Abracadabra; 10%!

6 07 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidbits

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

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

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

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

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





Disaster in the Gulf

4 05 2010

Like millions of people around the world, I have been following the slow nightmare that is unfolding in the gulf.  Many topics and thoughts come to mind.

First, our company mission is “make every project a positive experience for our clients”. It’s simple but guides everything we do.  When there is a potential mistake or an angry client calling or emailing us complaining about something we are involved with, it’s a code red in our office.  Engineers and managers meet immediately to plot the course of events leading to where we are and we clearly define the problem and plot a course to make amends.  We focus on the immediate problem and take corrective action later as necessary.

Unfortunately, as usual, the political class engages in a food fight while Rome burns.  Many politicians’ first reactions are to figure out how to get the political upper hand, not collaborate to mitigate the effects of the disaster.  Bush was tarred and feathered for Katrina as though he started the storm and drove it right into New Orleans on purpose.  It is true however, that corporate America, including Wal-Mart, was quicker to provide relief than the government.  This current disaster is in many ways very similar, EXCEPT it is unfolding in super slow motion.  It’s already been two weeks since this started.  It will be interesting to see how this administration is treated in the court of public opinion.  Thus far, it has mainly been right wingers flinging their verbal nunchucks, but apparently so has the New York Times!  Whoa.  So President Obama may be headed for a similar unfounded meat grinder.

Second, there is a tendency to underestimate the disaster.  This was true with Katrina and it is unfolding once again with this mess.  First it was a thousand barrels a day.  Then 5,000.  As of Saturday, it was floated that it may actually be 25,000 barrels a day.  One of the best business books I’ve read is “Winning” by Jack Welch, long-time CEO of General Electric.  He dedicates a chapter to crisis management and the first of five responses to a crisis is to assume it is much worse than it seems.  Again, I’ll refer to my days in the nuclear Navy.  The tiniest of “incidents” were formally reported and acted on.  This may include lessons learned, more training, somebody’s head rolls, or a procedure changes.  The incident might be the first in what would have to be about six mishaps carried out “perfectly” with precisely the right timing.  And, IF all that were to happen there may be equipment damage or worse.  There is safety mechanism on top of safety mechanism, but regardless of how many layers there are, mishaps are taken very seriously.

Which brings me to the third thing; apparently the rig lacked an emergency shut-trigger to close a valve because it was too expensive.  A 2003 report by the Minerals Management Service said these triggers “are not recommended because they tend to be very expensive.”   The trigger costs $500,000.  Let’s see.  At current leak rates and oil prices, about $500,000 worth of oil is currently leaking every day and it’s costing BP $6 million/day to manage the disaster.  The rig was worth $560 million.  $500,000?

For the love of Pete!  The government declares a $500,000 safety device is too expensive for private industry.  Wow!  Write that one down.  Is this the same government that shakes down 75-year-old grandmas trying to get on an airplane?

Aside from the government, it seems BP has major culpability in this disaster.  Mistakes and accidents always have, and always will occur.  This seems like a major oversight or act of negligence.  It seems like such an obvious safeguard – like dangling from the side of a building on a stepladder hanging from ropes 100 feet in the air – you use a safety harness in case of falling.  (You would have to see this to believe it but I watched it across the street while the telecom people were installing cellular phone transmitters on an elevator penthouse).  Any other oil companies that don’t use these devices can thank their lucky stars and better get with it.

Fourth, where is the outrage?  Exxon got whipped for at least 15 years after Valdez.  Maybe it’s because Valdez is pristine and nobody lives there.  This spill will affect millions on the coast and wreak financial havoc on a great many businesses, so what’s the big deal?

Every president since Nixon has run on a promise to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but yet with the exception of recessions, our dependence has increased every single term.  Recessions don’t seem like a good way to reduce oil imports.

President Obama made the right decision a few weeks ago to allow for expansion of offshore exploration.  If we are going to reduce dependence on foreign oil, domestic production has to be part of the mix, like it or not.  The disaster with the Deepwater Horizon was borne of negligence and stupidity.  If somebody can engineer to dig an 18,000 foot well under 5,000 feet of water and move the oil ashore, somebody can surely find several ways to absolutely kill a leak.

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