Machete to Sustainability

7 06 2011

This Geography guy really needs to get out of the classroom and the city for that matter once in a while.  Modern agriculture is probably demagogued and more poorly understood than energy efficiency, and since this opinion piece addresses both I will dispense with its shredding.

I grew up on the farm 30 years ago in southern MN and northern IA, and I stay in touch spending a week each year reliving my childhood farming days.  My elder brothers still run the place.  They grow maybe 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans and raise and market maybe 25,000 hogs per year.  To the ignorant, they would be perceived as ecology-destroying corporate/factory farmers.


When I was a kid, farm chemicals were more dangerous, less effective, and more heavily applied.  Yet since they were so ineffective, noxious weed and grass control was largely provided by tillage which is environmentally unsustainable in two ways.  First, it takes a lot more diesel fuel, obviously.  Second, erosion was rampant.  If there was one thing I always pressed my father to do as a kid it was to reduce tillage to leave more crop residue on the surface to reduce erosion – from both rainwater runoff and wind.

Back in those days, everything was plowed black – as in, all crop residue buried.  Why?  To bury grass and weed seed along with it.  The spring snow melt would leave three inches of topsoil in our grove (where the snow drifts / dirt dunes were) and road ditches.  Who knows how many tons per acre landed in Indiana or Tennessee?  Moreover, in the spring, we would typically have to scramble out to the fields to run rotary hoe to stop blowing dirt from sand blasting the young crop that just broke ground.

In total, we would make about seven or eight trips over the field to till, plant, cultivate (weed), harvest, and plow.  For soybeans, we would actually use machetes to chop weeds during the mid-summer heat.  Find a fourth grader who would do that nowadays.  Parents would be hauled away in handcuffs for child abuse and maybe reckless endangerment.  This one looks just like my Grandmother’s.   My father would sharpen them every morning before we took to the fields.  No sheaths, guards or any of that kind of crap either.

For livestock, we used to raise hogs and cattle in more “humane” ways in the open field.  This makes for a nice image to the Geography professor but in truth what would happen is the sows would root holes in the soil for a nice cool spot in which to snooze.  Soon they would give birth to a litter of pigs.  Then the rains come.  After having lain on and crushed two or three pigs, the remaining ones would be freezing in the cold water and mud.  Ninety degrees is perfect for these little guys – not 60F and mud.

The good old days weren’t so good.

Fast forward thirty years.  Unlike the Geography professor claims, farming has changed, hugely, and in the direction of sustainability AND increased productivity.  Most crops are now Roundup ready, meaning they are genetically modified to withstand Roundup, which otherwise kills everything rooted in the ground.  This may sound horrible but it only kills what it lands on and is benign to soil, doesn’t drift, and doesn’t run off.  What are the implications?  Fuel use is drastically reduced and the minimum soil tillage results in practically no soil erosion, which brings other benefits in addition to being intrinsically sustainable.

First, when I was a kid and everything was plowed black, soil erosion continuously uncovered rocks on hills and hillsides.  We used to spend weeks before and after planting hauling rocks off the fields – more child abuse.  Have you ever had your foot run over by a rock wagon?  Neither have I.  Rocks are not kind to expensive farm equipment.  It would beat the crap out of tillage equipment, planters, and god help you if you ran one into a combine.

Second, water erosion destroys crops.  First, as it washes down from highlands it takes crop along with the soil to the lowland.  In the lowland, crops will survive in standing water from the runoff for just a few hours.  With modern minimum tillage made possible with Roundup, erosion is practically nil.  In addition to preventing runoff, erosion, and associated crop destruction, residue, otherwise known as stover or trash, helps soil retain moisture to carry crops through dry spells.  It would be common to have 10-15% of our crop land flooded every year; now there is practically none.

The Geography professor claims 107 gallons of fuel are burned to produce an acre of crop.  This is crazy.  First, recent conventional thinking was that to break even a Midwest farmer needs about $500 revenue per acre.  That covers seed, rent or farm payments, chemicals, fuel, overhead, this, that, and the other.  Well 107 gallons is not far from $500 alone.  Second, it probably takes about a half gallon of fuel per acre each to plant and harvest and maybe another couple gallons for tillage (minimal) spring and fall .  That’s about three gallons per acre, direct.  Chemicals and fertilizers?  I have my Roundup booklet right next to me and that says it takes about 20 ounces per acre.  That’s a British pint, give or take a spit, per acre.  Does the fertilizer take the other 102 gallons per acre?  I don’t think so.  A ballpark estimate is 100 lbs per acre.  That’s probably in the 10-15 gallon/acre fuel equivalent, ballpark.  So, I’m seeing 20 gallons equivalent, maximum.

Note however, many modern factory farms produce their own fertilizer for free.  The Geography professor may think the factory farmers are ruthless dingbats, thriving on tortured, cramped, sick livestock, quietly dumping manure in the creeks because it’s cheap and easy.

