be repaid sometime in the future by said people.  This too as with my rant last week was a bipartisan bad idea started by Bush. 

Meanwhile, our industry is booming but the DOE speaker doesn’t know this because she lives in the beltway bubble.  The downturn only hit our new construction and LEED services.  Our other EE services have more than made up for it and we have four engineering spots to fill but we can’t find qualified people.  How bizarre is this?!  I think I mentioned we had an outstanding candidate we spent no time giving an offer to but she already had two other offers and took one closer to the spouse’s job.  Our usual evaluation teams have had to sit out requests for proposals because some couldn’t handle the work they already had in the tank.  We’re passing on RFPs as well.  So jeezo woman, when the stimulus goes away we’ll still be working hard to find people – as will be many others in this industry.

Back to the MEEA conference:  After a series of “Oh woe is me” talks, one guy in the crowd walked up to the mic to make a suggestion.  Rather than duking it out over regulation and climate change policy, why don’t we focus on the irrefutable common benefits that everyone can buy into – that EE is cost effective and is good for business.  Give that man a standing O, a green jacket, cigar, bottle of milk, gold rings, a trophy and a trip to Disneyland.  THIS is what we ought to be doing, not battling it out over something people rank 19th out of the most critical issues of the day and something half the population opposes. 

Tidbits

Speaking of jobs… Note to wonks trying to “create” or “focus on” jobs:  People invest and are in business to make money; period.  They are not in business to hire people.  People are hired as necessary to make more money.  Think about that.  If the bureaucrats want more jobs, let people and companies make more money. 

And speaking of sole purpose of business is making money…  In New Years Collage I chronicled a three way fight The Wall Street Journal, several utility CEOs and the EPA were having.  Among the CEOs cheering the EPA’s increase in emissions regulation was Exelon Corporation’s John Rowe.  I was eating lunch at MEEA next to a long-time Chicagoan familiar with Mr. Rowe’s strategy for Exelon (parent of ComEd, which serves Chicago).  The gentleman said Mr. Rowe sold off all of Exelon’s coal generation, leaving it with only nuclear plants.  He said the nuclear plants had among the highest operating costs in the country, which left Exelon with a high operating cost, which had to be made up by higher rates.  The gentleman explained how Mr. Rowe brought on a former Naval Nuclear engineer (Yeah!  Go Navy!) to improve the “efficiency” of the nuclear fleet.  And so he turned them around overnight.  As a result Exelon has virtually no coal generation, very efficient nuclear plants, and the highest return on capital of any utility in the business.  As I mentioned above and in several other rants, CEOs report to shareholders.  Shareholders rule.  Profit is king.  I have no problem with any of this except, I think lobbying for government to regulate a competitive advantage for yourself is not something I would do.  Preparing for and reacting to policy, good or bad policy, is fine, and indeed smart business to me.  Otherwise you might find yourself on a street corner with a tin cup. 

BTW, this was not a wild eyed ideologue I was enjoying lunch with, but I did check the facts and what he told me was pretty well right in line with an article by Forbes magazine

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





Feral Cat, What Say You?

30 11 2010

Back in August I came close to posting a blog “Enough of the Empire State Building Already” but that one faded away.  In case you never read anything about energy savings and sustainability, the building is undergoing a $20 million renovation to improve energy efficiency.  The project would shave the facility’s $11 million energy bill (a cool $4 per square foot) by 38%.  Johnson Control ran ads in every trade magazine I get and various publications, including major newspapers, ran articles by the dozens.

Coming in a close second to the Empire State Building was the Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, WI.  Apparently it was the first LEED Gold certified High School for New Construction Version 2.1.  Ok.  It seems everybody associated with the project ran an ad for their greatness: manufacturers and vendors of stuff used for construction, contractors, service providers, congress people, the governor, priests, rabbis, dog catcher, and the feral animals themselves.  This went on for months.

Well it all hit the fan.  As I was flipping through my stack of trade magazines this long holiday weekend, I saw in HPAC (short for Heating Plumbing and Air Conditioning but they actually go by HPAC – HPAC.com) in their August issue that a group of stakeholders including the building committee, a couple licensed professional engineers, and other taxpayers are appealing the certification with the USGBC.  They claim the design does not and cannot meet indoor air quality standard ASHRAE 62, minimum energy performance, ASHRAE Standard 90.1, OR the minimum commissioning requirements.  Ouch!  What do you feral animals have to say for yourselves now?

