EE: LOOK and THINK!

9 02 2011
An overarching theme of the Energy Rant is that much energy policy has a feel-good foundation of fluff.  Last week I ranted about the feel-good dream of having plentiful, inexpensive renewable energy.  This will take a miracle because conventional sources are still huge and growing.  We have enough coal, natural gas, tar sands, oil shale, and offshore energy to last beyond our kids’ great grandchildren.  Of course most readers of this are champions of energy efficiency, but energy efficiency also has too much feel-good fluff.

Consider compact fluorescent lights, which despite my rant about it’s mandate a few weeks ago has been a fantastically successful development from the private sector sped along with the aid of EE programs.  That market has been pretty well transformed, especially in states with high rates and years of EE programs behind them.  Here’s the “problem” – the program has been successful.  The market is transformed.  Programs can no longer take credit for it but they don’t want to let go of the “savings”.  Well c’mon! 

This guy’s letter from the National Resources Defense Council illustrates this.  He is responding to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece describing the “ineffectiveness” of California CFL programs.  An independent evaluation of the program demonstrated that savings were much less than claimed.  Sounds familiar per our first hand evaluation of some similar programs.  He says the op-ed is based on a “consultant report that makes arbitrary and unsubstantiated reductions to the benefits of the compact fluorescent lamp program”.  Well if that isn’t the cat calling the kettle black.  Talk about unsubstantiated.  I’m sure there’s nothing in the report to back up its conclusions.  The guy probably hasn’t even read the executive summary.

Per our experience, this hack’s comments are unfortunately not uncommon.  Utilities, program administrators, and implementers do not want to be told their programs are saving less than they claim – as they almost always are.  I’m not sure who did the above evaluation in California but I will bet my house that they did not underestimate savings because: (1) it jibes with results we see for similar programs and (2) evaluators do not hammer savings for fun because it can lead to confrontation.  We tell it like it is; not how someone wishes it would be. 

We’ve recently completed impact (savings) evaluations for programmable thermostats; let’s just say in a state with a temperate climate – a state that has been lampooned in this rant a couple times.  A programmable thermostat is 98% a heating-energy-saving technology.  In the referenced temperate climate, where you can heat the entire house with a toaster oven, or at most your basic kitchen oven, what do you expect?  Even in states that need heating, the attributable impacts can be tiny.  Reasons for poor attributable savings include customers not using their furnaces; they were the programmable thermostat, programmable thermostats replacing programmable thermostats, and programmable thermostats in permanent override. 

Impact evaluation for residential end users is often done by billing regression, which is a sexy term for comparing the bills before implementation to the bills after implementation and making appropriate adjustments.  Consider evaluation for programmable thermostats with the only gas-using device in the home being the furnace.  Billing regression is the ONLY way to go.  Any engineering analysis is going to have much lower precision and confidence.  But noooo!  The program people didn’t like the regression results.  Can we “engineer” savings? NO! 

The other thing I’m seeing is rules changes to capture more savings.  Incentives are limited by total dollars per year per customer, minimum paybacks, and maximum percentage of measure cost.   This of course protects against free riders.  Then there is the incentive itself – how much incentive is there per kWh, kW, or therm saved?  Some utilities are greatly increasing incentives, lowering payback limits, and increasing annual payout limits.  Does this result in more attributable energy savings?  Probably not much.  Evaluations will probably show they are mainly making more projects eligible and thus claiming more savings.  I estimate free ridership will go up a lot.  Program evaluators walking into the evaluation of these “upgraded” programs should prepare for pushback and maybe a little firestorm in some cases. 

Some utilities whine to regulators that they’ve already done a great job of saving energy and all the easy stuff is gone (hence the expanded pay out and slackening rules discussed above).  I don’t buy it.  First, their 20th century programs are running low on remaining opportunity.  Could be, but there are alternatives if they AND the regulators would open up to program innovation.  Second, opportunities are created every day by engineers, architects, contractors, building owners, tenants, the milkman, janitor, cooks… you name it. 

