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 Amazon.com 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





You Are SO Fired

28 09 2010

As a sub-consultant or as a prime contractor we must do about 25 “major” proposals per year.  By “major” I mean there is a formal request for proposals (RFP), sometimes there is an “intent to bid” form to submit, formal question submittals to the buyer, formal distribution of all questions and answers to all bidders, and then bids are due.  All questions from all bidders and their answers are provided to all bidders to help maintain a level playing field.

I think I/we have only asked questions when there are contradictions within the RFP.  For example, the due date is provided in one place and in another place it is different.  I want to know for sure when it is due – almost always the latter date, but I take nothing for granted so I ask.  Just about all other questions I would ask, even if good ones provide me with no advantage at best, and are self-destructive at worst.  Remember, all bidders get all questions and answers.  Questions give away ideas, strategy, and almost always reveal how stupid some people are.

I don’t think I coined the statement but the following definitely applies for these things in many if not most cases.  “There is no such thing as a stupid question – only stupid people asking questions.”

I have three sets of questions to poke at in this post.  I provided answers to each question.

The first examples come from an RFP for engineering services for industrial energy efficiency.  The successful bidder(s) would be providing assistance to industrial end users in the form of identifying opportunities, estimating costs and benefits, and maybe assisting with implementation services.  It is up to the proposer to propose needed services that remove barriers to EE for these end users.

Q:  What is the definition of “medium to large industrial customers”?

A:  Who cares?  What difference does it make?  You are not bidding on a specific job.

Q:  What is the program’s “custom track”?

A:  You’re fired.  If you don’t know what custom is, you should also be fined for asking and wasting my time.

Q:  What types of industries comprise the majority of participants (end users)?

A:  I’ll put that one in the “you lose” box.  This person is too stupid and/or lazy to investigate the types of industries in the region.  Also, if an industry is not being addressed sufficiently, don’t you suppose that might be a good opportunity?

Q:  What typical examples of “non-energy benefits” do you want included in the proposal?

A:  The “non-energy benefit” is that this stupid question tells me that I can put your proposal in the lose box without reading it because you clearly don’t understand this business.

Q:  Are teaming arrangements acceptable…?

A:  Yes but nobody in their right mind would team with you for asking this question.

This next set is for developing an energy management plan for a county at a very high level since the budget is small relative to the scope of the project – the number of buildings and size of the region covered.  This is a big county with hundreds of buildings (many of which will be picnic shelters and stuff like that) and millions of square feet.

Q:  Is there a list of potential bidders?

A:  Yes.  Would you like a draft of their proposals too?  Seriously, we always have to guess who else is bidding and differentiate ourselves from them.  I’ve never experienced or heard of this being distributed prior to proposal submittals.

Q:  My name is Dr. Evil and I am the world’s greatest one man show on earth (intentional redundancy).  Is it ok if I join several the bidders going after this project?

A:  You may do so as long as you give me your real name so I can put the proposals of those pitiful enough to hire you in the lose box.

WARNING: Strap yourself in your chair so you don’t hurt yourself falling over in laughter.  The following question may be the best one I’ve seen.  NOT responsible for personal injury.

Q:  Price is one of the evaluation factors.  What exactly does that mean?  [and he goes on from there]  If we bid less than the not-to-exceed amount provided in the RFP, will that improve the scoring of our proposal?

A:  On behalf of the United States, I should just give you a negotiated reasonable profit in exchange for your permanent relocation out of the country.  You don’t even need to do the project!

Q:  Are all the facilities on the same utility rate (tariff) or are there different tariffs used among the hundreds of buildings?

A:  You are SO fired.  I’m sure a park shelter house is going to be on the same tariff as a major airport.  Not only that, there are multiple utilities serving the county!  But this takes several gruesome clicks on the computer so I understand your plight.

The last RFP was for a combined heat and power (CHP) study.  The CHP would be customer owned and sited for a large region.

Q:  As part of the study are you interested in…, e.g. “switching electric hot water for solar thermal technologies?”

A:  Using a digital voice recorder, read the title of the RFP then your question, three times in succession while recording.  Play it back as many times as necessary for the subliminal message to kick in.

WARNING:   Fasten your seat belt again.  NOT responsible for personal injury.

Q:  Is the mission, vision and values specifically for the state’s energy program?

A:  No.  We felt our letterhead had too much white space so we developed and used that to fill it up.  It doesn’t really apply to anything.  What difference does it make?!  Also, you may want to consider brushing up on your 3rd grade grammar skills.

Q:  Is cost effectiveness analysis to assume “going forward” costs only?

A:  No.  It should include customer expenditures on landscaping from 1997 through 2002.  If you have trouble linking the two together, we are open to alternative ideas.

Q:  What, if any data and source limitations do you have?

A:  The successful bidder will have access to our direct line to God who already knows what you will be doing and exactly when and where you will be doing it as you open our rejection letter addressed to you.

The End

I may have evaluated proposals a time or two but can’t specifically recall any.  However, if I would, I would certainly factor in the types of questions bidders ask when evaluating proposals.  Some questions demonstrate ignorance of our industry.  Some seem to indicate that the bidder would be a pain to work with or needs excessive hand holding to do the job.  Others just seem to indicate lack of IQ or it could be lack of thinking.  But what is the difference?  Don’t you evaluate questions from interviewees who want a job in your company?  I wouldn’t want them either way.  Some questions are superfluous and irrelevant; possibly indicating the bidder has no idea what “this” is about.  Do you really want people who waste your time or are too stupid or lazy working for you?

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