The modern confinement barn where livestock is mass produced is always portrayed as a hellish inhumane place for livestock.  Wrong.  Sick, stressed, uncomfortable livestock does not eat or grow.  Growing is the key to making a profit.  It’s that simple and irrefutable.  The modern farm is as productivity centric and competitive as Wal-Mart is with its supply chain.  Adapt or die.  Everything revolves around keeping livestock healthy, dry, cool/warm, and frisky.  They even get lots of natural ventilation and daylight – how is your work station in this regard, by the way?

Back to the fertilizer.  The manure produced by the confinement barns provides nearly all fertilizer for the corn crop needed to feed the hogs.  Let me clarify this: the waste displaces an enormous amount of “artificial” petroleum-derived fertilizer – and it’s produced and applied locally.  It is knifed into the soil in the fall in precise quantities to maximize value of all fertilizer needs: potash, phosphate, and nitrogen.  Its nutrient content is better known than it is for a Snickers bar.  Typically, just enough is applied to satisfy the most abundant one of these so as to not over fertilize or waste any of it.  The remainder, which is hardly any, if any is made up by petroleum or natural gas derived fertilizers.

Fields are mapped for soil nutrient levels with GPS positioning systems.  “Fertilizer” application is adjusted continuously as it is spread to provide just enough per the specific needs of each location.  Resources are leveraged to the maximum extent possible.  Like any other business, sustainability, energy efficiency and profit are not exclusive competing interests in Midwest agriculture.

Did I mention, an acre of land today produces about 50% more crop than when I was a kid?  And another thing – crop genetics have improved such that grain drying, often provided by propane, a petroleum derivative, has declined significantly.

Is it perfect?  Heck no, but it’s a world better than most people realize and I could go on for several more pages regarding how much more sustainable and less abusive things are today compared to the “family farms” of the 1970s and earlier.  The only digression I see is the absence of machete wielding 4th graders earning a few bucks for college.

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

Atmospheric Cooling = Strong Tornadoes

31 05 2011

We interrupt this rant for this special announcement.  Our cold spring in the northern plains is wreaking havoc in the form of tornadoes in the southern and middle parts of the country.

I think the weather phenomena had a lot to do with my interest in mechanical engineering.  Growing up on the farm in the flatlands, I had seen a great many black clouds approaching on the horizon.  As they drew closer, they would either brighten to a lighter gray and rain, or they get ugly.  If the approach is led by a dark band of clouds followed by blue-green solid color all the way to the horizon, there would be some serious energy release.  If there is continuous rumbling, it generally means hail – tornadic-type winds aloft.

Weather should marvel any mechanical engineer with interest in the thermal fluids side of the curriculum.  All weather conditions are driven by temperature differences in the atmosphere and it’s influenced heavily by ocean temperatures to the west from which prevailing winds and jet stream flow, at least in the northern hemisphere.  It’s a massive thermodynamic, fluids, and heat transfer model.

What is causing this year’s massive tornadic outbreak?  Unusually cold mid and upper atmosphere derived from cyclically cold Pacific waters.

The two best weather guys I’ve seen in the business are Tom Skilling from WGN and Joe Bastardi from  Bastardi is a historian and doesn’t get whisked away with the hype.  He states the mid levels of the atmosphere have cooled very rapidly in the past year as it did 60 years ago.  Did you know this?  No.  Why?  Because nobody is reporting it.  This makes sense because powerful storms, which are like engines, are driven by great temperature differences; NOT an overheating atmosphere.

Tornadoes form when warm air from the southeast plows into cold air from the northwest.  The warm, moist air rises into the cold mid levels of the atmosphere, and of course what goes up, must come down.  Condensing water vapor turns to rain and if cold and turbulent enough develops hail falling to the ground cooling the air as it falls.  This air flow can become strong enough to cause straight line downdrafts that can flatten buildings and trees like a tornado.  When the warm air channels, it can become like the vortex in your bathtub or sink.  It will start to rotate to form a tornado.  For a great cartoon of this, click here.  For the real deal, see this minute-long video from National Geographic – devastating.

Fortunately, the pattern that set up these storms in the south just broke over the weekend.  Hopefully, we won’t get our turn in the north but it’s certainly possible.  The jet stream, or line between cold and warm air has lifted far north, hence the warmer weather we are experiencing in the north.

All engines, including power plants, your car’s engine, jet engines, are driven by hot and cold sinks.  The greater the temperature difference, the greater the power, and efficiency.  A tornado is an engine. It is driven by temperature differences in the atmosphere and the “load” is the destruction it wreaks on the ground.  When towns like Joplin, MO appear to be run over by a giant lawnmower, the giant lawnmower requires tremendous power, delivered by an F4 or F5 tornado.

This presents an opportunity to generate electricity.  No; not from tornadoes, but from waste heat being dumped from power plants.