I’m not going to do a ton of investigating of this crime but I have no reason at all to believe the appellants are not standing on firm ground.  What is interesting is the firestorm of HPAC reader comments, which read like blog comments of far left and far right cutting each others’ livers out.  Jeezo, the comments are still swirling three issues AFTER the first mention of it in August.  Comments include the following, each of which I respond to:

  • One of the points I raised concerned legal liabilities and the USGBC’s refusal to accept responsibility for advice about guideline compliance.

o   The USGBC shouldn’t have responsibility for advice it gives.  It’s up to the design and construction teams.  The guidelines are available.  If they can’t read, find new firms to do the job.

  • The USGBC seems to prey on undereducated, uninformed owners and the public.

o   Nice.  There are certainly uninformed folks, but I’m sure the USGBC is a deceitful money grubbing outfit headed by Gordon Gekko’s offspring.  The guy would probably dump a five gallon bucket of used motor oil in the lake if you paid him $100.

  • LEED is a standard of relative greenness, not a contract for overpaid lawyers and underemployed engineers to litigate.  …the LEED process has been a powerful force bringing green design mainstream.

o   Agreed.

  • LEED is bogus.  Let common sense prevail.  Why can’t you simply tell the architect/engineer firm(s) to design the most EE building you can without a third party intervening?

o   Because cheap and crappy always wins the bid and the average firm doesn’t really know squat about REALLY producing an efficient, comfortable, and code-compliant facility.

  • I agree [not me – the next guy reader/commenter].  USGBC does not check if equipment is installed per drawings.

o   If it did, it would cost a fortune and no one would do it.

  • [in response to the previous statement the next guy says] Get a life.  LEED is a standard of relative greenness… blah blah.  [The exact same statement as above by the same guy, published two months in a row]
  • [in response to the previous]  Mr. Perkins just doesn’t get it.  Building green just to get LEED points, rather than building a building that will improve the health of occupants[with minimal] lifetime costs, is total BS… Too many folks just care about LEED certification, not if a building really works.

o   In my opinion, LEED actually improves the odds that a building “really works”.  It requires somebody to at least fake their way through commissioning and at least think about designing for efficiency and healthy environments.  To say LEED diverts designers and contractors away from these things is irresponsible.

I mentioned before in this blog that our MO is to fix immediate problems first and take corrective action later.  Too frequently building owners/stakeholders go after the party they think is responsible and meanwhile the building festers away.  The second too-frequent approach is to hire the same fools responsible for the kludge to fix it.

Owners and stakeholders should first fix the problem by hiring somebody who knows what they are doing.  This does two things, both of which they want to fix a screwed up building: (1) gets the building working optimally as soon as possible and (2) by doing so gives them leverage with the responsible parties for some sort of settlement.

Attacking USGBC for establishing green building methods and metrics but not enforcing them with an iron fist is ridiculous.  Why not go after ASHRAE for not coming down on people like a ton of bricks for not following ASHRAE’s standards?  Energy codes that are state law in many states aren’t even enforced in some of them.  I’m not sure about the rest of the parties involved with LEED projects but engineers have codes of ethics.  I would say blowing off owner desires, cutting corners and lying about what was or was not done probably violates these ethics.  How about attacking these losers and scoundrels and running their underwear up the flagpole instead?

Tidbits

I would guess you haven’t heard but the Chicago Climate Exchange is shutting down.   At one point in this blog I explained I think that trading something that has no value in and of itself is unprecedented.  Currency is only thing I can think of that has no intrinsic value but currency is actually a means to put value on things.  I can buy groceries with currency.  I can’t buy anything with a carbon credit.

Numerous corporations were buying carbon credits and even “supporting” the legislation in the event some sort of cap and trade passed.  The legislation disintegrated and there remain only a few ashes of political will to even whisper the phrase.  The carbon value that existed was 100% speculation.  The value that remains is 100% nothing.

As I mentioned in a recent post, if cap and trade didn’t pass during last congress with unstoppable majorities in both houses and the White House, I don’t see it happening.  This does not rule out the EPA creating their own laws to put a price on carbon dioxide.

