Oh Behave

14 06 2011

I swear we were introduced to the food pyramid when I was in grade school but a little web searching gives me just a couple – the one from 1992 and the new and improved one in 2005.

The 1992 edition is shown below.  If you can’t read it, good.

1992 Food Pyramid

The 2005 vertical colorful edition with the stickman and skewers for hands and feet follows.

2005 Food Pyramid

For 2011, the USDA has switched to this brilliant “plate” that looks like a pie chart developed by a group of kindergarteners employed by Microsoft, except I really don’t think anyone would want their brand tied to this thing.

2011 Food Pyramid

The purpose of these things is supposed to improve the health of Americans.  In 1992 the obesity rate in the US was nearly all below 14% for every state in the union.  Only six states had higher rates, Wisconsin being one of them – fried cheese curds and bratwurst.

Due to its success in 2005, they rolled out an improved version.  By this time only four states were as good as Wisconsin was bad thirteen years prior.  Let me try a different angle on that.  By 2005, all but four states had MORE than 20% obesity.  We improved from only six states with more than 14% to all BUT four states ABOVE 20%.

By 2009, the last year for which data are available, only Colorado is below 20%.  Thirty-four states are over 25% and nine of those are over 30%.  It appears that since these brilliant tools rolled out that obesity rates increased from 10-15% to 25-30%.  Progress.  A picture is worth 742 words.  Data are depicted in the nearby US Obesity Rates chart.

This is the brainchild of the USDA, the same organization that floods schools with subsidized fat-bomb food.  Meanwhile, there wages a war against soda and salty snack foods companies but the real culprit is the USDA that peddles this crap.  Surprise!

Despite being bombarded with data, having nutrition labeling on everything, including in some jurisdictions (NYC) on menu items served by mom and pop restaurants, the trend continues.  Why?  Americans on average don’t give a hoot or maybe they just don’t want to change; don’t want to give up anything.  Give me pills, sugar free this and that, fat free this and that, none of which work.  For most people, the solution is simple. Eat less and lower fat and sugar filled crap.  And get more exercise.  What good is a cartoon chart or for that matter, more nutrition information?

And so it will be with energy efficiency.  The smart grid and smart meters are anticipated to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter for energy efficiency.  There’s a problem with this mentality.  People have to give a hoot.  We can bombard people with information at every turn but one has to give a hoot to save energy.

Consumer behavior programs are important to the EE business, but as far as I know this primarily only includes turning stuff off or turning it down.  Nearly every single EE technology, retrofit, replacement, upgrade, and modification requires a strong element of behavioral discipline.  About the only thing I can think of that may lack behavior to avoid snapback (erosion of savings due to behavior change) is a refrigerator and freezer.  I can’t imagine people standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open thinking, “I’m going to look at this stuff in the refrigerator a little while longer because I have an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator now.”

EVERYTHING else can have snapback and erosion of savings over time, if not immediately.  Efficient lights use no energy so leave them on all the time.  I have an efficient furnace now so I’m going to maintain a New Delhi climate in my house.  I have trouble keeping it cool in this building so I’m going to turn the chiller down to 40F and not bother to change it back.  Never mind that chilled water temperature may not even be the problem.

At Michaels’ La Crosse office, we have about three acres of west facing glass that unfortunately does not have good thermal characteristics.  Anybody who knows anything about EE knows solar loads on cooling systems are huge.  Yet our high quality three acre’s worth of roller blinds are only about 30% deployed on average as the solar energy pounds away.  I’ll report back to see if this shaming worked.  If not, I’ll list the names of everyone sitting closest to unprotected windows.  I’ll see if threats work!  No.  I take it back.  I want to isolate the shame effects from the threat effects.  I’ll report on the shame effects in a month and if that doesn’t result in 100% compliance, I’ll do the threat test the following month.