I would guess that when anyone thinks of a nuclear plant, they think of these cooling towers.  These towers work on a very simple concept.  Warm water from the power plant is pumped to the top and showered down through the tower.  Openings at the bottom let in cool dry air from the surroundings.  The warming and humidifying of the air causes it to rise and a natural draft occurs.  Therefore, fans are not needed.  Towers need to be tall enough and shaped like they are to generate sufficient air flow via “stack effect” to provide required cooling capacity.

This presents an opportunity to generate electricity.  Not just from the vertical rise in the tower, but all the way to the upper atmosphere.  If rotation were induced, an engine could be developed between the hot exhaust and the always very-cold upper atmosphere – a standing tornado, essentially.

Don’t laugh.  I first came across this in one of the power industry’s trade magazines a year or two ago, and it made a lot of sense.  It’s called an atmospheric vortex engine.  Here is a good paper on the topic from the Canadians, ay?

So I ask, why is the DOE not pursuing something like this, rather than the STUPID electric car?  Silly me.  This is potentially cost effective energy efficiency with huge potential from a ubiquitous plentiful source of free waste energy; not an ALICE IN WONDERLAND pipe dream.  If we can build nuclear reactors and sophisticated huge steam turbines, surely this simple concept can be harnessed.

Seventy percent of energy required to fuel a thermal power plant (natural gas, coal, nuclear, fuel oil) is dumped to the surroundings.  Think of the potential – and nothing extraordinary is required.  Nature takes care of the vast temperature difference to drive the engine.  The efficiency of this second heat engine would be approximately 30% per the above paper.  This could take conventional power plant efficiency from the standard 30% to roughly 50%, roughly a 70% increase.  This is enormous.


I’ve always considered global warming to be driven by politics and self interest, knowingly or unknowingly – as in, I can make money from this.  It is fanned by sensational films like that described in the aforementioned Dumb Bear post, Al Gore (who’s film the UK banned from its schools) and even National Geographic – it sells – see how it works?  It’s easy.  More below.

The very cold spring and gobs of snow this winter have been devastating.  Dude!  Aspen reopened for skiing over the Memorial Day weekend – with more base now than it had on New Years Day!  This is normal?  It’s insane!  Mammoth Mountain in the Sierras still has 200-plus inches of snow – plan to ski through July 4!

How does paranoia void of logic and reason perpetuate?  The Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia Business School did a survey of 1,200 in-duh-viduals, “Those who felt that the current day was warmer than usual for the time of year were more likely to believe in and worry about global warming than those who thought it was cooler outside. They were also more likely to donate the money they earned from taking the survey to a charity that did work on climate change.”  Even if INDOORS is hotter, people tend to fear global warming more!

In other findings: if you eat soup frequently, check with an emotional counselor; want that job, wash your hands in hot water just prior to interview; worried about crime, get out of dodge when it’s hot outside.

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

EE, Policy, and Irony

24 05 2011

As my crop of silver hair continues to expand, I have become more of a historian, particularly when it comes to cause and effect, and peoples’ behavior.  I step back and observe what is happening and what has happened as a result of this or that policy.  Theories are nice, and they may be well thought out and make sense but if they fail miserably, should we double down and try it again?  Policy isn’t like launching rockets or breaking the speed of sound.

For those things, you can test, observe failure/problems and make adjustments.  For example, Chuck Yeager was the first to break the speed of sound in an airplane.  As he did so, the vehicle, which looked like a beer keg with wings (tap included), shook violently and about blew apart.  Why?  Because it had straight wings, not “delta” shaped wings.  The tap of the keg was led by a shock wave that emanated back in a V, kind of like the wake behind a boat.  The straight wings resulted in the ends leading the beer keg’s shock wave and the portions closer to the fuselage were safely behind the shock wave.  There is a large difference in pressure upstream and downstream of the wave causing instability and the violent vibrations.  They learned.  Sweep the wings back so the entire wing is post shock wave.  All supersonic aircraft have since been designed that way.  Google for pictures of the Blackbird, Concorde, Stealth Fighter, F-14, 22, and a gazillion others and you can see this delta wing design.  You don’t see this on your basic subsonic A320 passenger jet.  Mechanical engineers should already know this.  If not, they went to the wrong school or slept through fluid dynamics.

Policy, on the other hand, does not work this way in my opinion because policy affects infinite variables and you are dealing with peoples’ decisions on a macro basis, not physics.  When accounting for decisions made by 300 million individuals followed by a chain reaction of decisions that is limitless, you will get the same results from the same policy every time.

Keynesian theory (stimulus), for example has failed, what a thousand times, not counting the depression?  But we keep trying.  See this damning report by two Ph.D. economists, one from The Ohio State University and one from the University of Western Ontario.  The Act “saved or created” 443 thousand government jobs and “destroyed” about 1 million private sector jobs.  I wonder if the study was funded by ARRA!  LOL!  Has anyone seen Joe Biden lately?

