Monthly Archives: August 2010

From Jack Wagon to Hobo

Energy Efficiency, Sustainability0 comments

A couple weeks ago, the National Academy of Sciences released a study that summarized the findings of the general public’s perceptions of energy consumption and potential savings from various end-uses in their daily lives.  You can check out the curves in the linked article above and take my word for it or risk brain damage reading the thing.  To me there are several significant findings, none of which surprise me.  These are in no particular order and are only a subset of the findings.

  • Finding #1 – When asked open ended questions about ways to save energy, people overwhelmingly selected curtailment measures over efficiency.  Shut stuff off.  Unplug it.  Drive less.  Relax and take it easy (love that one but don’t watch a 56 inch plasma while lying on the couch).  Conserve energy – so the answer to “What is the single most effective thing you can do to conserve energy?” is conserve energy.  I think I would have yelled at them like the Geico drill sergeant.
  • Finding #2 – People can reduce energy consumption by 30% “without waiting for new technologies, making major economic sacrifices, or losing a sense of well-being.”  Well I don’t know about the “making economic sacrifices” part of this.  Viewing average residential end uses of electricity, the easy stuff is lighting and… lighting.  I don’t see anything else on there that doesn’t require sacrifice, more work, or spending a lot of money.  Lighting accounts for 15% of consumption.  Assuming this is all incandescent, replace it all with compact fluorescent for about 2/3 savings, or 10%.  We’re one third the way there.  Space cooling could be reduced a couple percentage points tops without sacrifice, well, make that 0% without sacrifice.  You would have to set your temperature up all the time.  Setting the thermostat up is going to save practically nothing because heat transfer due to temperature differences outside versus inside are relatively small.  Clothes dryers?  You would have to line dry.  That is a sacrifice if you ask me.  The rest you are either going to be able to do very little or a bunch of nickels and dimes will add up to a few percentage points.The only way to get to 30% is to select efficient equipment when replacement is needed anyway.  Throwing away a working furnace and air conditioner with efficient models won’t pay for itself.  Spending extra for an efficient model when you need a new one anyway will.
  • Finding #3 – Turning off the lights when leaving the room is considered by the general public to produce attractive savings.  The paper says there is actually very little savings from this.  Hide the kids and maybe the spouse too!  I’m not buying this one.  The study is 25 years old coincidently.
  • Finding #4 – People relate to curtailment, using things less more than using efficient stuff by a margin of 5:1.  The top three items are turn off the lights, conserve energy (and call the sergeant), and drive less.  If you’ve ever thought of it, efficient vehicles are more efficient, all else equal.  The Mini Cooper get’s great mileage, comes with leather seats, manual transmission, and is one of the best resellers on the market.
  • Finding #5 – People do not understand which things in their home are energy hogs.  They are fairly accurate with light bulbs, stereos, and computers and they actually think laptops use as much as a desktop.  My laptop uses about 25W.  You can barely read the paper by a 25W compact fluorescent light.  What cracks me up is they think the central air conditioner and electric clothes dryer uses only about two or three time more energy than the laptop!  You see that huge hulking plug for the dryer?  The reality is the dryer uses about 100x more energy.
  • Finding #6 – Tuning up your car twice a year saves 100 times as much energy compared to driving 60 mph rather than 70 mph for 60 miles.  First, this is misleading.  My car wouldn’t even use two gallons in that distance for either speed.  Second, who tunes up a car?  That’s from the 1970s and earlier when engine control was mechanical.  Everything is digitally controlled nowadays.  It works or it doesn’t.  I haven’t “tuned up” my car in the seven years I’ve owned it and it gets 34 mpg now like it did when it was new.  Change air filters and keep the tires a few psi below the maximum shown on the sidewall.
  • Finding #7 – People think a truck uses as much energy to move freight as a train does when in reality trucks use about 20 times as much per ton-mile.  This magnitude surprises me.  What’s the difference?  Rolling resistance.  Trains have almost none while trucks have a lot.  The rest is mainly drag and I’m sure stop and go traffic is a killer for trucks as well.  Airplanes use roughly 200 times more than rail.  Is buying carbon credits getting expensive to buy off your guilt for taking an airplane? – Become a hobo.  And isn’t the checked-bag charge for flying stupid?  Shouldn’t people be charged or not based on their weight plus that of all their crap?
  • Finding #8 – A virgin glass bottle doesn’t require a whole lot more energy than a recycled one but the public thinks it does.  My guess is recycling plastics doesn’t save a lot of energy either.  I would also guess recycling paper saves more, somewhere between aluminum and glass or plastic.  Not generating garbage for the landfill is as important as the energy savings to me.

