The Unholy Holiday Tree

21 12 2010

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog you must have disagreed with something or maybe more strongly taken exception or offense to something.  In this week’s post, maybe I can pick up everyone else.

Christmases were great when I was kid.  It was by far my favorite holiday.  I couldn’t wait for my mom to put up the same crappy artificial tree every year.  It consisted of a broomstick like trunk with holes drilled to support the “branches”.  The branches consisted of twisted No. 9 wire with plastic pine needles that I guess may be best described as like bristles in a brush.  The ends had a cluster of bristles.  The branches and twigs looked like spiral pipe cleaners.

“It’s like martinis.  A couple at a time is perfect.  Twenty is a little messy and painful.”

We were able to pile enough tinsel rope and ornaments on it to make it look respectable.  In a way it was better than most trees, real or fake because we had lots of one-off ornaments made by us kids, or given as gifts for this or that.  There were almost no box collections of glass balls, which typically broke one by one as we played football on our knees in the living room.  My knees burn and back hurts just thinking about it.  This was the football version of Nerf basketball.  Somebody would inevitably get tackled into the tree sending ornaments flying.  It wasn’t a good time until something broke or mom came tromping in with the wooden spoon.

Well that burned off as the years passed and the holiday break just became an over-welcome break from school and time to play holiday basketball tournaments in high school.  In college I had a chance to get together with friends for more robust celebration.  Now as an old man, it’s a nice break to get a reprieve from email and fire fighting and a time to catch up and actually take a couple days off for real.  The only downside is we have to drive to my mom’s with a house full of siblings, their kids and extended family.  It isn’t as though I don’t like people in my family.  I just don’t like being trapped in a relatively small house with all of them at once.  It’s like martinis.  A couple at a time is perfect.  Twenty is a little messy and painful.  But this is the greatest thing in the world for Mom so it’s worth it.

We get a Christmas tree for our office every year.  At one point the clean up crew got fed up with the needles so we converted to a fake tree.  Now we’re back to real trees probably because we now have a hardwood floor rather than crappy carpet, so cleanup’s a breeze, I think.

This year our tree arrived and I thought, wow what a spectacular tree.  I spend many hours, many, many hours trying to grow trees like that on my wooded lot.  Growing trees on my lot is like fish fry making it to spawning age.  Only about 2% of them make it without getting mowed off by 100 pound rodents others call whitetail deer.  I have a hell of a time getting the trees above munching height.  It’s difficult to grow tall trees when they get munched off every year.  An electric fence and individual fence barriers are installed for protection.  I’m sure my neighbors think I’m a whack job but we know them quite well and they know I don’t have horns and a pointy tail.

Then once trees get above munching height they become targets for the damn bucks that do their antler scraping on them and in probably two minutes they can destroy a beautiful 5 year old tree.  I usually refer to hunting as killing defenseless animals, per my former boss’s definition, but at my house it’s pest eradication.  When I was a kid I hunted all the time for everything that was fair game, but now I beg my neighbor to eradicate the varmints but he’s too sportsman like – too much of a hunter.  It has to be a clean shot, the right size varmint, the right gender and all that kind of crap.  Just take them out.  I’ll pay the butcher.

So at Christmastime people are out chopping down perfect trees that I’m trying to grow.  Our office tree like most others is blocking views to outdoors in our office and lights are deployed up the wazoo.  It (was) surrounded by many frivolous gifts wrapped in goofy wrapping paper or fancy bags that when burned only are half consumed as the rest is some combination of non-combustible clay and other paint residue (not that I’ve tried this).  All this flies in the face of LEED and sustainability.

For the office Christmas party, we are encouraged to get $10-15 gifts for a random gift exchange.  Guys this is the rule: 12-packs of damn good beer only.