I could write a book regarding why it doesn’t work on a macro level, but let me just provide some reasons believers give for it not working: it wasn’t enough money ($800 billion is almost $3,000 for every man woman and child in the country – how many flat screen TVs from China do we need?), it doesn’t work during deficit spending, the financial crisis, the Bowl Championship Series, La Nina, Rosie quit The View, people were busy preparing for the apocalypse that failed to materialize over the weekend  – you name it.

Likewise, it’s been a bomb for energy efficiency.

  • Utility and regulatory stakeholders in Iowa opined they couldn’t wait for the funding to stop so people would get off their hands and get in the game again.  Now that ARRA is wearing off, an objective observer can see this happening – the economy improving, slowly.
  • Cash for clunkers miniscule EE impacts.  Over an AESP conference lunch last week, I visited with an engineer from Southern Company, Alabama and he said the Honda and Mercedes plants in their service territory were running around the clock, full tilt.  Post cash for clunker they were running at half capacity.  And savings?
  • A long time ago, I said the money going to EE needs oversight to ensure it isn’t wasted.  Well lo and behold, a few weeks after this we bid as a sub-consultant to evaluate the funds spent in California and won the project.  We haven’t seen a nickel’s worth of work yet.
  • With a business partner’s lead, we pursued pilot work to pursue some ARRA funds, despite my vowing not to pursue ARRA funds.  Result: $130,000 lost in work we will never be paid for.
  • We had a “shovel ready” LEED® project for a new federal building ready to go.  After dragging on for months, our LEED services were value-engineered out of it.  Did the OSU guy capture this?
  • In the past couple weeks we considered going after some DOE EE evaluation work with one of our best clients but dropped out once intelligence revealed a competitor was going to low-ball it with their “government rates”.  Reverse price fixing.  I wonder how the rest of their clients feel about this??

What else is ironic is I would say our industry is quite progressive, yet when politically favored are in power, EE gets the shaft.  Consider WI, which during the recession prior to this one, the Democratic governor Jim Doyle, almost collapsed the state’s energy program by taking HALF the budget dollars rather than cutting spending elsewhere.  In speaking with Californians last week at AESP, the same thing is on the table in Sacramento, with a Democrat uber-super-duper majority.  I said, I bet there’s uproar over that.  Not a peep.  How could this be?  Unions Trumpka EE, get it?

Meanwhile, on the right you have people like Rand Paul with his kooky bill to undo the incandescent ban; Glen Beck waxing hysterically that George Soros will use the CFL as a tool to overthrow the US government and Media Matters will control your smart grid connection; Bush and hydrogen; and of course there is a considerable faction of right wingers that would just as soon gut all EE efforts and drill, mine, build power plants, and power lines willy nilly, and waste resources per market forces.

Finally there is this triple lindy irony: the incandescent ban, signed into law by Bush, hated by right, generally applauded by policy people in our industry, is causing much angst for program people.  It’s taking with it a gravy train of easy savings for EE programs.  An entire cottage industry is developing to rationalize the legitimacy of maintaining these savings.  There’s a problem though.  I can get CFLs on for less coin than the less efficient halogen.  We may actually see incentives for throwing away working incandescent light bulbs (just guessing).

Will the Republicans dismantle our industry?  It’s probably not going to happen in Wisconsin.  A friend (Shaw) of a friend (Koch) of the governor is the administrator!  What a hoot – a story for another day.

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

Experience Myth

17 05 2011

Now that I’m an old man, defined as being over 40 years of age, career half over, graduated from college 20 years ago, kids of classmates are graduating from high school, kids born when I was partying in college are graduating from college, and other depressing facts, I can say experience in anything can be almost worthless and in some cases, it is worth less than nothing.

At Michaels, we have interfaced with engineers, particularly ones who were in sales and it was stunning how little they knew about buildings, control systems and how equipment and systems use energy.  It reminds me of when I was a kid; I would sit in wonderment about how automobiles were manufactured.  How do they make that dashboard, the top of which was a large as a kitchen table?  How do they make the thin auto body pieces parts?  It was like rocket science to me.  There must be some magic computer like Hal that made all this stuff happen.  I have to wonder whether this is the case with some “energy engineers”.

Likewise, these guys who had been in their industry for many years and were suddenly recruited into the energy efficiency business seem to think energy savings is some nebulous, random, stab in the dark.  In former lives they may have served as experts for their companies but anyone who could spout off the dimensions of a two square inch square would be viewed as Einstein.  For purposes of energy analyses, the savings equal the cost of what they were selling divided by the maximum acceptable payback for the customer.  (It takes somebody with 5 years of post k-12 education to do this?)

For one such real guy, the baseline, or the existing conditions are arbitrary.  That’s just the way it is.  When asked what the operating conditions were prior to implementation of the project, the response, “what do you think they should be?”  Head, meet brick wall.

In other cases, an engineer may seem to know an energy model (spreadsheet) is not meant to be used for the specific application of the technology, say a variable frequency drive, but they use it anyway because that’s all there is for variable frequency drives.  Everything is a nail as seen by the hammer.  Meanwhile, I’ve seen new graduates come in and almost immediately run circles around guys with three or more years of experience.