In “The Nebulous Green Job” I ranted about Green Jobs, of all things.   As it turns out the green jobs stimulus portion of the stimulus has not been too stimulating.  The Washington Post reports that the recently green-educated graduates are having difficulty finding work in solar energy installation, green landscaping, recycling, and green building demolition.  Well, heeeyeah!  Electricians and plumbers are on the prowl for PV and solar water heating systems.  There is already a live and well recycling and building demo industry.  I just burned up “the tube” in my microwave oven this weekend and the nice local do-everything, small but mighty superman store otherwise known as Coon Valley Dairy Supply replaced it.  I asked what they did with the old ones.  A local guy picks them up and strips them down into piles of materials to be sold to buyers – no government green-job intervention included.  Cool!  If there is a market people will find it and fill it.

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.

Tidbits

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





Sane Personal Transportation

3 08 2010

A couple weeks ago I beat up electric automobiles for being overpriced and unpractical due to their short driving ranges and cripplingly long charge times.  This week I present a saner approach to substantial energy and emissions reductions.

The electric car is the equivalent of installing renewable energy sources before making conventional systems and technologies as efficient as possible in buildings.  Like buildings, we can cost effectively cut personal transportation energy consumption substantially, without sacrificing anything with readily available technologies – rather than pouring gobs of money into technologies that are just five years away from prime time; like they have been for the past 30 years.

Automobiles have gotten much more efficient over the past 20-30 years.  However, the miles per gallon have hardly budged.  Automobiles have grown continuously larger and more powerful.  The modern Honda Civic, for example, is much larger and probably heavier than the “larger” Accord from 30 years ago.  The modern version is most likely much more powerful as well.

Public enemy number one on this front is the explosion of the sport utility vehicle, which sort of peaked out just before hurricane Katrina, after which the $3-4 and upward gasoline prices caught peoples’ attention.  SUV buyers can be split into two groups: the family haulers and the egocentric.  A small group of SUV owners actually need it for regularly poor driving conditions (snow for instance) and/or towing.  Maybe we need to make SUV owners pariahs akin to smokers.  We’ll have parking lots, ramps, and garages that ban SUVs.  Or maybe we put scales where you pay the parking attendant and pay a tonnage penalty for overweight vehicles.   Or we could make the entrance to these spaces so small that only a Porsche 911 size car will fit through the gate.  Speaking of Porsche and SUVs, the Cayenne was an awful development.  How about LEED points for a SUV-free workforce?  I’m not so much in favor of these things although the LEED thing is intriguing.

I have been a big advocate of gas-electric hybrids since the beginning, especially for city driving applications where brakes are applied 40 times per mile.  My question though is, why do they make so many of them so goofy looking – like the Prius and the Insight.  Other models include hybrid versions of the common all-gasoline vehicles like the Civic, Camry, and Cadillac Escalade (which is a joke).  How about some sporty smaller cars like the Celica, 240 SX, Prelude, and Integra?  Unfortunately these reasonably-priced snappy fun-to-drive models are all defunct.

As a kid, I remember the late 1970s / early 1980s and the cars of the times.  When I was first old enough to drive, my older brother was nice enough to lend me his relatively new 1979 Mercury Cougar.  Look at that behemoth.   It had rear wheel drive and handled like crap.  The closest I ever came to an accident was driving this thing down a slushy road when I wandered out of the track.  Think of going down a waterslide trying to stop by digging in your fingernails.  The next year the thing was downsized by 50%.  The gas mileage probably doubled.  BTW, I don’t know why they put that woman on there.  The car is already hideous enough.  The last thing it needs is a supermodel next to it to make it look even worse.

Another blow to petroleum consumption could be dealt with the Diesel engine.  All else equal, the Diesel engine is substantially more efficient than the gasoline (Otto) engine.  Why?  It has a higher compression ratio, which generates a higher combustion temperature.  Like steam-driven power plants, efficiency is limited mostly by the highest temperature relatively cheap steel can withstand.

Later, after ditching the Cougar and suffering through three years with a 1983 Ford Mustang, I purchased a 1984 Ford Escort Diesel.  The Focus is the descendant of the Escort.  In fact, I think the big pitch for the Escort (gas version) was its fuel economy.  Most people I’ve talked to regarding the Diesel version are amazed to know there was such a thing.  Yes – 48 miles per gallon – 1984 – 27 years ago in car terms.  We don’t need rocket science or even some mythical magical battery.  We just need somebody with a brain promoting sane solutions to saving personal transportation energy.