I haven’t seen any studies yet but I would bet there is more opportunity for cost effective measures in NEW buildings – ones that are already built.  You just need to be capable of seeing the hand in front of your face and know how to “read” – i.e., understand what you are looking at.  Buildings are loaded with opportunities we find but rarely see coming out of programs.  Why?  Perhaps because in many cases there is no equipment to sell.  Examples:  grocery store has a main air handler maintaining 75F in the space and at the same time an adjacent one is struggling to maintain 70F.  The little one is cooling like crazy in the summer and pumping cold outdoor air all winter to try to get to 70F while the main unit is burning gas like crazy to make up for it.  Obviously, this is an incredible opportunity and a very simple concept.  Somebody just has to LOOK.  And THINK!  This is far more common than a congressman would ever imagine.

In another program evaluation, the administrators were whining about the difficulty of capturing gas savings even though programs are new to the state.  Good grief.  The only reason gas savings are “difficult” to capture is there is no gas lighting technology.  So as directed by the utility, I provided maybe a dozen major gas saving opportunities that apply to many facilities, I think all of which were for commercial and industrial end users.  “Oh, we are already aware of and understand these technologies and applications”, say the implementers.  Uh huh.  Sure.  And we haven’t seen any yet for some reason.  Reminds me of Cliff Claven
 
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





Dermal Beauty but Ugly to the Bone

19 01 2010

Attending a training session for steam systems a few years back, the class collectively chuckled as the instructor explained why he couldn’t go to the supermarket with his wife anymore.  As they would walk down the aisles he would be explaining how steam is used to make this and that.  See those potato chips, steam is used to peal potatoes rapidly and cleanly – and then he would launch into detail only a thermodynamics class would welcome.  Cheeseballs: puffed up by steam.  Carrot sticks: pealed using steam.  Chocolate milk powder: chocolate adhered to sugar using steam.  Aaaaaah!  Shut up already!  I don’t care how my Cocoa Puffs are made.  (I actually found it to be interesting)

We energy geeks have similar proclivities.  We can’t enter a building without a surface audit:

  • Jeez, these guys are living in the 1970s with T12 fluorescent lighting.
  • I bet there’s no makeup air unit for the pool in this hotel.  I can barely get the door open.  No wonder my room is absolutely freezing.  They probably think they’re saving energy besides.
  • These refrigerated door heaters are running in the middle of winter.  Typical.
  • It’s absolutely roasting in this gymnasium.  Their economizer has definitely been disabled.
  • Every light in that office building is on at 10:00 PM.  I’ll bet the cleaning guys come in and flip them all on for their entire 8 hour shift.

Last week I was reviewing American School & University’s “Architectural Portfolio 2009”, a compilation architectural masterpieces, submitted by architects and voted on by a panel of architects and facility managers to “win”, I’m not sure what.  I didn’t care.  Without even experiencing these buildings in the flesh, I found the following to be true:

  • I counted 92 spaces among these dozens of buildings that had not-so-good to very attractive daylighting designs.  The problem; 80 of them were shown with the lights on.
  • The lights were on in some spaces being scorched with direct sunlight.
  • Some entries advertised daylighting as a green feature… with the lights on!
  • One advertised as having exposed structure, e.g., trusses like you’ve seen in about 100,000 other buildings – to reduce finishing materials.  LOL
  • A gym had a great clerestory natural lighting design with fluorescent lighting – all of them burning of course.
  • One featured Low-e glazing.  Now there’s some spacey technology.

You may be thinking, the lights are on just for the photo shoot.  If that’s the case, then why are a dozen or so great photos of daylit spaces with no artificial lighting used?

These daylighting design failures or malfunctions are symbolic and symptomatic of energy efficiency in new buildings.  They are efficient on the surface only, to the untrained eye.  Once you start to dig into the heating and cooling systems, you’ll really start to see waste on a massive scale – across the board in all new buildings?  Probably not, but let me say this: we have been benchmarking buildings the last couple years and new buildings are notorious hogs.

Sadly, a substantial barrier to getting these buildings fixed up is somebody’s ego or “turf”.  That’ll be the subject of another rant but in the meantime if you think your new building (less than 10 years old) is a pig, do some benchmarking to compare it to similar buildings.

On a separate note, I found the controversy over LED traffic lights not working in snowstorms to be a bit amusing.  I see somebody in Colorado has developed a solution – something like a tube to prevent the snow from splatting on the LED surface completely covering the light.  I have another solution: hang a sign that says, “When traffic signal is covered in snow, stop, use your brain, and proceed with caution”.  Snow has plastered road signs for decades.  I’ve never heard of anyone complaining about their complete ignorance and inability to function without road signs – even critical ones like no passing or WRONG WAY – DO NOT ENTER signs.

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