So what does it take to be a great energy efficiency engineer (or occupation x)?  First it takes commitment to excellence, which sounds like a bunch of crap, but what I mean is the engineer does not accept anything he/she doesn’t fully and deeply understand.  If results look weird, they have to find out exactly what is going on.  Is it an error or is it some unforeseen, non-intuitive characteristic that is driving the results to be different than expected.  This trait is absolutely essential.  And they know when enough is enough.  One can’t spend hours finding a half dozen “errors” that have negligible effect on a complex energy model.

A non-essential but very helpful aspect is having strong mentoring and being surrounded by knowledgeable engineers who know what they are doing and conform to the above themselves.

Recently while writing a proposal for a large EE program evaluation, the minimum experience requirement for key team members, constituting maybe three or four main actors directly responsible for the outcomes, was five years direct experience in evaluation.  Surprisingly, I would probably pick about the same number.  A new grad can learn a heck of a lot in a year or two and by year three or four be running some good size projects.  Not so ironically, this is about the time engineers become eligible for licensure.

Does this mean anyone over 40 should get their afghan and find a rocker and sit on the porch all day talking about AM radios, eight track tapes, VCRs, and never getting out of school for anything short of six feet of snow (almost true by the way)?  Some folks probably should but in other cases, the answer is, of course not.  Talented old people were once smart 20-somethings.  I’ve never come across anyone who didn’t have it in the 20s but later found it in their 30s or 40s.

Experience is not enough.  Firms need to demonstrate they know what they are doing with work examples, references for similar work, and lists of clients and how long they have been clients.  For many cases with big projects, one needs to describe the difficulties and challenges of the project and how they will be overcome.  That takes experience.

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

Prudes Trafficking Cud

10 05 2011

Having been in the EE industry for 15+ years and regularly attending conferences around the country (for just a few years), I find myself being volunteered to contribute to these conferences with planning, presenting papers, and “peer” reviewing others’ papers.  The planning, peer reviewing, and being peer reviewed are learning experiences as I gain awareness of how others think and what they find interesting and important.  I say “awareness” and not necessarily “understanding” because quite frankly, the way some people think, baffles me.

For example, I was talking with a gun collector the other day and prior to this I had thought people collected weapons like some people collect motorcycles.  They just clean and polish them weekly, talk to them like house plants and adore their magnificence.  Wrong.  He likes going to the range and shooting them.  I can understand this because I on the other hand enjoy going to the beach and skipping silver dollars off the water.  I get a rush from feelings of wealth and power as I do this.  This is not all.  I take a Porche 911 to the beach with my rolls of silver dollars because it would be really deflating to climb into the 2002 Honda Civic after my fill of dollar skipping.

The dollar-skipping Porsche story is a lie but I was just trying to draw a comparison to the weapon thing and came up short.

I am in the midst of reviewing some papers for the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC), but fortunately they are not boring.  In fact, I even used the overarching results from one of them as a lever in a recent proposal I wrote.  I reviewed them and presented one round of comments to the authors and I truly hope they found my comments to be beneficial and constructive to improving their papers.  My comments included suggestions like moving and rearranging some things, rewriting some sentences I had to read several times to understand, separating these from those, and I found a few typographical errors.  I thought I had written quite a few comments and I hoped they weren’t PO’d, and after hearing back, I don’t think they were.

However, I also had the chance to review comments others had written for peer review of papers our staff (not I) wrote for the ACEEE Summer Study for Industry.  Whoa!  Some were quite nasty, and likely written by an academic / government prude, anonymously of course.  Some of the findings, paraphrased to be more like Wonder Bread than a habanero pepper, are provided below.

No references documenting similar work.

The topic of the paper included a financing program for energy efficiency programs that has worked spectacularly.  The paper essentially started by saying utility financing programs suck, which outside the program(s) discussed in the paper is a universal truth.  Do I need a reference to prove the Minnesota Vikings have never won the Super Bowl?  Do I need a reference to say they blew three conference championship games since 1998?

I use references when I’m uncertain of something or if I am saying something controversial or hard to believe or as you can see below, to make a point.  If I know what I’m talking about, I don’t bother with references.

Papers should include mostly the author’s expertise, gained knowledge, and wisdom of his experiences, not a compilation of other peoples’ work.  Do we want high school term papers or real-life EE market experiences and lessons learned?  Quite frankly, when I reviewed the IEPEC papers I paid no attention whatsoever to the references (don’t tell the prude police).  There were plenty of fresh data to chew on and sitting here today a couple weeks after those reviews, I don’t think they needed any references at all.

No data to back up the premise.

This was ridiculous.  Data were clearly provided to demonstrate the wild success of the reported “financing” program.  There wasn’t much data to show other financing programs suck, but I don’t need a study to tell me beer from a major league baseball game is more expensive than beer purchased from a grocery store either.