Diesels faded from the American auto-makers’ lineups of cars for whatever reason.  General Motors somehow took a gasoline engine and turned it into a Diesel engine for its first shot at Diesel engines for light vehicles.  This was about 1982.  I remember driving my brother-in-law’s Diesel Silverado pickup truck and pulling a trailer.  It would literally take ¾ of a mile on flat terrain with no wind to get up to 55 mph.  It was the most pathetic excuse for a truck I had ever experienced.

I believe Volkswagen has offered diesel vehicles since way back.  To demonstrate how a sane approach to efficient transportation makes the insane look stupid, consider the Diesel versions of the VW Golf, Jetta, and Jetta wagon are rated at about 42 mpg, highway.  The tiny tin can lawnmower on wheels, the “Smart Car,” is rated at a pathetic 41 mpg.  You don’t even have room for an extra pair of shoes in one of those things.  They haul groceries as long as it is limited to Ramen noodles and canned tuna.

So how about these qualities to easily get to 60 mpg with virtually no sacrifice in performance, convenience, or ego:

  • Shrink cars back to where they were in the late 1980s with a proportional shrunken engine
  • Diesel engines
  • Hybrids
  • Styling that that doesn’t scream “I am a snooty college professor and I am better than you”.

These vehicles would result in SUBSTANTIALLY LESS EMISSIONS than a $40,000, 40 mile per charge ELECTRIC VEHICLE.  If you are thinking, “but we can power electric vehicles with windmills”, it doesn’t work that way.  Windmills and other renewable energy will always be fully utilized.  The incremental increase (or decrease) in electric consumption will come from conventional sources regardless of how you want to pretend you’re charging your batteries with a windmill.  In other words, electric cars will be charged with coal, natural gas, or nuclear power.

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





The Nebulous Green Job

13 07 2010

“Green jobs” have been all the buzz for quite some time, probably before Barack Obama was elected president, but I don’t know for sure.  What the heck is a green job anyway?  Some real answers include those like we have at Michaels Engineering with 20+ engineers working full time on real energy-saving projects.  Another example is the guy who operates the humongous crane that helps erect humongous wind turbines.

But politicians and academic eggheads aren’t talking about jobs like we have at Michaels, although they probably do agree the crane driver has a green job, but it goes far beyond that to Alice’s wonderland.  Take this Mark Izeman guy’s interview.   I’ll paraphrase the questions and answers for brevity here.

Q:  What should graduates look for by way of green jobs?

A:  Look into areas of energy efficiency, renewable, cap and trade, and local food, which is a red hot issue.

These are shot gun recommendations for everyone leaving college with cap and gown stuffed in a suit case: physical education, political science, sociology, library science, foreign relations, mass communication majors included.  Quite frankly, I don’t know what people with these sorts of academic backgrounds are going to do unless they want to weld and assemble wind turbines and electric cars.  Otherwise, there are always more PR jobs like the guy being interviewed in the article, but what good does that do?  It’s like hiring cheerleaders to double as special teams experts in the NFL.  What we need is more players and fewer cheerleaders (strictly speaking about the “green jobs” industry and not the NFL).

And then he says buying local food.  What are you going to do with that?  Start your own vegetable farm?  I think there is a lot of cheap land available in Detroit for this.  There are more jobs available working for Dole, which grow strawberries in CA, bananas from Guatemala or Ecuador or someplace like that.  I’m sure there are a lot of management, marketing and sales jobs and stuff like that with these companies.  Oh, I forgot.  These aren’t “green jobs”.  Never mind.

RA (real answer):  Think before selecting a college major.  With an engineering degree you will have the flexibility to fill or create any number of green jobs.  Library science guy?  Not so much, for real anyway.

Q:  Has the stimulus created “green jobs”?

A:  Fifty thousand “green jobs” have been saved or created.

Can we count the 20 plus engineering jobs we “saved” in this total?  Why did “jobs created” morph into “jobs created or saved”?  Obviously, the latter can mean anything.  Since the 4 million jobs have disappeared while the unemployment rate has gone up (down most recently because the workforce is shrinking as people quit looking for work), it’s pretty hard to claim jobs have been created.

Fifty thousand is a pathetic number, even if it represented “created jobs” only.  Here’s a sneaky secret:  you know when you apply for a federal grant, which seems to be part of nearly everyone’s business model nowadays, one of the selection criteria is you guessed it, “jobs created or saved”.  Well my new LED street lighting job is going to create or save at least 200 jobs.  This probably gets as much scrutiny as an Energy Star dust mop.

RA:  Nobody has a clue, really.

Q:  How many “green manufacturing jobs” will replace lost manufacturing jobs?