So my green solution is this:  Chip in for a reusable keg (otherwise known as half barrels in this goofy state) of damn good beer.  We drink our limit of 24 ounces with our reusable glasses (real glass ones).  Use one of the potted plants for the Christmas tree.  At my house, we use our fig tree and in fact, I liked it so much last year, we left the lights (LED of course) installed all year.  The lights are on a timer.  The wrapping paper for the keg can be one reusable bow used annually.  We don’t need no stinking wrapping paper.  The women can either partake in the beer consumption, get a box of wine or even a barrel, or a bulk tank of floral hand lotion.  Whatever it takes; just no cluttery knickknacks.

The tree growers can bring their skills to my house.  I would gladly pay $30-$50 a pop for these perfect trees that are currently being massacred and I’m not talking about buying the big trees.  Plant seedlings and tend them until they get above munching and scraping size.

Now that my friends, is a sustainable Christmas.

Tidbits

After our tree was installed in the office this year, I asked where are the candy canes?  Get some candy canes so I can get my sugar fix.  So Deb, our receptionist kindly populated the tree with candy canes.  I ask, why can’t somebody patent a candy cane wrapper that is easy to remove.  Getting the wrapper off a candy cane is like skinning a frozen earth worm.  After a while of biting and clawing at it, just eat the whole thing.  Same thing goes for compact disc wrappers.  Good grief, what is it about these things?  It says lift here but that peels off a tiny sliver of super sticky tape.  So you have to work for five minutes to get the thing open.  Think of the lost GDP.

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





Flash Cards, CFD, and Jujus

14 12 2010

I just finished plowing out after probably a foot of snow fell over about 18 hours Saturday afternoon into the wee hours of Sunday morning.  My wife suggested I go blow out the neighbor’s driveway.  He’s had heart problems but he does have a blower so I said give them a call to see if it’s ok because if somebody blew my driveway out I’d be pissed.  It would be like watching somebody else reel in my trophy fish for me – especially with the virtually unstoppable John Deere at my fingertips.  A few years ago, I first added a couple suitcase weights.  Last year I added two more and finally broke down and got chains.  With the wheel weights, it probably has close to 400 lbs for added traction but there’s room for one more suitcase weight and I could fill the tires with fluid – probably not necessary!

Anyway, I was thinking once again that as of Thursday, the forecast for this weather system that dumped a foot on us was for “snow showers”.  I don’t know what a snow shower is but it doesn’t bring to mind belly-deep snow for our Labrador Retrievers.  Two days before we got hit with an awesome storm and a foot of snow, the forecast was “snow showers”.  Other times the forecast is for six to eight inches and we get flurries instead.  (Flurries incidentally are snowflakes that only exist in the air or in your mind in which case you would be a Parmenidean airhead)  Anyone living in the Midwest away from areas susceptible to lake-effect snow has experienced this grossly erroneous forecasting at least a dozen times a year.

We have what, 70, maybe 80 years of practice forecasting weather?  It’s essentially a two-dimensional turbulence problem over this short two-day term.  Thousands of people, including the almighty federal government, have spent their entire lives “learning” to predict weather, now with the most powerful computers known to the human race.  Yet they still hit this forecast so poorly that if it were a golf shot, it wouldn’t even be a worm killer.  The ball wouldn’t make it off the tee box.  The forced draft of the club head would be just enough to knock the ball off the tee.  Foink.

So I ask, isn’t a little bit or completely naïve, ignorant, pompous or something to think computer models can predict the earth’s temperature over the long term?  Beyond the relatively simple two-dimensional weather model, the global temperature model would have only about 8,000 additional variables, some huge ones like turbulence in the oceans which are giant heat sinks, (and I mean giant and they spin tangentially and vertically relative to the earth’s surface) the heat source’s (sun’s) output variance, volcanoes spewing grit and CO2 shutting down continental air traffic for weeks, and I could list at least 500 additional ones but don’t want to bore you further.

Or take the relatively simple subject of economics.  Projecting what will happen next in the economy may be easier than predicting the weather.  Still, nobody has come close.   One guy says we can never forecast the economy with any accuracy.  I think he should try modeling the planet.

