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





Cabbage Patch iPad

26 04 2011

The thing that pushed me over the edge this week was a fine blog  post by Elisa Wood.  My comment was that Gavin Newsom’s list of jobs created by resources including coal, nuclear, wind, solar, and EE, does not include return on investment.  Only EE has return on investment for the end user.  All other sources cost the end user, not save the end user money.  But this is not the topic of the day.

I am not a tech geek.  I just want things that are stable, reliable, and relatively fast and snappy.  I will pay for it.  I have long been out of college and therefore, time is scarcer than money so just give me something “fast” and reliable and I’ll gladly pay for it.

I also do not need, and in fact I do not want the latest and greatest thing.  Take Microsoft, which hasn’t had any substantial improvement to the Office suite for ten years – since they added the right-click menus.  It has become more stable and reliable in the past 15 years as reports we wrote used to become corrupted out of the blue and you couldn’t open them ever again.  Congratulations for this achievement!

I am not a Microsoft basher but I don’t think they have innovated (if I may use that as a verb) hardly a single thing.  Operating systems with graphical interfaces, mice, spreadsheets, word processors, web browsers, databases, and you name it; they didn’t develop any of these things and they comprise their bulk of gazillions in revenue and profit.  Microsoft is good at taking others’ ideas and packaging and marketing them, creating monopolies and crushing any competitors, or simply buying them out.  Like I said, I’m no Microsoft basher.

Apple on the other hand has been a major innovator with the Mac, Mac operating system, the iPod, and then really, really with the iPhone.  When the iPhone first came out, I thought “what is the big deal?”  It doesn’t even have buttons.  Then I experienced it as we work with clients who use them exclusively.  I look at my Microsoft kludge of a phone (again Microsoft following, not innovating) and think, wow, the iPhone is about 100x better.  (I now have a Motorola Droid which in many ways is better than the iPhone if you ask me, so my tech world is whole again)

At an AESP conference, I was fortunate to win an iPod touch, which is essentially the iPhone without the phone.  Other AESP-drawing winners of GPSs wanted to trade and I said get lost.  I’m giving this to my wife to replace her crappy iPod wannabee.  The iPod touch gave me hands-on experience with greatness.

Apple has built such a cult following that if they introduced a turntable, the iTable, people would camp out for a week just to be the first to get their hands on one of these 1960s makeovers.  They have already done this – it’s called the iPad.  It’s a ridiculous widget.  Why is it ridiculous, Jeff?

First, because it isn’t a serious business tool (yes, I will get to the consumer thing later).  Thinking we could use one of these possibly for field work surveys, I asked one of our iEverything business partners what he thought of this.  He said, no, it isn’t going to do well with spreadsheets or databases, if they can even be used at all.  It doesn’t even have ports like a USB connection for goodness sake.

Second, I was on a plane headed for somewhere sitting next to a guy watching a movie on an iPad.  I enlightened him by saying, “You know, they make these things that have a convenient platform to prop the screen up reliably for hands free movie watching.  You could just sit it on your tray and sit back and enjoy the movie.  It’s called a laptop computer.”

It’s a large version of a phone without the phone.  It’s a small computer with no capability.

Perhaps most ridiculous, I recall an article in The Wall Street Journal covering the various ways iPad owners can transport their iPads.  One solution was like a fanny pack with a big pouch in which you would carry the iPad along the small of your back.  Good grief!  Don’t use a computer bag.  That would reveal the stupidity of this device.

Conclusion: It’s a clunky, slippery, doohickey that is too large for your pocket, to small for a computer, and you can do little productive work with it.  The second conclusion is, Steve Jobs is a genius for generating a brand that will get people to buy anything with an i in front of it, by the hundreds of millions.

How do we do this with energy efficiency?  It has to have a strong element of “look at how great and cool I am”.  I suggest a web-based application that shows how rich you are becoming, in real time, as a result of your EE genius.  In one pane it would mimic a bank teller slapping down dollar bills as you stuff them in your wallet.  Once you accumulate a bulging wallet full of bills you trade them in for a hundred dollar bill.  You let the hundreds pile up on the counter.  After a while you swap currency for gold bullion and that starts stacking up on the counter.