Here is a really twisted perversion of energy efficiency: some technologies often result in more energy consumption, consistently.  Consider occupancy sensors for automatic lighting controls.  The first thing I did on my computer when we moved into our offices downtown was go to wattstopper.com to find information for the sensor on my wall to see how I could neuter it, and I did so immediately.  I set it to be manually switched on and auto off.  My overhead lights are used about 20 minutes per year – sometimes in the winter when I’m gathering up my stuff to go home, and sometimes for meetings with old bats who can’t see.  Otherwise the high pressure sodium streetlight outside is plenty.

I’m hard wired to shut stuff off when I’m not around or using stuff.  However, I’ve been trained by our occupancy sensors in other rooms to leave stuff on.  We even have a sticker on one switch that says Leave the Lights On!  More progress!  I would just as soon fix these with a 34 inch Louisville Slugger.  Occupancy sensors are clearly meant for users who don’t give a hoot.

On top of all this, occupancy sensors punish hard work.  I was told years ago that if you sit absolutely still for the delay period (adjustable from maybe a minute to a half hour), the lights may go out.  Bull.  You have to do a fourth quarter Bucky jump around to keep the lights on.  It isn’t easy working while jumping around.

Jump around, jump around, jump around

Jump up, jump up and get down

Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!….  (thank me for seeding this inspiring tune in your head for the rest of the day)

In case you haven’t attended a Wisconsin Badger football game, be sure to check it out.

Programmable thermostats are probably the worst thing that ever happened for energy savings.  We’ve inspected hundreds of these things for program evaluations.  They don’t save energy because in order to save energy you have to give a hoot.  If you give a hoot, a programmable thermostat is a nuisance.  A classic example included a recent verification of an installed programmable stat in a church.  Prior to the installation, they turned their manual stat back for all but a handful of hours needed for occupancy each week.  Post implementation, the heat is on 8-5 every day of the week.  The program implementer should be fined but even so, what was wrong with the manual stat in this case?  And if you’re sitting there, thinking, “I have a programmable thermostat and it is programmed according to my actual schedule, saving energy.”  Really?  Obviously you give a hoot.  Go home and replace it with a manual one and save more.  BTW, people who don’t give a hoot just put these in manual override all the time.  So unlike occupancy sensors, they provide no benefit whatsoever to anyone.

Our industry has an awful lot to do.  This is another reason I am not in favor of in-your-face mandates.  We’ve got to sell people on energy efficiency, or else their obstinance will undo the good deed.  People have to give a hoot and behave!

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

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

Choose Solutions, Not Facts

19 04 2011

State and federal budgets are headed for the cliff to varying degrees with few exceptions.  Here in Wisconsin, we’ve had the Battle Royale fight to the death cage match with the repubs on one side and the unions on the other while the dems were hiding out in a witness protection plan.

Meanwhile at the federal level, we are on a dangerous trajectory unseen in my lifetime.  People have whined about the deficit and debt since my adolescence – the Miracle on Ice days against the Soviet Union.  I kept saying, “It’s not a problem.  It’s not a problem.”  Why?  Because the debt as a percentage of our economy was reasonable, and flat but very few people consider this metric – the one that matters most.  They just clobber each other over the head and call each other names and we have Jay Leno fodder like “pay-go”.

However, this all changed since the meltdown Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2008.  The debt as a percentage of our economy really IS becoming a major concern.  We are staring at $1.6 trillion deficits for as far as the eye can see.  Personally, I think the word trillion should be banned because it sounds inconsequential.  How about $1.6 million million, or $1,600 billion?

Do we cut spending, take away grandma’s pharmaceuticals, sell her home, and set her and her senile dog up in a tent under the bridge, or do we fleece “the rich”.  See, I’ve always believed when politicians talk about “the rich” they mean households with incomes of two freshly college-educated people, say an engineer and a nurse or a school teacher and pharmacist.

