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.

Tidbits

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





Fortune 100 Energy Efficiency

30 03 2010

One of the downsides of the surging awareness and growth in energy efficiency and renewable energy, in my opinion, are all the Johnny Come Lately energy services arms of giant corporations.  Companies include Lockheed Martin, United Technologies, Eaton, and Chevron.  These giants have revenues of $45 Billion, $53 Billion, $12 Billion and a meager $176 Billion, respectively.  Poor Chevron’s revenue dropped from $275 Billion from the year prior.  Maybe they should focus on their core business and leave the energy saving to the rest of us.  Among these, only measly Eaton isn’t in the Fortune 100 (Eaton comes in at 207 on the Fortune 500).

Why do these giants want to get into energy efficiency?  Revenue from their energy efficiency services wouldn’t show up on the first six significant digits of their total revenue, but yet this is huge business compared to peons like Michaels Engineering and dozens of other service providers.  Lockheed probably charges the government more for one tire on an F-35 joint strike fighter than we earn in a year with 40 people.

On the other hand, these behemoths have to get huge projects like those for large college campuses or military bases to be worth their while and to be cost effective to carry their crushing overhead.  This leaves plenty for us little guys to fight over.

On the third hand, they provide competition for the other titans of performance contracting, including Trane, Honeywell, Siemens, and Johnson Controls, and I’m all for that.

Having provided technical support and program evaluation for dozens of utilities, I don’t think we have yet seen any requests or applications for incentives from these giants, for their customers.  Why would they leave all this free money their customers could claim on the table?  Could it be they don’t want anyone looking at their underbelly?  Customers should demand this.  But then again, customers are typically state and federal government entities.  Even though these incentives are theirs to lose, it’s really ours.  So who cares?  What a racket.

Of course most of these huge companies, except Lockheed and Chevron I believe, use performance contracting to peddle their wares, whether customers need the stuff or not.  As mentioned last week, they’ll “give away” studies and other services, and sometimes even equipment to hook (or harpoon) these customers.

Within the past couple years, one of these performance contractors had seduced a local school district by offering them “free” equipment in exchange for maintaining their buildings’ heating, cooling, and control systems over 10-20 years.  What were they thinking?  Remember last week; nothing is free.  The whole spectacle can be most vividly portrayed in Warner Bros’ Hansel and Gretel episode on Bugs Bunny.   Guess who the characters represent.  As soon as reality set in and the invoices started coming for the maintenance services, the district wanted out yesterday.  Another happy customer.

On a couple unrelated notes:

A group of scientists wants to create a new unit for energy savings, the “Rosenfeld”.  He may have been a great guy, but I would vote no on that.  All the units and named thermodynamic cycles I can think of are named after one or two-syllable names, and Rosenfeld doesn’t just roll off the tongue.  Joule, Newton, Volt, Tesla, Kelvin, Rankine, Curie, Diesel, Otto, and Watt.  The only major oddball I can think of is Fahrenheit.  There should be a contest to replace that.  He deserves it because it’s such a stupid scale.

The Rosenfeld thing would replace kilowatt-hours, three billion of them to be exact.  What about Mr. Watt?  This is a diss to him.  What is special about three billion kWh: it’s supposed to be the annual output of a 500 MW power plant.  Per my calculations, it’s closer to 4 billion kWh.  And who is ever going to use this metric?  “The results of our study indicate that you can save 0.00016 Rosenfelds with a two year payback.”  I think they would eject us from their building and not pay us for such pathetic looking savings.

So there you have it, a “Rosenfeld” is too long, too much, incorrect, goofy, and it runs roughshod over Mr. Watt.

Then there’s this laugh out loud headline, suitable for an article in The Onion.   “Warning Biofuel Targets May Hit Oil Industry”.  Just think about that for a moment.