A:  Lieberman/Kerry cap and trade will create 200,000 jobs per year over the next 10 years.

RA:  In China and India.

Q:  How do you define “green jobs” in the first place?

A:  He doesn’t know but the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is figuring it out.

Why?  A job is a job, so if my job is a green job, I guess that’s one less engineering services job.  It’s one or the other.

RA:  Whatever it takes to capture enough jobs for some political end.

Q:  What is the outlook for “green jobs” sector over the next 40 years?

A:  “Greening the economy and creating new jobs, which will become so plentiful and normal we won’t label them “green jobs”.

RA:  The outlook is good.  I don’t think this will be going away, but let’s dispose with the “green jobs” moniker, which is just political wrapping paper to pass massive spending bills.

Demand for green stuff is growing on its own.  Take LEED, which is run by a non-profit United States Green Building Council.  It has been wildly successful and as far as I know, it has taken very little if any money from federal, state, or local governments.  I don’t see a single government employee on the board of director committees.  Gee.  I wonder if there is a connection between wild success and lack of government bureaucrats??  You don’t suppose.

Wal-Mart has probably produced more “green jobs” per the definition provided in the article/interview noted above than the federal government could ever hope to accomplish.  People buy hybrid cars on their own volition.  Leading hybrid-producing car companies didn’t need any government largess to be successful in this market.  I do think they will need government handouts for development of electric vehicles which, I am guessing will go on the scrap heap of bad ideas, right on top of the fuel cell vehicles that we should have been driving by the thousands by now.  More on this later.

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





Planet of the Alpha Ape – EE Killer

29 06 2010

I know next to nothing, no, make that nothing about anthropology.  However, on several occasions I have read that throughout the animal kingdom, every social group, pack, pod, litter, colony, team, board of supervisors, has an alpha that leads the bunch.

This holds true for humans although the outward authority of the alpha differs a lot from one group to another.  Take for example a board of directors for a non-profit, a school board, and for-profit enterprises.  The alpha may simply guide discussions at meetings, keep things on track and moving along and assist the group in coming to a consensus or at least a voting majority.  This works well and is beneficial to the team.  People are allowed to voice their opinions, listen to others, persuade and/or be persuaded and the group as a whole makes decisions that a true majority is in favor of.

Then there is the alpha ape.  The alpha ape is an ignorant, chest thumping, loud mouth who is going to save the rest of the loutish boors on the board from their own stupidity.

On one occasion, we were in the early stages of design for a major building project for a college facility.  The college’s mission or vision statement (or something like that) explained that they were essentially committed to be an isolated ecosystem.  The only mass that enters and exits the system is people.  They grow their own food, recycle their waste, generate all the tiny bit of energy they use, and have no runoff.  Of course this is facetious, but the statement indicated they have the greenest campus in the world.

So there we were – on a teleconference with their board, the architect, and some other stakeholders when the subject of LEED is put on the table.  The alpha ape takes over for the client’s board essentially saying, “No way.  Costs a fortune.  I know all about it. It’s a waste of money and we’re not going follow the 10,000 other morons who do this LEED crap.  We can follow the LEED stuff without messing with those drones.”  We on the other end of the phone were rolling our eyes and shaking our heads so loudly we had to put the phone on mute.  If these people did this project and didn’t “waste their time and money” with LEED, they would regret it big time.  It would literally be an embarrassment for a long time, we thought.  They would look like fools with that mission statement and how would their donors respond?  And wouldn’t you know it, a couple months later we got a call from the college president.  They wanted to know how much LEED would cost, anyway.  I wonder how alpha ape got out of that with his ego intact.  Months later the project gets LEED Gold and this puts the president is in a state of euphoric nirvana as a result.

In a more recent case, we presented a school district with a project that would cut their energy costs by one third with a payback of barely over a year.  In another case, we presented a financial institution with the opportunity to cut its energy costs by more than half with a 1.6 year payback[1].  In the former case the administrator exerted his brilliance and authority by killing the project.   Meanwhile, he wanted to do a lighting project that had a payback of about 10 years but it didn’t work out financially – the monthly savings would not be greater than the monthly payments.  But he wasn’t about to look frail by lumping that in with our project that has a 1.5 year payback and would save 30% of total consumption.  Brilliant!  How do these people think?  I wonder how they fit their ego through the door in the morning.

What are the traits/proclivities of the alpha ape?

