Porcupine or Super Bowl, I Doubt It

4 01 2011

Although it’s a bit like the chicken and egg, my most important task is recruiting and retaining top talent.  We have a machine in place to land top talent from college campuses.  I’m quite convinced of that.  But with the sort of growth we are undergoing, we also need to recruit staff, primarily engineers at this point, with substantial experience and expertise in energy-using systems.  This would be easy if there were engineers in the market with 5-10 years experience like guys we have in that range.  It isn’t the case.

I work extensively with a recruiter and I provide constant feedback on candidates she forwards to help her better understand what we are looking for.  I’ve also written rambling explanations of what we are looking for.  Sometimes I get concerned that she thinks we are impossible to satisfy.  Well, we are almost impossible to satisfy.

First, a mini rant on recruiters.  I’ve been told by probably three recruiters that they, unlike their competition, will thoroughly vet candidates, ensure they meet our every qualification and then after a few weeks they will present a miracle list of 4-5 candidates all of whom we would just love to have on staff.  They would be so good, we might take two – even if we only need one and then we would be crying because we’d have to turn the other three down.  Fuggedabahdit!  The recruiter’s selling point is that they are supposed to save me time by not having to wade through a few dozen candidates.  Bull.  All this miracle recruiting service does is delay the process because the dream team they present to me has no more usable talent on average than 50 people a neophyte recruiter fresh out of college could find for us.  Give me the 50.

Back to my recruiting exploits; last week I was writing up a two column table for our recruiter, with one column describing what we want and the other what we want to avoid.  In the “don’t bother” column I essentially concluded we don’t want anyone from the competition, which generally speaking is where one should first look.  I’m talking about competition in the energy efficiency program business.

Why is this?  Quite frankly, because the engineering on average in this industry is poor, but it is also poor to a large extent in the systems design industry.  On the other hand, at least in the design industry, things have to be made to somehow work.  They may work like crap and waste energy up the wazoo but at least there is a required problem “solving” element.  In the EE sector, engineers can operate in a parallel universe their entire career – which brings to mind the myth of experience, a topic of another rant.

How do I know the engineering in the EE industry is poor?  Because we do a lot of program evaluation across the country, from east coast to great lakes to the west coast and beyond  – close to 20 utilities in about a dozen states.  Even stuff that a sociologist should be able to pull off is screwed up – like verifying a variable freq drive has auto controls installed, or knowing the difference between a heat recovery wheel for fresh air and a heat recovery wheel for dehumidification unit installed (unit is a god-awful pick for a northern climate anyway – design engineer should be fined, maybe spend a couple nights in jail too).  The latter resulted in a massive incentive for gas savings in a new construction program.  Uh, ouch!

So what sort of experienced people are we looking for?  Smart engineers with high GPAs but not too much experience; generally engineers who understand how systems work, how they use energy, and how they should be controlled – really understand it.  In general, best candidates come from smaller firms where they have interaction with the guy at the top and mentoring by people who know what they are doing.  On the flip side, competition sets up offices in states where they start running programs and they hire “experienced” engineers to work in those branch offices.  All I’ll say is it’s not worth looking at these candidates.  It’s probably as hard as finding a porcupine in my woods – I did experience a real live (and real big!) porcupine in the wild here in cheesehead land so although not impossible I’m not sure whether I’ll see another one or see the ViQueenies win a super bowl in my lifetime.

Why not too experienced?  Because engineers are either good or crappy and if they are good, they care about what their clients think and after being taken to the woodshed a few times for things the client doesn’t like they become calloused cynical curmudgeons unwilling to bend or change.  They play it safe.  This is typically not conducive to saving energy.  Let me know if you need an explanation as to why experienced but crappy engineers are no good.

To be sure, there are definitely excellent engineers in the industry.  We work for some of them as subs.  Others have reviewed our work for program QC and they are very good.  After throwing stones in my glass house I must break a few windows.  Admittedly, we’ve gotten comments back from outside engineering firms that make me think the guy on the other end must think we’re idiots.  However, rather than whining, crying, and denying, we get the things resolved and take long term corrective action.

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