One conclusion out of all this is we need to do a better job of informing end users that saving energy doesn’t mean freezing in the dark or taking a shower once a month.  I would say these concepts apply at least ten times more for commercial and industrial energy efficiency.  There is all kinds of waste in these facilities that do zero to provide better anything.

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

ACEEE Summer Camp 2010

Energy Efficiency, Sustainability0 comments

Well here I am again – a prisoner in the penitentiary that is the Minneapolis Airport.  Northwest Airlines now part of Delta Delta Delta can I help ya, help ya, help ya (YAH! – you can get me the hell out of here) can’t fly through a swarm of mosquitoes without being delayed.  This is the burnt crust on the dessert that was otherwise a great week.  And as usual, I can’t help but sit here and ignore the MASSIVE amount of energy gobbled up by this place.  It’s a bowl of hot soup outside.  It is about 68F inside and the baseboard heaters are roasting away.  Typical.  If we couldn’t cost effectively save 2 million kWh and a hundred thousand therms per year in this place, I would be ashamed.

OK.  That’s a lead-off mini rant.

This past week I attended the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s Summer Study (i.e., summer camp) at Asilomar (a-SILL-oh-mar) conference grounds in Pacific Grove, CA.  It is quite a massive conference with about a thousand energy efficiency professionals from all over the country and a few international attendees.  The Aussies always seem to have a contingency there.

The conference features 11 panels (which I would call tracks) on residential and commercial issues including (1) residential technologies, design, performance and analysis and (2) residential program design, implementation, and evaluation.  Then there are the same two tracks for commercial facilities and programs.  There is one for utility programs, market transformation, human and social dimensions (behavioral issues and programs), and four others.

It’s a great conference featuring many great presentations.  Each track features six papers per day for five days: 11 x 6 x 5 = 330 papers, roughly!  Most of the ones I attended were at least partially interesting to me but on average were very good.  But this is the Energy Rant.  There has to be something wrong or what’s the point?

There are two comments / complaints that I had generally for many of the presentations.  First, I thought the military, followed by engineers, were the worst offenders of overusing acronyms.  No.  There were plenty of acronyms flying every which way.  I’ve been in the industry 15 years and there were many that were new to me.  If you’re like me, as soon as somebody says something and I’m thinking to myself “what the heck does that mean”, I’m stuck there trying to figure out what HIM means while the presenter drones on.  HIM is not the opposite of HERS in case you were wondering, but most people in the industry I am sure don’t know what HERS is either.  Some examples (and these are just the tip of the iceberg):

  • One presenter was talking about RCAs.  Somebody in the audience asked what an RCA was and the response was, “it’s a diagnostic tune-up”.  What?  How do you get RCA out of that?  As it turns out it’s a refrigerant charge and airflow maintenance program for residential.  We’ve been evaluating those for the past two summers but I hadn’t heard this term before.
  • HIM = high impact measures.  I might file a gender bias charge here.  Why not highly efficient retrofit?  Does NOW know about this?
  • EEPS = energy efficiency portfolio standard.  In case you’re still wondering, this is the guide for soup to nuts energy efficiency programs – plan, design, develop, promote, implement, and evaluate.
  • MHP and how it integrates with CHP and RTP.  OK.  I know CHP = combined heat and power so MHP is something like that.  Maximum heat and power?  No.  Mandatory hourly pricing, which is a tariff or billing method used in the state of New York.  RTP = real time pricing.  As I understand it, MHP is the same as day ahead hourly pricing, which is just what it sounds like – Hourly prices are set for the next 24 hours so large customers that this applies to can plan rather than get charged in “real time”.
  • CPP-D.  While I sat in this one I figured out most of this – critical peak pricing –  fairly early on.  What the ___ is the D for?  Never figured it out until I got home and read the paper.  Default, as in critical peak pricing default rate.  Is this a default like defaulting on bond payments or default like the automatic standard value?  Neither.  It’s a rate, as in tariff.  And by the way, if they had used CPP-DR for the whole thing it would really be confusing because DR is “default” for demand response.  The acronyms are getting used up, folks.  Coin ‘em while you can!
  • CRC.  This one relates to the CPP-D above.  It is customer reservation charge.  This is the 50% of the customer’s summer peak protected from CPP rates.
  • CEAC.  This one cracks me up.  It is clean energy application centers.  What the ____ does that mean?  This was used in the presentation but does not appear in the paper.  The paper also fails to even explain what it is.