  • Cannot believe how much smarter he is relative to everyone else in the room.
  • Revels at the challenge of shooting down the most obviously beneficial projects, just to demonstrate his power and influence.
  • Sucks every bit of intellectual capital he can get from a consultant for free, and then feels a strong sense of accomplishment for paying nothing and wasting thousands of dollars of consultant’s time and expenses.
  • Drives an expensive car.
  • Is less charitable than Joe Biden.
  • Won’t engage in any competition such as video games, golf or pinochle where he knows he may lose.
  • Screams at his 10 year old for booting a ground ball in little league.
  • Gets into fights with parents on the opposing team.
  • Budges in line at the airport.
  • Is rude and obnoxious with wait staff and leaves $2 tips.
  • Won’t give Wiffle balls back to neighbor kids who are able to clear his 15 foot backyard fence.
  • Dogs growl and bark wildly in his presence – like the Terminator.

How does one overthrow an alpha?  In the world of the predator, say a pack of lions, a challenger will fight the alpha perhaps to its death, and then kill the loser alpha’s cubs.  An energy efficiency or LEED project in most cases does not rise to this level of importance.  But seriously, if you can make an alpha ape look like the fool that he is, and this is typically not difficult – it just takes some gastro rectitude, he can fade like a day-old poppy.


[1] You may be thinking: “30%, sure.  50% sure.”  We haven’t come up short on actual savings versus predicted savings yet.

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





LEED and Immortality

22 06 2010

I was recently reading a letter to the editor in The Wall Street Journal where the reader blasted ag biotech companies like Dow Chemical and Monsanto for creating “superweeds”.  Monsanto transformed crop farming with the development of Roundup herbicide, which kills practically anything with roots but is otherwise quite benign (oxymoron alert).  They later developed genetically modified seeds for plants that are immune to the weed killer.  But weeds, like bacteria, have morphed to become immune to Roundup.  The letter goes on to compare the superweeds to antibiotic–resistant organisms.  Except, nobody is going to be killed by a superweed.  So I finished reading that and thought, “yep, we should just surrender to the weeds.”  The guy proposed no solutions.

The bottom line: there are tradeoffs with just about everything.  Likewise, LEED is not without flaws due to a nuisance called reality.  This recent report by Environment and Human Health, Inc. seems to indicate LEED certified buildings are as dangerous as catching a falling knife while standing on a mixture of burning coals and broken glass in a cloud of radon and asbestos dust while bathing in beams of UV and high energy gamma radiation.  Good grief.  What do they expect?  LEED buildings to be as safe as surgery suites with massive air changes of fresh air, positively pressurized and filtered to 0.1 micrometer (that’s 3x better than required)?  LEED is not intended to be the fountain of youth and anyone who thinks it is will have buyer’s remorse because LEED will not make you immortal.

These people are whining that the tight buildings promoted by LEED lead to higher concentrations of “toxic” chemicals indoors.  Anything can be considered toxic. A year or two ago a woman overdosed on water for a stupid radio contest to see who could down the most water in a short period of time – all to win some concert tickets or something.  It was lethal.  Dead.  The EPA has declared CO2, a vital gas we cannot live without, to be dangerous enough that they must regulate it.  The Supremes obliged.  Peanuts can also be lethal.  Should we have a credit for a peanut-free facility?  What about fire?  We have fire codes, alarms, strobes, exit signs, multiple egresses, emergency lights, sprinklers, and extinguishers.  People still die in fires and explosions.  What should LEED become? A specification for a bomb-proof rubber room with no sharp objects, electricity, or natural gas with 20 air changes per hour?

Study finding: There is no federal standard or regulation of green building standards.  Thank God!  One of the reasons LEED has been spectacularly successful is it’s directors are primarily engineers, architects, developers, and manufacturers – people who live in the real world, want to make the world a better place, and they need to get things done and move on.  If this were turned over to the feds, count on the price of certification to triple.  The whole thing would become politicized and the companies with the deepest pockets will turn Washington into their primary delivery channel for their products and services.  NO THANK YOU!

Finding: Energy efficiency has priority over health.  Note to EEHI: The two Es in LEED stand for energy and environmental (design).  The primary objective is sustainability, which means something different to everyone but everyone would agree it includes elements of resource preservation and minimal impact on environment due to garbage, water runoff, energy and water consumption, transportation and a bunch of other stuff.  The objective is to minimize these impacts while improving indoor environment by promoting the assurance of ventilation levels, air filtering, minimization of volatile organic compound emissions (paint and adhesive smell), and in fact there is a credit for extra ventilation over and above the minimum “required”.

