Biscuit Discipline

15 03 2011

Like any respectable pets, our dogs Bailey and Atlas have us trained, very well.  I roll out of bed on the weekend, slog downstairs to make a strong mug of coffee, light a fire (in the wood stove), sit in my chair to read the paper and then the dogs position themselves in their kennels with their entitlement look.  They were trained since puppyhood to like being in their kennels so when they kennel up, they get a b-i-s-c-u-i-t.  We have to spell certain things out or use aliases to avoid undesired reactions.  For example, we say “There is a bushy tailed mammal on the bird feeder” lest we get the dogs going bazookas scratching up the wood floor, knocking things over, and ruffling floor rugs into piles.

Everything that has resulted in kenneling in the past is now used to leverage a biscuit for the entitlement dogs.  After taking them outside for a wiz, they get in the kennel for a biscuit.  Don’t get a biscuit?  Whine incessantly.  When I come down the stairs in the morning to put on shoes for work, they get in their kennels.  After their morning and evening meal.  In the kennel.  When I come in from filling the bird feeder.  In the kennel.  Their willpower is staggering.  Crack open a beer on the weekend, WOW.  Get the food out or prepare for the consequences – barks with a pulse wave that will take out a communications system.  It is time to eat, NOW.  After the meal, it’s time for a rawhide – NOW.  The rawhides are like their post-meal cigar.  Lastly, to get them to go outside for a late night wiz before bed, they won’t budge from wherever they’re snoozing unless I break out the ice cream bucket.  You remember faking sleep as a kid?  That’s what they do for the ice cream.  They each get a “bite” of ice cream, which I don’t think touches their digestive system until it lands somewhere in the middle of their small intestine.  They have a pneumatic ingestion system – like a vacuum cleaner.

As I have been in the energy efficiency business for some fifteen years, I am coming to the conclusion that nearly all energy efficiency measures have a strong behavioral component.  Almost nothing escapes the effects of behavior.

In Upside Down Consequence of EE, I expanded on the fact that in many cases, energy efficiency actually increases total energy consumption on a global basis.  There is rebound effect, which refers to consumers using energy efficient equipment much longer than they otherwise would because they perceive the thing in question to use a tiny fraction of energy compared to what it replaced would use.

Energy cost is very much like a tax.  The less people pay into local, state, and federal cash infernos, the more they have to use for themselves.  Hardly anyone other than perhaps some survivors of THE Great Depression, buries their money in the backyard or stuffs it under their mattress.  They either buy stuff, which takes energy to produce and deliver to their home or they may invest it in companies that provide goods and services, both of which consume energy.  As you read this you are probably consuming energy because you are employed by the energy efficiency market; otherwise you might be lying in bed, unemployed or out collecting nuts and berries between unemployment checks.  You’ve got office equipment, facility energy consumption, transportation energy to get to work (if you walked, it takes energy to cook the extra oatmeal).  You are a walking, talking testament to this phenomenon.

Actually, I have no problem with these phenomena.  Smart utilities understand this as well.  They know energy efficiency doesn’t mean less consumption, it means getting more from every BTU and Joule.  It falls in the nebulous regime of “saved or created”; one where we would have consumed XYZ if it weren’t for these programs.

More examples.  One of my gripes about the ban on incandescent lights is that I have certain applications where the incandescent bulb is the best solution.  These are applications where I need light for a few seconds to pick stuff out from the shoe pile, closet, or pantry.  My last incandescent flood light burned out in my main thoroughfare to the garage.  Unlike some other anonymous occupant of my house, I am obsessively habitual about turning stuff off when it is not needed.  Since the CFLs take at least a minute to come up to brightness, they are training me to leave them on because I hate dim more than I hate wasting energy.  So instead of having 86 Watts of lights on for five minutes when I get ready to go out for a run in the morning, I have 39 Watts burning for an hour.  Do the math.  CFLs waste energy.  I don’t care about this “little” difference in consumption.  In the garage, due to the same issue, I have a light on a timer that controls a CFL to burn in the morning and evening darkness.  Rather than maybe a 200 Watts for two minutes, I have 26 Watts for several hours.

In addition to loathing of pathetic light levels, and I’m talking about less than 20% of decent office lighting, I have in the back of my mind the fact that turning lights on and off shortens their life, or more formerly speaking, it increases mortality rates.  On top of that, I know I cannot or will not just throw CFLs in the garbage.  There is all kinds of crap in there, in addition to mercury.  What is in the big whomping base thing?  It isn’t play dough.