There is plenty of research on barriers to EE in scholarly publications from think tanks like ACEEE or from the DOE and national laboratories. 

The DOE?  Is this the same DOE that promoted the destruction of millions of dollars worth of working assets as economic stimulus – i.e., throwing rocks through windows to spur economic growth?  I used to work for the DOE.  I don’t need the DOE to tell me the barriers to EE.  Scholarly?  Ha ha.  It is to laugh.  (Daffy Duck)

I’ve seen lists of EE barriers and they typically miss one of the 800 lb gorillas.  One of the most notable lists of barriers comes from the 2009 McKinsey study.  A basic barrier I don’t see in their list is lack of time due to competing priorities of end users.  Since lack of time isn’t noted, is it therefore not a barrier?

One ACEEE paper, which in fact looks pretty good, does not mention risk aversion as a barrier.  I can tell you, risk aversion is a major barrier.  Many projects will not go forward without a performance guarantee.  Since risk aversion is not noted, is it not a barrier?  Maybe it is merely an obstacle!

Lacks the intellectual rigor that ACEEE requires.

Don’t rock the boat.  I think I’m going to throw up.

This sort of comment casts a cloud over ACEEE in my mind.  To be clear, I like ACEEE.  They put on good conferences and produce/sponsor some informative papers – stuff I can use.

Reads like an advertisement and offers no new information or analysis.

This is entirely bogus.  The word “Michaels” does not appear in the paper.  Yet I review one (1) paper from the last summer study for industry – one that is close to home involving Focus on Energy – and “Focus” is noted no fewer than 31 times.  For example, Focus:

  • promotes savings and technologies through
  • is a statewide energy conservation program (not efficiency?)
  • is managed by SAIC
  • program’s success comes through their active (should be “its”, not “their”)
  • program’s success results from leveraging
  • program tends to be vocal promoters
  • energy advisor has reviewed and blessed (blessed?  This is the intellectual rigor he talks about?)
  • absent a program such as Focus on Energy, would not have been installed
  • blah, blah, Focus, blah, blah

Nope.  No self promotion here!  I believe the prude should review some past works.

Ok.  I had to sneak a peak at one more paper; this time from one of the benevolent, intellectually superior, omniscient, and of course objective DOE laboratories.  This one was on the salvation that wireless technology will bring.  Have a seat; empty your mouth of any food or drink.  The paper was co-authored by a vendor of the technology using analysis provided by Honeywell.  Suely, there is no agenda or self interest in this one.

To once again clarify myself, I do not begrudge anyone for tooting their horn.  Anyone who thinks busy professionals write papers and present results at conferences with no self interest is a naïve stupe.

There is limited evidence to support the conclusions.  There is a small out of date case study but it lacks justification for any of the assertions.

C’mon dude!  The results:  Traditional financing programs: 0.  Subject “financing” program: savings of 1.5% of sales for many years.  In case you are new to EE program goals, 1.5% is enormous, like the Oregon Ducks averaging 47 points per football game or the Badgers scoring 83 points in one football game last year.  Both are incredible.  Don’t believe it?  Look it up yourself, prude!

I do not want to read high school term papers of reconstituted cud.  I do not want to read a doctoral thesis or six-line sentences full of four syllable words.  I want to read something I can use or at least find interesting.

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

Don’t Ask, Don’t Look, Don’t Tell

3 05 2011

It seems like every time I visit my mother, at some point, maybe the night I arrive or the next morning over coffee, she starts dumping the local rubbish on me.  So and so are “separated”.  What’s her name is pregnant.  Jimmy got busted for a DUI.  Ronnie has cancer.  I went to four funerals last week.  And always something about my brothers, who as you may know run a large farming operation, are taking too much risk or can’t possibly afford this or that $300,000 piece of equipment.  Being the anti-gossip and direct guy that I am, I ask, “Mom, why do I need to know these things?” and “You can’t do anything about it anyway, so why bother” and “I’m sure they know what they are doing, having been in the business for thirty years.”  In summary, I don’t need or even want to know.

When I played little league and maybe even high school baseball, we had things like the 10 run rule and the point of that was to cut off the game and get on with something productive because the team getting hammered is never going to come back with any chance to win the game.  It wasn’t for mercy.  It wasn’t to protect the meek from getting clobbered 46-2, which everyone knows would happen if the game continued.

Reality can be unpleasant to painful or underwhelming and I only want to know about it if it affects me and especially if it’s something I can do something about.

The majority of our energy efficiency work includes calculating energy savings and incentives for large commercial and industrial projects and evaluating all kinds (literally) of EE programs.  Here we actually want as much information as we can get to do our jobs because hundreds of thousands of dollars can be in play and we like to get things right, especially when a lot of money is involved.

In some cases, it would be handy if the client accepted what “everything” means.  It’s a little bit like describing what “no” means.  One dictionary defines everything as, “every thing or particular of an aggregate or total; all”.  And we write four memos regarding what “everything” means with respect to what we need.  Everything.  The reports, notes, manufacturer cut sheets, invoices, customer contact information, billing history, the maintenance guy’s favorite past time.

