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

EE Ignorance

11 05 2010

A few years ago I was on a marketing visit to a hospital for non-energy related services and of course I had to work energy efficiency into the conversation.  “So, have you done any energy efficiency upgrades in recent years?”  “Yes we replaced windows in the old section of the facility and installed new boilers.  We’re all set with energy efficiency.”

Palm, meet forehead.

I could be a lousy salesman but that conversation ended with a pregnant pause.  This was a hospital, probably the most energy intensive type of commercial facility there is, and replacing windows might reduce consumption by 0.01%.  New boilers could do anything from saving some energy to using more depending on how they are controlled.

One of the major obstacles to capturing real and substantial savings in commercial buildings is overcoming ignorance of how these facilities use energy.  They use energy far differently than homes but Joe in the maintenance department or Sally the executive think the way to 10% savings is new windows, new boilers and more roof insulation.  Good luck with that.

When I talk about energy efficiency in commercial and industrial facilities I talk about controls, systems and processes, NOT pieces of equipment and components.  At the end of the presentation I say all boilers are 80% efficient.  All chillers use 0.6 kW/ton.  All lighting fixtures produce 80 lumens per Watt.  Of course this isn’t literally accurate, but the point is, the building can be operating very poorly as a system, such that plus or minus 20% on these performance metrics is dwarfed by poor operation.  The control programming is awful.  The system could use some additional control points and maybe a few components need to be added.  When added up,  the waste generated by these controls and system operations dwarf the few percentage points for the boiler efficiency or one or two tenths of a kW per ton for the chiller.  See The More You Spend The More You Save.

I was reminded of this once again this week as I read this article on the Empire State Building.  The owner says windows are “a key to efficiency”.  Even including the daylighting controls he is talking about, this won’t amount to a peanut of the 38% energy savings they plan to achieve.

Columbia University research declares green and white roofs in NYC “help prevent energy losses”.   That may be factually incorrect but the more arguable thing is, it has a tiny effect on heat transfer through the roof.  Green roofs include plants which require dirt and moisture to grow.  Moist soil has lousy insulating qualities.  The benefits of a green roof include reduced runoff into rivers, lakes, and oceans, transpiration which reduces temperature on the roof’s surface and thus reduces heat island effect, roof life extension, and possibly energy savings if building cooling system equipment is located on the roof.  A white roof will save some cooling energy but costs you some extra heating energy in winter.  See  our Energy Brief “Cool Roofs in Cold Climates“.  I’m not bashing green and white roofs.  I would use one or both on my building, but for reasons other than energy efficiency.  These other benefits pile up.

We surveyed 150 buildings in NYC about 16 months ago and believe me, there is huge potential in the city but it isn’t going to be realized with windows, boilers, and green and white roofs.  Like the Empire State Building probably was prior to this $20 million retrofit, buildings have 1960s and 1970s technologies and crappy old pneumatic controls.  There are steam-turbine-driven chillers, which have to have horrible efficiency because the steam pressure is so low.  The heat rejection would be massive.  According to my calculations, with a perfectly efficient turbine and an efficient chiller, the cost to operate a steam driven chiller would be twice that of an electric chiller at the same efficiency.  Why?  Because of the relatively very low steam pressure (compared to power plants) the steam-driven chiller uses.  If I were to use real numbers, this could easily balloon to 6x the cost.  E.g., these old chillers are probably half as efficient as a new one- tops, and the turbines won’t be perfect like I assumed.

So what is the solution to widespread ignorance of commercial and industrial facility operation, systems, processes, controls, and how to reduce energy consumption?  Send me an email and I will tell you.  jli@michaelsengineering.com.  It works really well.

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

Tax Deduction Pennies

21 10 2009

Recently, we received our umpteenth “request for proposal” (RFP) to provide the engineering required to capture the elusive $1.80 tax deduction on new or remodeled buildings.  We spend a lot of time, money and effort to drive business through our doors but I’m not sure I want to see another one of these.

Like the rest of the universally incomprehensible tax code, the engineering piece of this is relatively complex.  If we did this all the time, it wouldn’t be a problem.  But it seems we get the next RFP just as the rules are overwritten in my long-term memory banks.  What do we compare to?  Does this apply to both retrofit and new construction?  Does retrofit compare to new construction baselines or actual pre-project conditions?  How do these partial incentives for HVAC, envelope, and lighting work?  How do the two lighting approaches work?  What suffices for demonstration of percent savings?  Half day – gone.

To do the engineering right, which is the only way we do things, it takes a lot of energy modeling time and expense (with the exception of the isolated lighting calculation).  Also, consider:

  • It is impossible to save anywhere near 16.7%[1] with envelope measures , relative to energy code, so you’re left with 50% total building savings.  As a side note for COMMERCIAL buildings, in many if not most situations, it is not cost effective to save energy by adding insulation, and you can save some but not much with enhanced glazing.
  • We need to save 50% of the total building consumption with HVAC and lighting, but on average per benchmark data, HVAC and lighting only account for 67% of building operating energy cost.  See where I’m going with this?  Your combined HVAC and lighting savings need to be 75% more efficient than baseline!  There’s a reason LEED has about 50% set as the threshold to capture all possible energy points!  You have to use a genius designer, perhaps have deep pockets, plus all the stars have to align for a “lucky” baseline system to have a shot at 50% savings[2].


  • Only the lighting power density approach for a $0.60 per square foot deduction is worth pursuing.
  • The threshold for the rest needs to be reduced, to perhaps 30% savings, which is still impressive and also certainly not something one can achieve without trying.

[1] End users can get partial deductions for (1) envelope, (2) HVAC, and (3) lighting, by saving 16.7% of the total for any of the three.  This 16.7% is one third of 50%..

[2] We are actually shooting for all 10 LEED 2.2 points on one project, but “only” 42% savings are needed for that.

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