In another pane you have a lot full of Prius and electric vehicles with dead batteries in front of a big box store called “Renewables R Us”.  As you accumulate enough savings and equivalent emissions of these cars / energy sources, King Kong circa 1976 walks onto the scene thumping his chest and roaring.  He picks up an electric vehicle and tucks it under his harm like a football and stomps off, maybe stepping on a couple screaming shoppers making their way to the store as they drop their iPads.  This would represent the equivalent Priuses taken off the road. Next time, Kong comes by but this time tripping on a Prius and falling face first crushing a dozen Nissan Leafs.  After doing the ceremonial thump and roar, he rips a solar panel off the roof and throws it across town, like the subway cars in the movie… followed by stomping off and squashing a few more shoppers.

The app should be exclusive to new chosen makes and models of devices and they are provided by the EE program as part of the incentive.  The devices are sleek and unique so everyone knows, that guy is cool and smart.  The devices would have functionality of iPods, phones, and laptops so they aren’t just a worthless status symbol.

So the next time you are sitting at the gate or in cattle class, your device is screaming – “look at how cool I am” while the inferior, insecure me-too stooge is gawking on, thinking, “Man that guy has some device!”

Copyright 2011

Tidbits

As gasoline prices are clicking past $4 across the country, citizens are crying to the feds to do something.  So what are both the President and Speaker talking about?  Eliminate subsidies for oil companies – as though this will bring down prices!  Again, politics rather than logic rule in Washington.  Prices are high and therefore the oil companies must be punished and somehow reducing profit will lower prices.  Good Grief! – popular with the lemmings but thinkers know better.

P.S.  I believe the “subsidies” they are talking about are tax breaks for depleting wells, which sounds to me like depreciation for assets of depleting value – like our office furniture and computers.  Anyway, let me say that subsidies should go, across the board, but office furniture and computers are the price of doing business and obviously affect profit so depreciation isn’t a subsidy, unless you’re a political hack.

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





Carnies, Circus Folk – Smell Like Cabbage

25 01 2011

Last week I attended the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) national conference in Orlando at the Disney World Hilton.  Thankfully, it wasn’t actually in the park – hey, I don’t know man.  I would otherwise not go within 2-3 states of a crowded black hole for cash like that.

The conference expo hall “infrastructure”, including booth structure consisting of pipe framing and curtain dividers, chairs, tables, power and other things is outsourced to a company that travels from venue to venue like carnies.  For a couple thousand dollars or whatever, the exhibit space is all you get.  A $30 table rents for $275 for two days – that is correct.  A $30 table for the price you could rent a car for an entire week!  A $10 chair rented for $90 for two days.  Power to run our 30 Watt LED display lights for a couple days: $95.  Ninety five dollars for not even one kWh!  I wonder if the carnies reimburse the hotel for energy used?

Once we unpacked our stuff and set it up in the exhibit hall, a few shards of paper were scattered on the gaudy carpet of the conference center in our booth space.  Having remembered a vacuum cleaner going past a while before to clean up a neighboring booth, I asked the Hilton folks for a vacuum, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble – like if one is in the area anyway, I would like to use it for a minute.  Soon after, a woman with one of those IDs on a lanyard like those of the stage crew at a concert use, stops by.  “You asked for a vacuum?”  “Yes.  If there is one nearby and it isn’t much trouble it would be great to use it for a minute.”  “There is a charge for using a vacuum cleaner.”  “WHAT?”  Good God.  I said I would pick up the dozen shards with my fingers or just spit on it and grind it into the carpet.

When it comes to lodging, more is less.  Internet access in “expensive” hotels costs money.  No “free” coffee or breakfast.  Everything costs extra, right down to the $7 liter of Evian next to the TV.

None of this was new to me, except the vacuum thing was a bit of a “you’ve got to be kidding me” moment.

When you stay at a Holiday Inn Express, do you think the biscuits, gravy, cinnamon rolls, coffee and juice are free out of the goodness of their hearts?  HELL NO!  I happen to like Holiday Inn Express over Hilton for normal business stays because they have the “free” breakfast ready instantly in the morning and I don’t have to wait for anything.  Remember, Raisin Bran and Cool Milk and I’m Fine.