As a rational person, I did a little Saturday morning research and some pretty simple math to prove my point.  The chart below containing data from the IRS paints a pretty clear and grim picture for those expecting a free ride from “the rich”.  What it shows is total incomes and numbers of returns (households) by income bracket.  The average income of those in the top 1% is $1.2 million and the next 4% the average drops sharply to $220,000.  My analysis goes like this: suppose we just took everything these people made above $100k, $250k, and so on.  Taking everything in excess of $100k from the top 10% of earners is “only” $2.4 trillion – $800 billion more than the deficit.  I.e., if the government confiscated all household income above $100k, we would have an $800 billion surplus.  But almost no one in this country considers $100k to be wealthy.

So let’s move to $250k, which apparently according to the President is the line between the rich and not rich because he’s said ten thousand times he’s not touching the piggy bank of anyone making less than $250k.  Well guess what; if we take everything in excess of $250k, it doesn’t even balance the budget.  Everything!  Of course if we tried this, no one would make more than $250k.  If we took 90%, there would be very little income over $250k and so on.  Lastly, if we take everything in excess of $1 million, you know, stick it to the rich, it has practically a negligible impact on the deficit.  Hello Pesky!  And remember, this is EVERYTHING above $1 million.

I conclude with facts that raising taxes on “the rich” is akin to fixing the weather-stripping on a large commercial building that is hemorrhaging energy waste.

And so it goes for energy savings.  One has to ask themselves, what can I expect for savings to pay for a renovation I want?  Start by considering you can’t save more than the building or a piece of equipment is using.  Sound pretty ridiculously simple?  Some end users could learn from this.

If you are on a buildings and grounds committee, you should know a few basic rules of thumb.  I will use schools as an example here.  New construction costs around $150 per square foot.  The cost of lighting and HVAC for the building is probably 20-30% of that cost with HVAC costing $20-$35 per square foot.  People should consider their own energy costs per square foot, but it’s most likely going to be in the $1-$2 per square foot per year.

So put some numbers together to get a SWAG (scientific wild ass guess) of what your return on investment may be for an HVAC system replacement.  At Michaels we call such a limit of savings or return on investment a bracket or a bracket calculation.  For example, if you are paying $1.50 per square foot per year and a new HVAC system costs $30 per square foot, your best possible return is a 20 year payback – that is if you save ALL the energy being consumed now.  It is safe to say that actual payback is twice that long.  Ditto for adding a variable speed drive to a pump.  One of our engineers may consider a variable speed drive for a pump and I may pull out my calculator and within thirty seconds conclude it’s never going to fly.  The motor uses $750 electricity at most, and installing a drive is going to be at least $2,000.  After screwing around with more detailed data and analysis, it will be a 12 year payback and that’s going nowhere.

Imagine being hired to analyze options for an HVAC replacement, considering several alternative systems.  Wouldn’t you know it! The payback was infinite because the new system would cost more to operate in energy than the 90 year old steam system that provides no ventilation and no air conditioning.  The board is shocked at the price tag and doesn’t want to pay for the study!  They were “misled”.  Wha?  I would call it an introduction to the real world, circa 2011.

This is like going to the optometrist because the patient can’t see very well, thinking they need a $100 pair of glasses.  The doctor does his series of tests and he diagnoses cataracts.  The exam costs $150 and the cataract surgery costs $7,000.  Otherwise, the eyes are fine.  The patient is enraged and refuses to pay for the exam.  The patient still wants the eyeglasses – prescribed by said optometrist!  This is a perfect allegory to a real story.

You may be able to choose among solutions, but you cannot rewrite history, pick your own reality, or defy the arithmetic.


Checking in after my rant No Brazil Syndrome, how many radiation-related deaths have occurred as a result of Fukushima’s damage sustained in March 11’s massive earthquake?  Zero.  Meanwhile, in the same period, probably more than 3,000 Americans have died in car crashes and deaths from the tsunami in Japan alone exceed 13,000.