Ok.  That’s about enough of those things.  This is only a small fraction of the acronyms found in the presentations and papers that I attended/read, and by definition, I attended less than 10% of them even though I went to all that I could.

Another thing I noticed is that many of the presentations/papers were analyzing the bajeebas out of the finest details like air handling systems and daylighting.  This included what every terminal (zone or room) unit was doing every minute of the day versus what the controls was telling the stuff to do and how to model venetian blinds in a daylighting application.  Five minutes into these presentations I’m thinking, what on earth are you going to do with these data?  I’ve contended before that using ice cores and tree rings to determine what the climate was doing a million years ago is like measuring your garage with the car odometer.  Whatever you say!  These studies, however, are like measuring the distance from San Francisco to New York with a ruler.  Just the opposite.

Lastly, I can’t help but beat on government again, because it’s so easy.  The EPA was a platinum sponsor.  Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) were silver sponsors.  Sponsorship is for advertising.  Why are these federal agencies spending my money and their competitors’ money to promote themselves?  All they have to do to stay in business is be sure to always spend at least 100% of their annual budgets and keep asking for more.  And results?  Fuggedaboutit!  Vinnie and Joey take care of that.

To end on a high note, California is a great and beautiful state.  It’s just too bad Sacramento, which is also a great city, has it so screwed up to the point that industries are fleeing left, right and sideways.

I conclude everything causes cancer in CA.  My motel room contains materials that are proven to cause cancer and birth defects.  No kidding.  This was posted right outside my motel room door.  If you read the literature that comes with your car, that too causes cancer and birth defects.  I would say the driver is more likely to cause severe injury or death than the upholstery.  These are symptoms of a psychotic state government.

So that wasn’t a high note.  If you haven’t visited California’s central coast, do it.  From Big Basin (ancient redwoods and sequoias) to Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Big Sur.  There are sandy beaches, unbelievable forests, rocky shores with tide pools with all kinds of wildlife, and some of the best farmland in the world – strawberries, artichokes, and garlic to note a few.  There is very little syrupy crappy tourist pits along the way too so it keeps the riffraff out – or maybe there are no tourist pits because there is no riffraff??  It is colder than most people imagine, this year more than average per the locals.  It never got above 65F and mornings featured fog and about 52F.  Perfect weather in my world.


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

Of Car Dealers and Bathroom Tissue

Uncategorized0 comments

Is there anything as mysterious as the price of a car, especially a new one?  I’ve heard the various prices so much, long ago, that I’ve pretty much blocked them out of my mind.  There is the sticker price, dealer cost, factory invoice cost, blah, blah…blah, blah, blah.

Sooner or later the dreaded haggling begins.  I’ve heard that the buyer should always have the seller make the first offer.  I don’t think it matters.  I think the last time I bought a car I scrounged about on Kelly Blue Book’s web site, which has dealer suggested retail, private party (for used) and trade in values or something like that.  I figured if I could get the private party price from the dealer I’m doing well.  I set a price in my head and once the dealer gets to that point I’m ready to go.  You do have to be willing to walk away.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever given a “bid”, now that I think of it.

At Michaels, we’ve had several proposals for engineering services in the past year where prospective clients have asked for “discounts” if we were to get all parts of a multi-part request for proposals.  Or maybe they want a discount if the contract is extended from three to five years.  For one we even had to provide the salaries we pay our people and overhead factor so they can essentially negotiate a profit – not negotiate the price but the profit!  Personally, I don’t really care how much profit the seller makes.  I don’t care if he’s losing money.  I don’t care if he’s making 50% profit.  What am I getting for my money from dude #1 versus dude #2, is the question.