These exploits remind me of the energy efficiency and engineering business.  People who think they are getting free services from their contractors are naïve fools.  They either don’t get the “services” at all; or they get the services that completely favor the contractor (themselves), and one way or another you pay for everything they do.  They may say, “It’s absolutely free.  We don’t charge anything for our time.”  BULL.  If it isn’t charged directly, it’s built into their overhead cost which is built into their material and labor costs.

As I discussed the cost of $35 tables and $10 chairs above, you may have been thinking, “You idiot.  Why don’t you just get your own and ship it or go out and buy your own locally.”  Because there is a lot of cost and hassle built into that.  Our time is worth a lot of money.  I can chase around town to save $250 while it costs me $450 in my time to do so.  What about little issues like arriving at midnight the night before the start of the conference?  Take the day off so I can find cheap furniture?  Not.  Shipping isn’t cheap either.  Shipping our display, which is compact, but a bit heavy, runs $200.  And will the hotel just hold it for you?  Sure, for a tidy fee of $82.50.  The carnies have this all figured out.  They know exactly how much it costs to buy, ship, or go buy your own stuff locally for the show.  They price their crap just below that, so a $10 chair costs $90 to rent for a couple days.

The carnie business model is used, typically ruthlessly by “design builders”.  There is design, bid, build which may take a little extra time, but every step is competitive (e.g., “bid”) keeping cost down and quality up.  And there is design build, where you essentially agree to a floor plan, sign a blank check and put a blindfold on for a few months.  I’m no expert on the dastardly design build business, but the sales pitch goes something like this: you don’t have to waste money on expensive architects and engineers and then hassle with contractors.  You don’t have to wait for competitive bids.  Just sign this check.  We’ll fill in the numbers and take care of everything for you.  It will be wonderful, fast, and easy.  Translation: once you sign on the dotted line, the carnies will move in and provide you with the cheapest crap imaginable.  You will be a captive, ignorant sucker and we will take what we can get and you will be boxed in with no one looking out for your interests.  Everything is extra.  A LOT extra.

You get screwed for what you don’t pay for.

Design build is polluting the country with cheap and crappy buildings – energy hogs that are going to be crumbling in 30 years.  Austin Powers, as you may recall, fears only two things.  Nuclear war and… carnies – circus folk, nomads, smell like cabbage, small hands.

Tidbits

The ladies at AESP know how to put on a smooth, high-quality conference, and they deliver.  It’s a fast growing organization for a reason.  Kudos to a fine organization and event.

A couple weeks ago in Goodfellas Take California I explained, or attempted to explain at least, how mandating CFLs was bad policy.  As it turns out, the impacts are far below than anticipated.  In the 2006-2008 program years, PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) aimed, er I mean shot for, er I mean strived for incentivizing the purchase of 53 million compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).  At nearly a $2 subsidy per lamp, the program did not meet participation targets, er I mean goals.  Not only that, evaluators concluded savings due to the program were 73% lower than anticipated.  Whoa!  That is God-awful.  We just finished a bunch of residential verification work all over California for comprehensive programs as well.  Per my involvement with that project, I don’t think the utilities will be singing a joyful song once they see those results either.

BTW, per the article, lighting is responsible for 8% of greenhouse gases.  California may have 2% of the world’s lighting (a SWAG) and residential lighting may be about 15% of the total.  Switching this lighting to CFLs would reduce GHG emissions by maybe 0.008% at the very most.  It’s probably closer to half that.  I feel cold already just thinking about it.

In a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece, Joel Rogers, head of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and a leader in the national Emerald Cities initiative, states, “The first major barrier [to energy savings] is that most people don’t know much about what they can save.”  Hmmm.  Sounds an awful lot like my rant, Horse and Buggy EE Programs, where I said the powers in WI, in their infinite wisdom declared the feasibility study, the answer to Mr. Rogers’ “first major barrier” problem is actually not a problem.  The solution to Mr. Rogers’ “first major barrier” was declared a waste of money.  Mr. Rogers, please see your “Energy Advisor” with Focus on Energy, but wear a helmet.  The brick wall is hard, and stout.

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