Like most other things, you (you) have infinitely more control over your well being than that thing poses.  Stay out of the sun or wear strong sunscreen, don’t smoke, keep your BMI within better than recommended limits, skip the red meat, wear your seatbelt/helmet, exercise, don’t break the speed limit, check your cholesterol and blood pressure, get your colonoscopies…

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


9 02 2011
An overarching theme of the Energy Rant is that much energy policy has a feel-good foundation of fluff.  Last week I ranted about the feel-good dream of having plentiful, inexpensive renewable energy.  This will take a miracle because conventional sources are still huge and growing.  We have enough coal, natural gas, tar sands, oil shale, and offshore energy to last beyond our kids’ great grandchildren.  Of course most readers of this are champions of energy efficiency, but energy efficiency also has too much feel-good fluff.

Consider compact fluorescent lights, which despite my rant about it’s mandate a few weeks ago has been a fantastically successful development from the private sector sped along with the aid of EE programs.  That market has been pretty well transformed, especially in states with high rates and years of EE programs behind them.  Here’s the “problem” – the program has been successful.  The market is transformed.  Programs can no longer take credit for it but they don’t want to let go of the “savings”.  Well c’mon! 

This guy’s letter from the National Resources Defense Council illustrates this.  He is responding to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece describing the “ineffectiveness” of California CFL programs.  An independent evaluation of the program demonstrated that savings were much less than claimed.  Sounds familiar per our first hand evaluation of some similar programs.  He says the op-ed is based on a “consultant report that makes arbitrary and unsubstantiated reductions to the benefits of the compact fluorescent lamp program”.  Well if that isn’t the cat calling the kettle black.  Talk about unsubstantiated.  I’m sure there’s nothing in the report to back up its conclusions.  The guy probably hasn’t even read the executive summary.

Per our experience, this hack’s comments are unfortunately not uncommon.  Utilities, program administrators, and implementers do not want to be told their programs are saving less than they claim – as they almost always are.  I’m not sure who did the above evaluation in California but I will bet my house that they did not underestimate savings because: (1) it jibes with results we see for similar programs and (2) evaluators do not hammer savings for fun because it can lead to confrontation.  We tell it like it is; not how someone wishes it would be. 

We’ve recently completed impact (savings) evaluations for programmable thermostats; let’s just say in a state with a temperate climate – a state that has been lampooned in this rant a couple times.  A programmable thermostat is 98% a heating-energy-saving technology.  In the referenced temperate climate, where you can heat the entire house with a toaster oven, or at most your basic kitchen oven, what do you expect?  Even in states that need heating, the attributable impacts can be tiny.  Reasons for poor attributable savings include customers not using their furnaces; they were the programmable thermostat, programmable thermostats replacing programmable thermostats, and programmable thermostats in permanent override. 

Impact evaluation for residential end users is often done by billing regression, which is a sexy term for comparing the bills before implementation to the bills after implementation and making appropriate adjustments.  Consider evaluation for programmable thermostats with the only gas-using device in the home being the furnace.  Billing regression is the ONLY way to go.  Any engineering analysis is going to have much lower precision and confidence.  But noooo!  The program people didn’t like the regression results.  Can we “engineer” savings? NO! 

The other thing I’m seeing is rules changes to capture more savings.  Incentives are limited by total dollars per year per customer, minimum paybacks, and maximum percentage of measure cost.   This of course protects against free riders.  Then there is the incentive itself – how much incentive is there per kWh, kW, or therm saved?  Some utilities are greatly increasing incentives, lowering payback limits, and increasing annual payout limits.  Does this result in more attributable energy savings?  Probably not much.  Evaluations will probably show they are mainly making more projects eligible and thus claiming more savings.  I estimate free ridership will go up a lot.  Program evaluators walking into the evaluation of these “upgraded” programs should prepare for pushback and maybe a little firestorm in some cases. 

Some utilities whine to regulators that they’ve already done a great job of saving energy and all the easy stuff is gone (hence the expanded pay out and slackening rules discussed above).  I don’t buy it.  First, their 20th century programs are running low on remaining opportunity.  Could be, but there are alternatives if they AND the regulators would open up to program innovation.  Second, opportunities are created every day by engineers, architects, contractors, building owners, tenants, the milkman, janitor, cooks… you name it. 

