New Years Collage

28 12 2010

I’ve corralled a mishmash of rather preposterous short stories for the year end rant.  This will be historic so be sure to pass it on to your enemies.

Case 1 comes from Engineered Systems Magazine or ES Magazine.  I was catching up on my stack of trade magazines over Christmas weekend (is this sick or what? – but it can be about as entertaining as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation).  September’s “Case in Point”  features an energy-saving project for Bangor Maine’s Discovery Museum, delivered by Honeywell.  An audit was followed by implementation of cost-effective measures.  The audit was completed in 2008 using the “Field Automation Service Technology” tool (FAST – I love acronyms – this is for real, theirs).  Findings included the not-so-unusual deferred maintenance like plugged air filters and heating/cooling coils among some more capital-intensive measures apparently.

One of the measures was to install a dual fuel boiler burner to take advantage of cheap natural gas as opposed to $3 fuel oil.  The results “dramatically impacted the museum’s bottom line”.  The museum paid $2,732 for fuel oil in March 2007 and only $39 in March 2008.  Well gaaaauuuullly!  (1) fuel oil is stored in tanks on site so you can spend money on fuel when and how you want and (2) they switched from using fuel oil to natural gas.  To ensure the savings persist, Honeywell was generous enough to throw in three years of service contract to maintain fresh filters.  So what were the real savings??

Case 2 begins with the opinion guys from The Wall Street Journal noting that the EPA is regulating the bejesus out of heavy industry, and in particular the utility industry.  This is to start in earnest after the first of the year, with EPA chief Lisa Jackson leading the way.

Starting in the midst of several salvos, the WSJ says utilities are being “forced to choose between continuing to operate and facing major capital expenditures to meet the increasingly strict burden[s], or else shutting down and building replacements [power plants] that use more expensive sources like natural gas. Either way, the costs will be passed through to business and consumers as higher rates, which is the same as a tax increase.”   My major problem with this is the usual case of government making things more expensive for the private sector, and guess who takes the beating?  It won’t be the government.

But even more bizarre and fishy smelling is a bunch of utility CEOs cheering on the EPA in a letter published in response to the Journal’s rant – like this will be good for their business.   They say that “Contrary to the claims that the EPA’s agenda will have negative economic consequences, our companies’ experience complying with air quality regulations demonstrates that regulations can yield important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.”  And throwing rocks through windows stimulates the economy and makes for carpenter and window factory jobs too.  This doesn’t pass the laugh test.

In the latest shot, the Journal points out the agenda driving the do-gooders – higher prices driven by other utilities as noted above, but the higher expenses don’t apply to certain utilities that are heavy in nukes.  This makes perfect sense.

A strong word of advice for these CEOs: play with the devil (U.S. Government) and you WILL get burned by command and control coming from Washington.  It’s only a matter of time before you will be looking down the long barrel yourselves.

Case 3, just in time for the warmer weather, airport snow removal by heated pavement!  OMG!  Of all the insane ideas, including air conditioning in 19 soccer stadiums in Qatar, manmade islands in Abu Dhabi and indoor ski slopes and ice rinks in the Marina Mall, this one tops them all.  Calculating the heat loss would melt a mortal Hewlet Packard RPN calculator.  Larger airports in cold climates, like MSP and ORD would require a small star (like our sun) to keep the concrete above freezing in worst-case weather.  And per my crude calculations, ORD has roughly 14 miles of runway that would take roughly a half million cubic yards of concrete alone (this is from me, a civil engineering / aviation zero).  This doesn’t include tarmacs or the infrastructure like underground rivers of antifreeze required for heating.  And just think of the disruption.

This is a really bad joke for an idea.  Intervention by someone with a brain may be required.  This comes from people who throw the number “trillion” around like it equals 10 million.  I forget where/who I was listening to but they didn’t use the word “trillion”.  They used “thousand billion” in it’s place – much more effective.

