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Monthly Archives: October 2009

LEED and the NOT Happenin’ Savings

LEED0 comments

Studies have shown that LEED buildings are no more efficient and have no less of a “carbon footprint” than the average building of its peers.  I remember reading an old guy’s rant in one of the 20 building engineering and architecture magazines I get.  He was grousing that the reason is because there tends to be a lot more glazing and over-ventilation of LEED facilities, along with some other stuff I don’t remember.  Apparently, the guy was a proponent of living and working in igloo coolers with no connection the outdoors, which is a big deal for me and everyone else.

I think I have a better and more accurate assessment:  commissioning agents aren’t doing their jobs.  Demand for commissioning services has risen dramatically since LEED became vogue.  I believe as a result, many people who’ve never provided commissioning services, trouble shot systems, and generally figure out how systems are controlled and consuming energy, are declaring themselves commissioning agents and supplying “a service” that is in demand.

Just in the general population of buildings, we’ve seen ones that are wasting grotesque quantities of energy and ones that are sipping so little we have to double check that we have all the utility data.  What’s the difference?  I can tell you it isn’t because the former has 70% glazing and the latter has 5%.  Reality is closer to the former having screwed up systems.  The latter was either commissioned by somebody who knew what they were doing, had a controls contractor and engineer who knew what they were doing, or have facility engineers who know what they are doing.  It’s probably some combination of all three.

In many cases, the facility owner doesn’t have staff with the expertise to correct and operate screwed up systems.  They shouldn’t have to.  The commissioning agent should optimize system control, ensure documentation exists to help maintain efficiency over the long term, and train facility staff on how their building uses energy, and what aspects of the system and more importantly, the controls make their facility consume less energy than the average facility.

From my first contact with the LEED process seven or eight years ago, systems commissioning was one of the real and major benefits in my mind.  The building design and construction business has become so bloody competitive that commissioning-type services have been squeezed out of the process in recent decades.  The LEED process had better fix this.  After all, energy efficiency is the greenest component of occupying facilities.  The USGBC must agree since they added more weight to the energy efficiency credits.  If you’re not getting the savings, you are being slighted big time.  Moreover, the LEED brand, which at the moment is incredibly powerful, will be damaged badly unless this problem gets fixed.

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

Tax Deduction Pennies

Tax Stuff0 comments

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].

Conclusions:

  • 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

Renewable NIMBY

Renewable Energy0 comments

“There should be a place for these — someplace that isn’t going to impact families quite so much.”  This was a quote regarding wind turbines from a woman in the Wall Street Journal article Renewable Energy, Meet the New Nimby. I laughed out loud for a while when I read this
California has a mandate for 33% renewable energy consumption by 2020.  New York: 25% by 2013.  Oregon: 25% by 2025.  These states and similar ones have meager interim targets and/or have meager portfolios today.  Some serious ramp up is required.

However, it seems people claim to want it but not bad enough to have to look at it.  They don’t want to look at transmission lines piping renewable energy in from Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, offshore, or from the other side of the mountains.  They certainly don’t want to pay for it.  Did I mention everyone in America also demands 100% reliable energy supplies and at a price that is almost negligible.  Something’s got to give.

Guess where the wind-energy potential is by far the greatest – right off coasts surrounding the country, overlooked by patio-decks of thousands of multi-
million dollar homes where 90% of the most vociferous loud mouths are carping that we must have more, if not all renewable energy.  But not in their vistas!  See NREL link below.

Certain celebrities fly about the country on their personal jets from one green junket to the next telling us trolls how we ought to live and what we ought to put up with, but not “me”.  I want to go sailing and not look at that hulking machinery messing the vista from my serene compound.

I grew up in the pink area of Southwest Minnesota and I can tell you that the wind always seems to be blasting there whenever I return for a visit.  When I was a kid, we had ground blizzards (no need for snow to fall from the sky – the powder keg is already laying about) in the winter and dust storms in the spring.  The western half of Iowa is packed with wind farms.  But yet, the potential for wind energy off much of the coastline is 50% greater, and steady.  And by the way, I’ve never heard anyone in the Midwest whine about the sight of hundreds of windmills and the supporting transmission lines.

I have an idea.  Let’s take everybody in flyover country and pack them into the Dakotas maybe using Kansas and the Texas panhandle for overflow.  They can all live under a sea of egg beaters.  “I’ll” just buy my own large photovoltaic system with battery storage, because I can.  It will look great on the roof of my 8,000 square foot home.  It will impress the friends even!

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125201834987684787.html

http://www.nrel.gov/gis/wind.html

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

Ah, the Energy Rant

Intro to Energy Rant Blog0 comments

My mother used to tell me I ought to be a lawyer because I would argue and/or complain about everything.  I think I still get under her skin sometimes, even as she has passed her 75th birthday.  She SAYS she still likes me to visit anyway.  The thing is, my brain is hardwired to make everything as efficient as possible.  Perhaps this is due to my growing up on a large farming operation where there was always more things to do than time to do it.  Let’s see…, sounds like my present job.

Some past and present obsessions:

  • Save as much energy as possible, in the car, house, for clients
  • Time the approach to the red light and hope the dolt waiting at the red notices it turns green before it turns red again
  • Fill it as full as possible, but don’t spill!
  • Streamline office processes to save time
  • Load machinery, equipment, and engineers as full as possible to maximize productivity
  • Do email during meetings, waiting at red lights, standing in the grocery line
  • Fix causes of client complaints, like yesterday if I could
  • And don’t let a little snow on the road slow you down (mom really hated that one)

I cannot stand things that do not work reliably and well, and/or waste my time.  My computer, car, garden tractor, refrigerator, chain saw and so forth have to work well or they’re gone.  In general, you get what you pay for.  My cheap and crappy chainsaw is one exception.  I cut my dogs some slack once in a while.  They respond like West Point Cadets when there is food on the line.

I like to see people to do the right thing or better yet, convince them to do so.  I like to remove barriers to allow it to happen.  When policies or stonewallers get in the way, I like to go around or over them.  If that doesn’t work, there are plenty other lakes to fish.

In the world of energy efficiency and sustainability, there is plenty fodder upon which to rant.  So that’s what we will do.  Feel free to participate, unless you disagree with me.  No, really feel free to disagree.  I will respond to questions and requests for clarification, but there will be no cyber shouting matches and food fights.

There will be a weekly rant until I run out of things to rant about – which may never happen.

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