Other times we get a couple pages from a report, which is like grading an engineering exam while being provided with the question, and two equations the student wrote, and no answer.  For example, a project includes the installation of a 500 horse power variable-speed compressor among several other existing compressors.  The duty cycle for the new compressor is provided, but what was going on before the thing was installed?  What other compressors are there now?  Was it just installed to add more capacity?  Answer: “never mind, here is the filtered information we want you to use”.  “The consultant [providing the original study] knows what they are doing.”  Ok.  Let us see how terrifically brilliant they are as we review their work in its entirety.  What’s to hide?  Is this a game?  Is that what this is, Lieutenant Caffey?  Am I funny?  Do I amuse you?  Do I make you laugh?

One of the most important purposes of program evaluations is to provide feedback to improve return on ratepayer investment from the program, an element of which is determining if savings are actually being achieved.  I think everyone has seen sitcoms where the main characters messed something up or broke something and as a result they try to divert attention from it or put a happy face on a troll.  What is the point in that when it comes to evaluation?  I won’t speculate for the answer to that question.  There are many possibilities.

Other times, the findings are plain as the nose on your face – like we metered lighting hours on 25 projects and they indicate an average annual burn time of 2,500 hours and not 4,300 assumed in the program’s deemed savings database.  According to the implementer, the sample was faulty or it was not statistically significant.

We have to face the music at times when others review our calculations.  If something is incorrect or uses inaccurate or non-representative data, or is for some reason generally a mess, we work with the reviewing engineers to make things right and if that means a savings adjustment, so be it.

The bottom line is, there are plenty of opportunities to capture real savings and we as an industry need to ensure we capture these savings rather than manufacturing savings by whatever the motive or reason.

In closing, to quote a guy I agree with 90% of the time, Mark Zweig, a consultant for consultants, “I never wanted to be one of those CONsultants who tells his clients what they want to hear and hopes he never gets fired. I am much more interested in being an INsultant who tells his clients what they need to hear.”

If a client doesn’t want to hear it, it is time for a new client.


Worthless EE tip of the week: disable your auto ice maker in your kitchen refrigerator and save 1% of your home’s electric bill.  I believe there is a heater in the ice cube moulds to melt the ice so it can be flipped out.  Whoopty doo.  Yawn.  If I understand it correctly, they say the ice cube makers pull an extra 84 kWh/year, which is about 10 W.  A refrigerator only averages 50-60W running around the clock.  Have your ice and eat it too.

In this article, we are informed that most consumers have no idea how much energy it takes to ship from factory to store.  So I thought, what are the energy implications of buying local?  How much transportation energy does this save?  I like strawberries from Watsonville, CA.  A truck hauls 60,000 lbs of strawberries 2,100 miles for roughly 350 gallons of diesel fuel.  The diesel fuel it takes for my pound of strawberries would get me 0.17 miles in my thirty-mile-per gallon car.  Worthless information?  You be the judge.

Finally, there is this article on KFC’s  sustainability efforts.  The company rebranded itself because its former name sounded like a premature heart attack.  Now it offers reserved parking for hybrid cars.  First, people who drive hybrid cars would probably rather walk more, not less which leads me to the obvious second point, a Prius and a bucket of the Colonel’s best with a side order of stents  is not a scene I can paint in my mind.  I was going to stereotype and say KFC lots are full of SUVs, Buicks, Chevys, and minivans but I shall refrain and stick to the google street view facts from a Lakeville, MN (suburb of Twin Cities) store:  4 GM cars, 2 GM SUVs, 2 GM pickup trucks, 3 Chrysler minivans, 2 Chrysler cars, 1 Ford car, 1 Nissan SUV, 1 used defribulator, and zero hybrids.

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

Cabbage Patch iPad

26 04 2011

The thing that pushed me over the edge this week was a fine blog  post by Elisa Wood.  My comment was that Gavin Newsom’s list of jobs created by resources including coal, nuclear, wind, solar, and EE, does not include return on investment.  Only EE has return on investment for the end user.  All other sources cost the end user, not save the end user money.  But this is not the topic of the day.

I am not a tech geek.  I just want things that are stable, reliable, and relatively fast and snappy.  I will pay for it.  I have long been out of college and therefore, time is scarcer than money so just give me something “fast” and reliable and I’ll gladly pay for it.

I also do not need, and in fact I do not want the latest and greatest thing.  Take Microsoft, which hasn’t had any substantial improvement to the Office suite for ten years – since they added the right-click menus.  It has become more stable and reliable in the past 15 years as reports we wrote used to become corrupted out of the blue and you couldn’t open them ever again.  Congratulations for this achievement!