It isn’t a question of whether CO2 affects global temperatures.  It does, (as do cucumbers) all else equal, but does it match a single eruption?  I would say anyone who emphatically says it does should try their graces at forecasting the weather a while.  Even if we could predict with 99% accuracy (whatever that means) what the weather will be one week from today, it would be the equivalent of first grade flash cards compared to Ph.D. level computational fluid dynamics that would be the global model.  But even that would be oversimplification because sooner or later the first grader can learn CFD.

Further comparing weather forecasting to climate modeling, with weather forecasting we have instant and absolutely positive feedback in a very short period of time – an instant comparatively.  Modelers examine what may have went wrong with their model such that it predicted snow showers and the next thing you know, the Vikings with their new coach and geriatric quarterback are playing in Detroit – as their home field against the NY Giants.  The parameters are few.  The outcome variance is huge and the feedback is instant.  The lessons learned should fill the library of congress, yet in 80 years (whatever) we still can’t even predict the weather a couple days out.

I don’t pretend to know the answer.  I know enough via academic background and experience, and the obvious, that I, nor can anyone else project future climate patterns with any sort of certainty.  Or, as Rummy once eloquently said, “Reports that say something hasn’t happened are interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Tidbits

This guy is bringing a class action lawsuit against the USGBC because he isn’t participating in LEED and he thinks LEED is a farce giving others an unfair advantage.  I didn’t see anyone else in the class.  It must be him and the mouse in his pocket.

This is entirely unproductive and as I suggested just a couple weeks ago in Feral Cat, What Say You, if he goes after USGBC, why not go after ASHRAE and all the state reviewers of code compliance.  Rather than getting on board and getting involved tear it down.  This scorched earth does no good for anyone, the plaintiff in this case as well.  It is the opposite of the way we choose to do business.

Secondly, PC Magazine published an article reporting that Pike Research completed a study indicating cloud computing would reduce worldwide data center energy expenditures by 38% in the next few years.  Back in April in my rant about Greenpeace, I confessed to being ignorant with respect to IT but I put my credibility on the line essentially betting cloud computing would save energy.  Touché.

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





Another Committee – Alleluia

7 12 2010

Hide the kids.  The DOE has spawned an energy and renewable advisory committee.   You know, a diversified products / technology manufacturer like 3M or DuPont should examine the Byzantine labyrinth of government agencies as a model to develop the next bullet, explosion, radiation, fire, water, and bio proof wonder material.  I have to believe that if they could weave sewing thread or maybe two pound monofilament fishing line into such a fabric it would stop a 40 caliber projectile at point blank and not even cause a contusion.

Why does the country need this?  Why does the country need a debt commission for that matter?  We have a full time congress for goodness sake.  Isn’t that what they are supposed to be doing?  I suppose this is this too much to ask of 535 FULL TIME bureaucrats?

As anyone who knows anything would guess, the committee is dominated by academics and government wonks, although at least there is one utility guy on there.  Therefore, I am sure we will have a cornucopia of far out recommendations from a distant galaxy.  Most likely it will be heavy on far out technology and more spectacular policies like 15% or is it 20% ethanol blends for gasoline.  Maybe they can mandate its use, block imports, subsidize it with our money, steal our watch and tell us what time it is too.

Do these people or anyone at the DOE realize there is an industry of private sector product and service providers that work on our home planet of Earth with end users (also home-based on Earth)?  We are constrained to pesky things such as the laws of nature and economics and consumer whims.  I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it a million more times, the savings potential from cost effective measures from current technologies and services is at least 30%.  See the McKinsey report from last year as backup for my hypothesis by people who know what they are talking about.

On the other hand, I read that this group is only going to meet twice a year and judging by the agenda of the first meeting it appears they won’t be inflicting too much damage on the citizenry.  If this is all they are going to do twice a year maybe this is simply a resume stuffer organization.  “Served on the Secretary of Energy’s Energy and Renewable Advisory Committee” would sound impressive for an introduction for a keynote address at Yale University’s spring graduation, especially for graduates with degrees in renewable energy management.