I haven’t seen any studies yet but I would bet there is more opportunity for cost effective measures in NEW buildings – ones that are already built.  You just need to be capable of seeing the hand in front of your face and know how to “read” – i.e., understand what you are looking at.  Buildings are loaded with opportunities we find but rarely see coming out of programs.  Why?  Perhaps because in many cases there is no equipment to sell.  Examples:  grocery store has a main air handler maintaining 75F in the space and at the same time an adjacent one is struggling to maintain 70F.  The little one is cooling like crazy in the summer and pumping cold outdoor air all winter to try to get to 70F while the main unit is burning gas like crazy to make up for it.  Obviously, this is an incredible opportunity and a very simple concept.  Somebody just has to LOOK.  And THINK!  This is far more common than a congressman would ever imagine.

In another program evaluation, the administrators were whining about the difficulty of capturing gas savings even though programs are new to the state.  Good grief.  The only reason gas savings are “difficult” to capture is there is no gas lighting technology.  So as directed by the utility, I provided maybe a dozen major gas saving opportunities that apply to many facilities, I think all of which were for commercial and industrial end users.  “Oh, we are already aware of and understand these technologies and applications”, say the implementers.  Uh huh.  Sure.  And we haven’t seen any yet for some reason.  Reminds me of Cliff Claven
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP

Carnies, Circus Folk – Smell Like Cabbage

25 01 2011

Last week I attended the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) national conference in Orlando at the Disney World Hilton.  Thankfully, it wasn’t actually in the park – hey, I don’t know man.  I would otherwise not go within 2-3 states of a crowded black hole for cash like that.

The conference expo hall “infrastructure”, including booth structure consisting of pipe framing and curtain dividers, chairs, tables, power and other things is outsourced to a company that travels from venue to venue like carnies.  For a couple thousand dollars or whatever, the exhibit space is all you get.  A $30 table rents for $275 for two days – that is correct.  A $30 table for the price you could rent a car for an entire week!  A $10 chair rented for $90 for two days.  Power to run our 30 Watt LED display lights for a couple days: $95.  Ninety five dollars for not even one kWh!  I wonder if the carnies reimburse the hotel for energy used?

Once we unpacked our stuff and set it up in the exhibit hall, a few shards of paper were scattered on the gaudy carpet of the conference center in our booth space.  Having remembered a vacuum cleaner going past a while before to clean up a neighboring booth, I asked the Hilton folks for a vacuum, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble – like if one is in the area anyway, I would like to use it for a minute.  Soon after, a woman with one of those IDs on a lanyard like those of the stage crew at a concert use, stops by.  “You asked for a vacuum?”  “Yes.  If there is one nearby and it isn’t much trouble it would be great to use it for a minute.”  “There is a charge for using a vacuum cleaner.”  “WHAT?”  Good God.  I said I would pick up the dozen shards with my fingers or just spit on it and grind it into the carpet.

When it comes to lodging, more is less.  Internet access in “expensive” hotels costs money.  No “free” coffee or breakfast.  Everything costs extra, right down to the $7 liter of Evian next to the TV.

None of this was new to me, except the vacuum thing was a bit of a “you’ve got to be kidding me” moment.

When you stay at a Holiday Inn Express, do you think the biscuits, gravy, cinnamon rolls, coffee and juice are free out of the goodness of their hearts?  HELL NO!  I happen to like Holiday Inn Express over Hilton for normal business stays because they have the “free” breakfast ready instantly in the morning and I don’t have to wait for anything.  Remember, Raisin Bran and Cool Milk and I’m Fine.