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

Advertisements




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





No Free Lunch

23 03 2010

A few years ago, I took my beloved Acura to the tire store for new tires.  As I was sitting on their crappy molded plastic chairs at a Formica table working away on my laptop, a cheesy 20-something sales guy approached me and asked if I would like a free alignment.  “I don’t have a problem.”  “But it’s free.  No obligation”, he goes on.  “Ah what heck, go ahead.”  He returned a few minutes later as I’m hammering away on my laptop and he says my wheels should be aligned because…whatever.  I put on a scrunchy-face look and decide that even if it’s off a little bit and they can make it perfect…ok, go ahead.

On my way out of town that evening I immediately noticed the “A” on my steering wheel is now leaning left about 1 or 2 degrees maybe.  Now I’ve seen wheels that are out of alignment, the steering wheel may shimmy, and the tires get burned off in an expected pattern, but I have NEVER driven a car that is “crabbing” down the road.  I reached over to the glove compartment, pulled out the receipt for the phone number.  I called the 20 something snaky peon and blistered him so bad, I had to roll down the windows to prevent the dashboard from melting.  They took something that was perfectly fine as far as I knew and screwed it up and charged me seventy bucks for the pleasure.  I was a complete idiot to fall for the “free alignment” anyway.  I returned and they made it right, this time getting my approval of every setting.  Funny how that works.  It still cost me time, which I don’t have, and plenty of angst.

The moral of the story, of course, is beware of free services.  I don’t even like most free software and some free news sites because of the hassle, the advertising, lack of decent content, the garbage that may come with it and the “spam” lists they may put me on.  Just give me something that works well, provides value and leave me alone.  I’m perfectly content paying for it.

Which brings me to the “investment grade” energy study of large commercial or industrial facilities.  Investment grade means it is accurate enough to guarantee savings if that’s what the client wants.  Of course the guarantee isn’t free, but that’s a topic for another day.  I count five types of study funding.

  • The low-ball study.  The consultant offers a low-ball study cost that will be made up on the much more expensive design phase of the energy efficiency project.  Essentially, they do energy consulting to get what they really want: design and even more lucrative construction management.  They may not know a low-cost, high return-on-investment (ROI) opportunity if it shot them in the kneecap, but it doesn’t matter, they just want to design equipment and system replacements.  They can spot those babies for sure.
  • The “free” study with the contract that says you customer have to move forward with high ROI (defined ahead of time) measures, or else pay for the study, which will be a million dollars – as in performance contracting.  The company doing the study does the implementation with profit on the implementation cost.  Look, a study may really cost 20% to 50% of one year’s energy savings from cost-effective measures.  Implementation may cost 500% to 1,000% the first year’s energy savings.  Now how easy is it to stuff the project with about 5 times the real study cost, plus other markup built into the cost of implementation?  Heck the study cost doesn’t even matter.  Third party verification of savings is absolutely required.  This can work fine, but many end users have been burned badly, making performance contracting a pariah in some circles – more on this in another rant.  Does this outfit want to provide the best value for your investment or sell you all the equipment they can to fit within your payback criteria?
  • The open tell-all study.  The client pays an independent consultant to do the study with everything on the table.  We are typically in this scenario and have a hard time competing with the above David Copperfields for the study.  We may have the same profit margin as the performance contractor, but their sale is 10x or even 50x our sale.
  • The cheap and crappy audit.  Somebody who’s done 1,400 studies offers to provide an investment grade study for half the price of everyone else.  How do you suppose they’ve done 1,400 studies?  You just have to be a good cost estimator to deliver these crumby studies.  Costs come in with precise bald face numbers.  Energy savings?  Not so clear.  Cost effective measures may be scattered all over the place AFTER they are done as well.  Refer to the kneecap shooting above.
  • The cheap high level audit.  We do many of these too, and we go overboard, as much as possible to explain to the customer that this will NOT, is not, and was not investment grade material.  It provides plus-or-minus-50%, hand-grenade results to assess potential.  Some measures with a worst possible real ROI that is less than 2 years may go right to implementation, but probably more than half need further investment grade analysis, unless the customer just wants to roll the dice.

There is no free breakfast here.  Our long-term clients know this because the cost of cheap can be very expensive, or intolerable, and they know it.

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