I am a breathing and probably irrationally reasoning laboratory for actual energy efficiency impacts.  Impact evaluator, I’m your worst nightmare.

This article discusses more of these issues and as I read it, I thought this would get a lot of blowback from many in our industry.  But I think there is a lot of truth to it, except driving more because a gallon a gasoline goes further.  Driving enjoyment or tolerance and gas mileage are inversely proportional.  Who wants to take a Prius out for a tire-screeching exuberating drive on the winding roads in the beautiful countryside around here?  That’s just wrong.  You need at least something like my tiny Acura which gets a respectable 30 mpg.

Darn.  I didn’t get nearly as far as planned.  I will have to continue this discussion with an extension to nearly every other measure and technology, later.

Click here to see the cartoon version of this week’s Energy Rant.


If you have read this blog, you know I don’t support ramming energy efficiency down the public’s throats.  I was not in favor of the ban on the incandescent bulb, and you can see why above.  (Yes, I can buy a more expensive halogen)  However, I would not move to repeal the law, if that makes any sense.

I have had a great interest in politics and macroeconomics for over twenty years, essentially since college.  There is decent policy, really bad policy and everything in between.  I’ll just say that I’m all in favor of gridlock and government shutdowns because if they aren’t passing laws, they aren’t damaging the country.

As they say, good policy makes for good politics.  A law may be extremely unpopular to some but if it’s good policy, the opposition will melt away over time.  Then there are bills that are just stupid.  They are nothing more than antagonizing the other side; a stick in their eye, and they make for really bad politics.  Which brings me back to the repeal of the incandescent ban.  Take a look at these incredibly stupid comments by Rand Paul.  That will land you on the island of political loons.  Who knows – they may push this through, but it wouldn’t be good politics.  Appealing to just 20% of your most rabid constituents and otherwise only talk radio people or far out bloggers is really moronic and self defeating to one’s overarching objectives.

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

Upside Down Consequence of EE?

5 10 2010

Many posts ago, I wrote “The More You Spend, The More You Save” explaining how poor system control wastes energy but results in even greater energy savings for efficient equipment.  For example, consider an air handling system that wastes heating energy provided by an efficient boiler.  The boiler saves x% versus a conventional model, so x% multiplied by greater use (wasted energy) results in “more” savings.

Recently I picked up on buzz that argues greater efficiency results in greater energy consumption.  At one point I recall reading in the Wall Street Journal an editorial that argued more efficient vehicles just result in people driving more.  They live further from work.  They go on joy rides.  They visit the in-laws more.  I scoffed at this argument, at least at current gasoline costs and anything near them.  If I buy a hybrid that gets 50 mpg versus a “sports car” like an Infiniti G35 coupe that goes half as far on a gallon of gasoline, I will drive more.  No.  Way.

I will drive more (barely) if (1) I have a car that is fun to drive and (2) I am in an area where it is fun to drive.  While I haven’t driven a hybrid, I don’t think it would meet my criteria for #1.  As for #2, western Wisconsin is a driver’s and biker’s paradise because (1) it is scenic (2) there are lots of smooth, paved, and curvy roads on which to drive and (3) there is minimal traffic.  Quite frankly, I’m much more concerned about striking a deer, coon or coyote than another vehicle.  I used to live in the DC metro area.  Forget it.  You might as well drive a tin can because you are going nowhere fast.  I grew up in Southwest Minnesota.  Forget it.  You can drive for miles without moving the steering wheel.  But even so, living here in driver’s paradise, I have limited time so I never, ever think, “ooh boy, a 45 minute drive is only going to cost me $2.79 in gasoline – let’s drive!”

That’s one argument that doesn’t hold water in my opinion.  On the other hand, some people do run efficient stuff like lighting for longer hours because it’s efficient.

The other argument made in these articles is that the money freed up by spending less on energy results in redirection of that extra money toward other goods and services – and those goods and services result in more energy consumption to extract, process, manufacture, transport and operate.  I do buy into the merits of this argument whether the end-user is a homeowner, service provider, or manufacturer.  I never really bought into the notion that energy efficiency programs result in lower revenues for utilities.  Maybe they understand this and hence the rah-rah from utilities for energy efficiency programs.  I don’t blame them.  By far the main driver of EE is saving money and increasing profits.  See “This is Not Tee-Ball“.