Tidbits

FIFA (Federation International de Football Association) chose Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup tournament.   Qatar, a tiny tumor of a country jutting into the Arabian Gulf is about the size of Connecticut, or about twice the size of Long Island (although saying it’s twice as big as anything is misleading).  Temperatures during the World Cup there will approach 426F, just below the point of spontaneous combustion of flammable items like paper but fortunately for most World Cup fans, above the melting point of the vuvuzela.  I rather like the vuvuzela, at least as comes across on the TV.  It’s hilarious like a cloud of June bugs or swarm of mosquitoes amplified a couple hundred fold.

In addition to building nine new stadiums and renovating a couple others, they will be supplying OUTDOOR air conditioning for these stadiums.  They will probably need to build a couple thousand MW power plants as well.

South Africa boasted that theirs was the greenest World Cup ever.  If Qatar says anything about green, they will have to use Venus as the baseline alternative for measuring the savings realized.  If I were them, I would just go with it and say this is the most ridiculous idea of all time.  We will proudly burn as much energy as half the countries with teams at the tournament.

I can almost guarantee they will build a photovoltaic plant the size of the country in the Saudi Arabian desert and that’s what we will be hearing about.

Too see how much money people in this region have, do a Google Earth or Maps of Dubai.  Apparently there isn’t enough moonscape barren coast on which to build opulent homes, so they make their own islands or “palms” where the strips of land take on the pattern of the veins in a palm leaf I guess.  And they have all the huge sky scrapers including the world’s tallest building.  What for?  By the looks of it, the only people who work there must be those that take care of the people who live there.  And why the tall buildings?  My impression has always been skyscrapers are needed for land-locked cities like New York and Hong Kong.  UAE makes Phoenix look like the Amazon basin.  There is nothing there.  Just pave it over and sprawl out so there is something to do with your time – like drive your 12 cylinder Italian sports car to the spa, bank, casino and back home.  The place is so un-natural it creeps me out.

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





Cool Milk, Raisin Bran, and I’m Fine

23 11 2010

I stay in hotels/motels probably 40-50 nights per year, at least it seems so.  If lodging facilities were in a league of teams competing to be the greenest facilities, these guys would be the Detroit Lions.

Most franchise motels, those not located in downtown high rise buildings, are built with the cheapest, crappiest stuff possible.  The only thing that is decent in them is the TV but sometimes even that is a junky 19 inch CRT clunker.  Who has spent a night in room with through-wall air conditioner/heater with a temperature control knob that spins round and round like the fake knobs on a Fisher Price toy for a 2 year old?  They fit as tight as clown pants and leak like a small fishing boat with a cannon ball hole in the hull.

At least they’ve gotten rid of the “Styrofoam” comforters that were once ubiquitous lodging fixtures.  I believe Styrofoam comforters were made of some sort of synthetic material and I think they may have been fireproof, like children’s fireproof pajamas.  (do they still make those things?)  Anyway, they could probably survive in a steel melting furnace.  They were scratchy and stiff like snuggling up under a cozy hunk of cardboard or yesterday’s newspaper at best.

Ventilation and exhaust in most lodging facilities are terrible.  A year ago I stayed in an older hotel in suburban Chicago.  They had the room temperature set way back to 55F and this was mid-January, about 15F outside.  Good thing?  NO!  I turned it up to around 70F.  I worked on my computer in the room for a couple hours before our client/colleague arrived from O’Hare for dinner.  In two hours the room struggled to get to 65F.  I never took my coat off in that time.  Why was this happening?  Exhaust fans somewhere, kitchen or swimming pool were sucking the building negative, big time, as I noticed with the blast of incoming wind when I entered the building.  So these guys probably thought they were saving energy by setting back room temperatures but instead, they were heating their makeup air coming in through the cheesecloth walls with crappy guest room electric resistance heaters, rather than much less expensive natural gas that they probably had somewhere on the rooftops.  At the same time they were freezing their guests.  This is the polar opposite of the Iowa State University removal of kitchen trays.  They are wasting energy like crazy and shooting their feet with terribly uncomfortable guest rooms.