I am not a Microsoft basher but I don’t think they have innovated (if I may use that as a verb) hardly a single thing.  Operating systems with graphical interfaces, mice, spreadsheets, word processors, web browsers, databases, and you name it; they didn’t develop any of these things and they comprise their bulk of gazillions in revenue and profit.  Microsoft is good at taking others’ ideas and packaging and marketing them, creating monopolies and crushing any competitors, or simply buying them out.  Like I said, I’m no Microsoft basher.

Apple on the other hand has been a major innovator with the Mac, Mac operating system, the iPod, and then really, really with the iPhone.  When the iPhone first came out, I thought “what is the big deal?”  It doesn’t even have buttons.  Then I experienced it as we work with clients who use them exclusively.  I look at my Microsoft kludge of a phone (again Microsoft following, not innovating) and think, wow, the iPhone is about 100x better.  (I now have a Motorola Droid which in many ways is better than the iPhone if you ask me, so my tech world is whole again)

At an AESP conference, I was fortunate to win an iPod touch, which is essentially the iPhone without the phone.  Other AESP-drawing winners of GPSs wanted to trade and I said get lost.  I’m giving this to my wife to replace her crappy iPod wannabee.  The iPod touch gave me hands-on experience with greatness.

Apple has built such a cult following that if they introduced a turntable, the iTable, people would camp out for a week just to be the first to get their hands on one of these 1960s makeovers.  They have already done this – it’s called the iPad.  It’s a ridiculous widget.  Why is it ridiculous, Jeff?

First, because it isn’t a serious business tool (yes, I will get to the consumer thing later).  Thinking we could use one of these possibly for field work surveys, I asked one of our iEverything business partners what he thought of this.  He said, no, it isn’t going to do well with spreadsheets or databases, if they can even be used at all.  It doesn’t even have ports like a USB connection for goodness sake.

Second, I was on a plane headed for somewhere sitting next to a guy watching a movie on an iPad.  I enlightened him by saying, “You know, they make these things that have a convenient platform to prop the screen up reliably for hands free movie watching.  You could just sit it on your tray and sit back and enjoy the movie.  It’s called a laptop computer.”

It’s a large version of a phone without the phone.  It’s a small computer with no capability.

Perhaps most ridiculous, I recall an article in The Wall Street Journal covering the various ways iPad owners can transport their iPads.  One solution was like a fanny pack with a big pouch in which you would carry the iPad along the small of your back.  Good grief!  Don’t use a computer bag.  That would reveal the stupidity of this device.

Conclusion: It’s a clunky, slippery, doohickey that is too large for your pocket, to small for a computer, and you can do little productive work with it.  The second conclusion is, Steve Jobs is a genius for generating a brand that will get people to buy anything with an i in front of it, by the hundreds of millions.

How do we do this with energy efficiency?  It has to have a strong element of “look at how great and cool I am”.  I suggest a web-based application that shows how rich you are becoming, in real time, as a result of your EE genius.  In one pane it would mimic a bank teller slapping down dollar bills as you stuff them in your wallet.  Once you accumulate a bulging wallet full of bills you trade them in for a hundred dollar bill.  You let the hundreds pile up on the counter.  After a while you swap currency for gold bullion and that starts stacking up on the counter.

In another pane you have a lot full of Prius and electric vehicles with dead batteries in front of a big box store called “Renewables R Us”.  As you accumulate enough savings and equivalent emissions of these cars / energy sources, King Kong circa 1976 walks onto the scene thumping his chest and roaring.  He picks up an electric vehicle and tucks it under his harm like a football and stomps off, maybe stepping on a couple screaming shoppers making their way to the store as they drop their iPads.  This would represent the equivalent Priuses taken off the road. Next time, Kong comes by but this time tripping on a Prius and falling face first crushing a dozen Nissan Leafs.  After doing the ceremonial thump and roar, he rips a solar panel off the roof and throws it across town, like the subway cars in the movie… followed by stomping off and squashing a few more shoppers.

The app should be exclusive to new chosen makes and models of devices and they are provided by the EE program as part of the incentive.  The devices are sleek and unique so everyone knows, that guy is cool and smart.  The devices would have functionality of iPods, phones, and laptops so they aren’t just a worthless status symbol.

So the next time you are sitting at the gate or in cattle class, your device is screaming – “look at how cool I am” while the inferior, insecure me-too stooge is gawking on, thinking, “Man that guy has some device!”

Copyright 2011


As gasoline prices are clicking past $4 across the country, citizens are crying to the feds to do something.  So what are both the President and Speaker talking about?  Eliminate subsidies for oil companies – as though this will bring down prices!  Again, politics rather than logic rule in Washington.  Prices are high and therefore the oil companies must be punished and somehow reducing profit will lower prices.  Good Grief! – popular with the lemmings but thinkers know better.

P.S.  I believe the “subsidies” they are talking about are tax breaks for depleting wells, which sounds to me like depreciation for assets of depleting value – like our office furniture and computers.  Anyway, let me say that subsidies should go, across the board, but office furniture and computers are the price of doing business and obviously affect profit so depreciation isn’t a subsidy, unless you’re a political hack.

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