Just think how this turns the energy efficiency business and policies on their heads.  In “Paying to Lose,” I discussed how utilities have to make their savings goals or they may get hammered by regulators.  This, in turn, improves the bottom lines of their customers allowing them to expand.  What a racket.  Rather than utilities spending money for their customers to use less of their product, they are actually using their CUSTOMERS’ money to sell MORE of their product.  And how about “Decoupling Stupid,” that allows utilities to recover revenue “lost” to energy efficiency?  They spend their customers’ money to increase sales and meanwhile essentially get reimbursed for the “savings”.  Cool!

We have also discussed the underperformance of LEED facilities.  In “LEED and the NOT Happenin’ Savings,” I described how LEED buildings weren’t meeting energy performance targets because of lousy commissioning.  Well hail to the lousy commissioning agents!  They are actually reducing global energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.  Now that end user won’t be able to afford a new vehicle manufactured in Ontario with steel from soot belching plants in China shipped across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal to the Gulf of Mexico and transported by rail to Toronto or someplace – and tires from tariff protected Ohio that are shipped to Canada and back to the California border once installed on the automobile.  They also won’t be driving their phantom car.  (California won’t allow the car cross state lines because of the embedded energy, so Los Angeleans have to drive to Reno to pick up their car – I just made that up but it is probably true or at least accurate or emblematic, but certainly driving a new car across state lines into the golden state causes cancer and birth defects like everything else in CA does)

And I consider Michaels Energy.  Our facility uses practically no energy but in recent years our air travel has gone from virtually zero to hundreds of thousands of passenger miles per year.  And from the destination airport, we drive all over the place.  Soon for example, we will have about five people zigzagging all over California verifying energy efficiency measures that probably save less than the gasoline burned to prove it.  Somebody has to do it!

So go ahead and turn that thermostat up, open the window for some fresh air and click on that 70 inch plasma TV, have a beer and save the planet, Homer.

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

Abracadabra; 10%!

6 07 2010

“Thrown under the bus.”  Now there is a term that has to be going out of style pretty soon.  The phrase is used practically daily by everyone, especially in the news-talk business.  Where did that come from?  Why is it so popular and useable?  Has it ever happened?  It seems it would be very difficult to do.  You would have to take the guy down like roping a calf and somehow stuff them under the cargo hold while the bus is going down the road I guess??  Your timing, strength and technique would have to be impeccable.  It may deserve to be elevated to an Olympic sport. Seems like it would be like trying to stuff a cat into an ice cream bucket.

Some precursors to “thrown under the bus”:  Thrown down the stairs (that’s already been coined but I think it was much underrated); Taken to the woodshed (already coined, gaining traction in politics); Burned at the stake!  Wow, now there’s an old one that probably died at the hands of political correctness; Tarred and feathered; Fed to the lions; Thrown to the wolves.

Some suggested new ones:  Thrown from the train?  Rammed through the wood chipper?  Shoved into the hammer mill?  Sentenced to Oprah?  Boiled in milk?  Shredded with the Sunday paper?  Canned with tuna?  Bagged with the grass clippings?  Thrown in the lake of fire?  Fed to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?  Pitted and stuffed with pimento?

“Low hanging fruit” is another favorite of mine – not.  What does low hanging fruit mean?  Well, everybody has their definition of what they think it is but they are not all the same.  Low hanging fruit to me includes all energy efficiency measures that fit in a four year lumped package.  Low hanging fruit to a firm that does performance contracting may represent a package of measures that has a combined five to seven year payback.

In some, circles low hanging fruit means all the energy savings you (consultant) can generate with your magic wand, while rubbing a rabbits foot and humming the cheesy Steve Miller hit, ♫♪Abracadabra ♪♫. Like politicians who think alternative energy is a low cost, abundant source of energy that we just aren’t trying hard enough to develop, these customers seem to think they can cut their energy bills by 10-15% by spending virtually nothing on consultants, hardware, software, programming or contractors.

You can save a lot of energy, and if/when real time pricing becomes available, a lot of money in your home with behavioral changes.  Turn the thermostat up in hot weather; wash clothes on the weekends or after 9 at night, lock your electric water heater and maybe your dehumidifier out during peak hours, and even turn the lights off when you leave the room!