Later last winter I stayed in a motel in Phoenix.  Ironically, this place was suffering from moisture problems.  The bathrooms had no exhaust whatsoever.  After a reasonable shower there is a stagnant fog bank until the door is opened.  The fog condenses on the cooler room surfaces.   The metal stuff around the ceiling was discolored by rust and the wallpaper was sagging and also discolored.  So let’s take a space that has plenty of cooling load, in Phoenix, and add a bunch of latent (moisture) dehumidification on top of that, and rot the bathroom to rubble at the same time.

In a motel in near the Minneapolis airport, they lacked ventilation/exhaust.  Entering the building, it smelled like a high school football locker room in August.  Again, I’m sure somebody thinks their saving energy while they are driving customers away with their raunchy environment.

Some lodging facilities still use incandescent light bulbs and there doesn’t seem to be a correlation with lighting type and facility age, nightly rates, or facility size.  Needless to say, these places deserve to go out of business because if there is one easy thing to do to save energy in a lodging facility with no adverse effects…

Another thing that always cracks me up is the location of ice and vending machines – typically in a small almost enclosed space.  The ice machine is hammering away as it bathes in its own waste heat at about 100F that hangs around like a cloud.  The soda machine and ice maker are working overtime to keep their contents cold with excessive heat gain in 100F heat while their compressors are working harder with higher condensing pressure.  Then there are those stupid ice machines that dump a pound of ice into an acrylic hopper thingy that dumps into your ice bucket.  The ice sits there and mostly melts before the next guest comes by.  They empty what’s left and need more.  Push the button for more ice and it dumps about 3 pounds into the hopper again.  They only need a handful so they either take 3 pounds or leave it there to melt – melt in the room or melt in the 100F cloud – take your pick.

With the bucket of ice in hand, go back to the room and take a crappy tiny plastic glass out of the crappy plastic liner.  It holds about a thimble’s worth of fluid.  You almost have to bite the ice cubes in half to fit them in the glass.  Nothing shouts cheap and crappy louder than these plastic thimbles.  A nice glass tumbler is probably worth paying at least $5 more per night.

And then there is breakfast which runs from reasonably sustainable to pornographically wasteful.  I’m very easy to please for breakfast, like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times and Ridgemont High, “All I need are some tasty waves, cool buzz, and I’m fine.”  All I need is some cool milk, raisin bran and I’m fine.  Last week’s raisin bran feast featured two of those tiny jokes for boxes of cereal, a half pint carton of milk, plastic bowl and spoon.  I eat a tiny simple meal and have more garbage than I can carry in two hands to the waste bin.  What’s wrong with a big dispenser of bulk cereal, some porcelain bowls, metal silverware, and bulk milk?  What would that be, like 95% less landfill waste?  Bulk cereal and milk must cost about ¼ of the hokey kiddy boxes and cartons.  Somebody is short a few cards of a full deck.

Towels.  I think every motel/hotel features reuse of towels with a cheesy door hanger thingy with a white owl on it.  Help us save the planet (while we commit every environmental sin in the green bible).  It says simply hang your towel up rather than throwing it on the floor in heap if you want to reuse it.  I have found this to be more challenging than changing a tire with my bare hands.  The housecleaners take it no matter where I put it.  You almost have to hide it between the mattress and box spring but you would have to remove the mattress and lay it perfectly flat or they would notice the lump and take it.

I think the most sustainable motel I’ve stayed in was in Monterey (CA) last summer.  My room had no air conditioning.  Actually, I didn’t need cooling all week in mid-August so this was actually a pretty smart thing.  The room also had all CFL lighting of course and the bathroom had wall-mounted occupancy sensors – impressive!  Breakfast featured bulk everything, and no disposable dishes or utensils.  But no raisin bran!

Tidbits

I was pointed to this video on YouTube by a reader, regarding Playing With Fire.  A bit humorous, but scary.

And by the way, not only is this gamble risky and won’t work, it already isn’t working.  Interest rates have gone up since this was announced – the opposite of what was supposed to happen.  Could it be that people aren’t rats after all?  Supply and demand – when markets move in the opposite direction the puppet master would like, you know which is going to be right.

