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
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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