Finding:  The Green Building Council’s award of “platinum,” “gold”, and “silver” status conveys the false impression of a healthy and safe building environment.  What?  How is this?

Finding:  Energy conservation efforts have made buildings tighter, often reducing air exchange between the indoors and outdoors.  It is becoming clear, these people haven’t gone beyond the list of credits.  Ventilation is governed by ASHRAE Standard 62, which states “This standard is intended for regulatory application to new buildings, additions to existing buildings and those changes to existing buildings that are identified in the body of the standard”.  So there you have it – regulation!

Finding: Tens of thousands of different building materials and products are now sold in global markets. Many of these products contain chemicals recognized by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the CDC, or the World Health Organization to be hazardous.  And the point is….?  Gasoline is explosive, therefore, LEED is bad.  OH, I get it.  Sorry for being so slow minded.

Finding: No Level of LEED Certification Assures Health Protection.  Tell me.  Does ANYTHING assure health protection?  Answer: NO.  Why?  Because somebody is doing something really stupid somewhere every second of the day and if they get hurt the “assurers of health protection” get sued out of existence.  These people should look on the back side of their sun visors in their cars.

Finding/conclusion: LEED Credit System—Something For All, Guarantees for None.  That is correct sir!  If LEED guaranteed anything, it wouldn’t exist.  There are a thousand reasons for no guarantees, starting with the main one: the design and construction team responsible for LEED certification cannot prevent the owner from doing stupid things from day one.

Academic “experts” can blast anything to bits from the ivory tower.  Perhaps they should consider the cost of living by their creed and what the market will bear.  LEED, even when done poorly reduces resource depletion, pollution, and improves indoor environment compared to the status quo, on average, all else equal.  Maybe they should start their own LEED on steroids and just sit and wait for the phone to ring before assaulting the next advancement in comprehensive sustainable design and construction practices.

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





Green Will Follow, Then Lead

26 01 2010

Some of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA or “stimulus”) targets energy efficiency and green jobs training.  Wisconsin just announced $2 million in green jobs training.  Oregon: $6 million.  First off, I’m skeptical of these curricula.  Who will be teaching?  What is the curriculum?  At a cost of about $6,000 per graduate, it’s close to one year of in-state tuition and fees at a public university.  Wow.

Who is going to attend these courses?  I would say a significant portion would be laid off construction workers and skilled trades workers.  Once they are trained to weatherize homes, which does require training, no question about it, they will be ready.  But maybe in a year “real” jobs will return, and do you think a construction worker who can make $50k per year will keep weatherizing homes?  I doubt whether home weatherization can compete with that.  But I digress.

The purported goal of these programs is jobs – green jobs.  These jobs will lead us out of the economic funk we’re in.  I disagree.  The green jobs will really begin to flourish once and if the economy ever recovers.

We need a strong economy to spur construction.  We have a design division and within our energy division, we have a sustainability group that provides new construction design assistance and LEED® consulting services.  These would be considered high paying, long term jobs but as the economy is in the tank, these core services have ground to a slow crawl.  These were “green” jobs before green was a color.  Fortunately, our services are sufficiently diversified that we can keep relatively busy backfilling our other service areas.  Other firms aren’t so lucky.  Unemployment among architect, engineering and construction workers is running nearly double the national average.

Furthermore, with the economy in the tank, energy demand is down.  If you don’t believe it, just ask utility employees who are forced to take unpaid furloughs.  With shriveled demand, who needs energy programs?  Sure, in the short term this will have no effect.  If there is a long term, these programs may lose favor with the public, which is and will be squeezing every penny.  I’m sure we have a long grace period per the currently popular “green jobs” movement.

A strong economy will revive construction and manufacturing and this in turn will put pressure on energy supply, prices, and infrastructure; the drivers for demand side management programs and energy efficiency (not to mention the A&E and construction industries).  It will also put money in public and private institutions’ pockets to spend on energy retrofit and energy efficient new construction.  THEN green jobs will really emerge, organically – how about that!

A strong economy will also move institutions from deer in the headlights / survival mentality to a more competitive mindset.  Once this occurs, green will be a key ingredient to the competitive edge and it will lead the way in differentiating product A from product B, retailer 1 versus retailer 2, or A&E firm α from A&E firm β.

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