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





Green Brains and Smart Things, For Once

2 11 2010

Back from vacation this week.  I hope I didn’t ruin your week!  Hahahaha!  (this week or last, you decide)

This week is more of a rave than a rant.  I want to share some energy efficiency and sustainability successes and trends that make sense.  If you have read many rants, I typically rail against dumb policy and technologies that are roads to dead ends.  Energy efficiency and sustainability, in my opinion, must either cost next to nothing or have a decent return on investment, even though that ROI may be difficult to quantify.

First cases come from a month and a half ago while attending a board meeting for the Iowa Association for Energy Efficiency on the campus of Iowa State University.  Like many if not most other campuses, they are implementing green policies to the point of having a full-time coordinator.  My knowledge of typical practices is that they include a bunch of fluff and dumb ideas, like “let’s put up a wind turbine”, while campus facilities are bleeding energy like [insert your own gory example here].

First, they got rid of food trays.  Let’s examine the cost and benefits.  Cost=zero.  Benefit; if I remember correctly, they reduced food waste by 50%, or was it 30% (?), saving all the resources and energy associated with growing, processing, transporting and cooking the food.  I believe students were on an all-you can eat meal plan as well, so the reduced food waste also lowered meal plan costs.  Going even deeper, you know how food portions have grown to obscene volumes in part by using obscenely large dishes.  Pull out your tape measure sometime when you get your food at a decent restaurant.  Your humungous portion is hidden by the fact that the dish it comes in could be used for giving your dog a bath.  A college cafeteria tray is big.  Point is, students probably eat less and are therefore healthier.  This is as brilliant as it gets.

Second thing ISU is doing is deploying solar-powered trash receptacles / compactors.  You may be thinking, what a stupid, overpriced waste of money.  Normally I would be on that wagon but these are actually smart trash bins as well.  They wirelessly ping the waste management company when they need to be emptied.  Therefore, rather than running around and dumping every trash bin every day even if it only contains a couple empty booze flasks, an empty case of Miller Lite, and a pizza box (college kids), they wait to be told to pick up the garbage.  Garbage truck fuel and much more importantly pricey labor is saved.  Maybe the return on investment is still only 2.3% but at least there are smart elements to it.

Now there are laws being developed such that retailers must charge for plastic bags.  Washington DC imposed a 5 cent TAX for every disposable bag – paper or plastic. I think I’ve said before that I disagree with ramming green down peoples’ throats, especially in this way with a tax.  I say at least the retailers should get to keep the money for bags, like the People’s Food Co-Op (PFC) in La Crosse does.  They actually pay you to bring your own bags/boxes.

The interesting thing in this article is that peer pressure is used to nudge the masses into doing green.  This works for me, and grocery bags are the perfect example.  When I was in graduate school one of my roommates from Belgium would always take his used paper grocery bags for our weekly grocery haul.  Then I started doing that and continued to do it a while here in La Crosse but then I quit.  Boooooo!  But I shop at least weekly at the PFC and I always take a reusable bag or box there.  In fact, I’ll even go back out to the car to get them if I forget.  My Capital brewery Blonde Dopplebock box has been through the PFC at least a couple hundred times.  If you don’t believe it, you can see the tape reinforcements, tattered edges, and notice the old logo and artwork on the box.  The sentimental value builds over time.  It’s like my 18 year old Wisconsin sweatshirt with vented elbows and neckline, with fringe.  It’s absolutely priceless.

There is still need for entrepreneurial design for this bagging stuff though.  I don’t see mom or dad filling up two grocery carts with kids in tow and then messing around with a mishmash of 14 reusable bags.  Better think about that one.  Need something like a backpack as a reusable dispenser for reusable bags.  Include creature features like a cup holder, or better yet, a Camelback to stay hydrated, or relaxed depending on the beverage of your choice.

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





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.

Tidbits

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.

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





Is Theodore Nugent Vegan?

14 09 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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