These exploits remind me of the energy efficiency and engineering business.  People who think they are getting free services from their contractors are naïve fools.  They either don’t get the “services” at all; or they get the services that completely favor the contractor (themselves), and one way or another you pay for everything they do.  They may say, “It’s absolutely free.  We don’t charge anything for our time.”  BULL.  If it isn’t charged directly, it’s built into their overhead cost which is built into their material and labor costs.

As I discussed the cost of $35 tables and $10 chairs above, you may have been thinking, “You idiot.  Why don’t you just get your own and ship it or go out and buy your own locally.”  Because there is a lot of cost and hassle built into that.  Our time is worth a lot of money.  I can chase around town to save $250 while it costs me $450 in my time to do so.  What about little issues like arriving at midnight the night before the start of the conference?  Take the day off so I can find cheap furniture?  Not.  Shipping isn’t cheap either.  Shipping our display, which is compact, but a bit heavy, runs $200.  And will the hotel just hold it for you?  Sure, for a tidy fee of $82.50.  The carnies have this all figured out.  They know exactly how much it costs to buy, ship, or go buy your own stuff locally for the show.  They price their crap just below that, so a $10 chair costs $90 to rent for a couple days.

The carnie business model is used, typically ruthlessly by “design builders”.  There is design, bid, build which may take a little extra time, but every step is competitive (e.g., “bid”) keeping cost down and quality up.  And there is design build, where you essentially agree to a floor plan, sign a blank check and put a blindfold on for a few months.  I’m no expert on the dastardly design build business, but the sales pitch goes something like this: you don’t have to waste money on expensive architects and engineers and then hassle with contractors.  You don’t have to wait for competitive bids.  Just sign this check.  We’ll fill in the numbers and take care of everything for you.  It will be wonderful, fast, and easy.  Translation: once you sign on the dotted line, the carnies will move in and provide you with the cheapest crap imaginable.  You will be a captive, ignorant sucker and we will take what we can get and you will be boxed in with no one looking out for your interests.  Everything is extra.  A LOT extra.

You get screwed for what you don’t pay for.

Design build is polluting the country with cheap and crappy buildings – energy hogs that are going to be crumbling in 30 years.  Austin Powers, as you may recall, fears only two things.  Nuclear war and… carnies – circus folk, nomads, smell like cabbage, small hands.


The ladies at AESP know how to put on a smooth, high-quality conference, and they deliver.  It’s a fast growing organization for a reason.  Kudos to a fine organization and event.

A couple weeks ago in Goodfellas Take California I explained, or attempted to explain at least, how mandating CFLs was bad policy.  As it turns out, the impacts are far below than anticipated.  In the 2006-2008 program years, PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) aimed, er I mean shot for, er I mean strived for incentivizing the purchase of 53 million compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).  At nearly a $2 subsidy per lamp, the program did not meet participation targets, er I mean goals.  Not only that, evaluators concluded savings due to the program were 73% lower than anticipated.  Whoa!  That is God-awful.  We just finished a bunch of residential verification work all over California for comprehensive programs as well.  Per my involvement with that project, I don’t think the utilities will be singing a joyful song once they see those results either.

BTW, per the article, lighting is responsible for 8% of greenhouse gases.  California may have 2% of the world’s lighting (a SWAG) and residential lighting may be about 15% of the total.  Switching this lighting to CFLs would reduce GHG emissions by maybe 0.008% at the very most.  It’s probably closer to half that.  I feel cold already just thinking about it.

In a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece, Joel Rogers, head of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and a leader in the national Emerald Cities initiative, states, “The first major barrier [to energy savings] is that most people don’t know much about what they can save.”  Hmmm.  Sounds an awful lot like my rant, Horse and Buggy EE Programs, where I said the powers in WI, in their infinite wisdom declared the feasibility study, the answer to Mr. Rogers’ “first major barrier” problem is actually not a problem.  The solution to Mr. Rogers’ “first major barrier” was declared a waste of money.  Mr. Rogers, please see your “Energy Advisor” with Focus on Energy, but wear a helmet.  The brick wall is hard, and stout.

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

New Years Collage

28 12 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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