Which of these sorts of measures are going to be available to commercial and industrial facility managers? – shut the lights out when you leave and maybe they can eek the temperature up a couple degrees in hot weather before people start to howl.  How much will this save? Somewhere between 0.01% and 1.00%.  There it is, your abracadabra free audit.

We are working with customers that have savings goals of 10-15% for huge manufacturing facilities and they plan to start with the “turn out the lights” solution.  This is a potential huge waste of calendar time while they watch their bills roll in over subsequent months.  They won’t see savings because it’s down in the grass and well within the “noise” of typical energy consumption gyrations from month to month and year to year.

Getting to the goal can be done with cost effective measures but cost effective and free are two different things.  Ten to 15% savings isn’t going to happen without spending money on expertise, time, and in many cases some equipment or controls.  There is no magic/free solution and the sooner this is accepted, the sooner customers can get on with achieving their energy goals.


Tidbits provides comment and follow up on recent news and posts to this blog.

I said at least twice that the disaster in the gulf would be underestimated.  Two thousand barrels a day turned into 5,000 and now I think the most recent estimate is 50,000 barrels a day.  Touché.

I also said the robotic government bureaucracy would act like idiots.  Recently, the EPA was threatening to keep the A Whale gigantic skimmer with a capacity of 500,000 barrels of treatment per day from performing because its discharge of cleaned seawater may not meet the EPAs standards.  I hope the EPA isn’t around if I should get in an accident and my arteries are spewing blood all over the road.  They may not allow a good Samaritan doctor from plugging the leak.  The area and the doctor’s instruments may not meet hygiene standards.  What morons.

Thirteen countries offered up ships to help contain the “spilled” oil.  Thanks, but no thanks guys.  We don’t need your help.  The 80 year old (or so) Jones Act in a sop to the unions, prohibits foreign vessels from docking in US ports in consecutive stops.  It’s refreshing to know unions take precedent over beaches, birds, turtles, and fishing and tourism industries.  The only thing worse than bureaucracy is a crony one.

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

Incentive or Discount?

12 01 2010

I read this article and the thought came to mind, “are energy efficiency incentives really incentives pushing people to implement energy efficiency – or coupons offering a discount for energy efficiency measures?”  What’s the difference?  I would say it’s huge.

Retailers abhor it when the trained shopper waits for deep discounts to buy, obviously at a much lower profit margin.  Likewise, there is nothing airlines hate worse than an airfare war.  Buyers of “American made” automobiles (GM, Ford, Chrysler) have been trained to wait for huge incentives, which is one of the reasons two of three essentially failed.  Again, the price-sensitive buyer waits for the discounts to surface.

Energy efficiency programs to many, if not most consumers really represents a means to discount new stuff they want and they go coupon clipping through their energy efficiency program to get it.  If the coupon isn’t there they will often times wait for it.

The goal of many energy efficiency programs is “market transformation”.  Transformation to what?  Transformation to a free-market no-incentive energy efficiency industry, or transformation to dependency perpetuating programs?  I would argue the latter has occurred to a large extent.  End users demand free money before they implement energy efficiency measures, even if they are excellent investments.  Perhaps this is why some programs have dropped the catch phrase” market transformation”.

What is the problem here?  In short, energy savings are typically invisible and saving money isn’t as attractive as getting free money.  (which reminds me, it always cracks me up when people tell me they like higher withholding on their taxes so they get a check after the first of the year – of their own money)

What’s the solution?  Demonstrate the savings!  How can this be done?  It depends on the level of energy savings.  We have started to track energy bills on all commercial energy efficiency projects we’re involved with.  We can use energy bills because typically, savings estimates are greater than 20% of the bill and we’re not afraid to look at the results.  In fact, we’re looking to the results to build a long case study list to sell more projects.

For the home there are several home monitors that not only track total energy consumption, they track consumption of every circuit in the distribution panel.  So if your kids take 15 minute showers you may be able to meter your water heater and charge them for it.  Think about that!

The other major benefit of monitoring energy consumption is persistence of savings over the long term.  When people have access to energy consumption data, I believe they naturally start to monitor and use less energy, that is, if they care in the first place.

So what is the conclusion here?  Maybe utility and other energy efficiency programs should start incentivizing metering and energy tracking.  There are challenges with this but they can be overcome.  In addition to saving more energy as described above, it will expose snake-oil salesmen.  Everyone could use fewer of these guys.  In fact, that will be the subject of another rant.

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