When I bought the Acura seven years ago, the price was practically the same as a Chevy Monte Carlo, depending on options.  Are you kidding me, I thought?  Chevrolet was probably making less profit margin (if any at all) than Acura/Honda but am I going to buy the kludge because they have a 1% margin, or my car for probably 10% margin?  It took two or three offers and Zimbrick Acura met my strike price and I was off and driving.  Like my previous car, a Mazda I bought in 1990 and drove for 14 years, the Acura has never seen the dealer again.

We have a modest profit built into our hourly rates.  We are not car dealers with a manufacturer’s suggested retail billing rate that that would be 10% more than the price it takes to make a decent profit.  Or, it isn’t like summer apparel come August and we can clear it out by chopping prices in half to make room for fall/winter stuff.

Here’s the problem with the “discount” – it isn’t equitable.  (I hate “fair” because it’s too often used by whiners).  You may remember 20-30 years ago, there was no such thing as the double or quadruple roll of bathroom tissue or paper towels.  Don’t you find it interesting that the new double roll is the same as the ONLY roll there was 25 years ago?  Today’s regular roll is about 1/3 the size of the rolls back in the day.  See what I’m sayin?  If we’re going to play this game, we’ll build bargaining slop into our rates.  The inequity comes when the client who just wants a great project for a decent price doesn’t ask for the “discount”.  What are we going to do?  “Oh, we didn’t really mean that fee.  Here is a 5% discount because we love you so much.”  Then they think what kind of scam artists are these guys?  Or we leave the rates stand and they get ripped off.

We are not a sleazy car dealer, not that every last one of them is.  We are not going to artificially increase our rates by 10% so we can tell our clients we are giving them a 10% discount.  We also don’t slash our rates by 25% because we’re desperate, because we are not.

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

Get a Grip

Energy Efficiency, Government, Renewable Energy, Sustainability0 comments

As you may have heard, this year China powered past (cheesy pun warning) the United States in total energy consumption.  Apparently, back in 2007, they surpassed the US in carbon emissions.  This makes sense as almost 70% of China’s electricity is derived from coal as compared to just under 50% in the United States.  In the U.S., nuclear and natural gas make up most of the other 50%, roughly split evenly with renewable energy rounding out the 100%.

In recent years, or especially since President Obama moved into the White House, there have been multiple verbose incomprehensible cap and trade policies drafted, but they are dead for now.  By the way, I maintain my position that substantial nationwide carbon limits are not going to happen in my lifetime.  If it didn’t happen since Obama took office with a filibuster-proof senate and a large majority in the house, it ain’t going to happen anytime soon.  Why?  Democrat senators from Midwestern states where coal is still king (not that this is a good thing) and coal producing states like West Virginia result in filibuster, if not an outright minority.  E.g., Jay Rockefeller will vote party line on everything but carbon caps.

There remains one possibility, however – that carbon caps may be legislated through the courts, which of course is not how things, especially major things like this, should become the law of the land.  In one example, the EPA in 2007 was handed the power to regulate carbon dioxide because it is a “pollutant” per the clean air act.  Again, this is like declaring water, another vital molecule that makes biological life possible, a pollutant because water kills.  Recall, I wrote on the blog a few weeks ago you can die by drinking too much water.  People drown, to the tune of 400,000 deaths worldwide each year[1].  Floods devastate communities – at least $3 trillion per year[2].  Water causes lightning, which kills about 24,000 per year[3].  And heat wave deaths – always have a large component of high humidity.  Aside from illegal activity (human smuggling), when was the last time you heard of heat related deaths in Arizona?  You don’t.  It’s Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Kansas City, Little Rock.  Water is dangerous.

You may be thinking, there’s nothing we can do about water.  Really?  How about banning swimming in rivers, lakes, and oceans and slapping $1,000 fines on people for not WEARING their floatation devices?  Move everything out of the 500 year floodplain.  Mandate air conditioners for every household and if you can’t afford one the federal government will provide one.  Sound familiar?  Thousands of lives would be saved per year.

The bottom line is, 98% of legislators are too cowardly to vote for the right thing, or wrong thing I guess, if it threatens their political career.

Sorry.  I got way off track.  I can’t help but railing against the preposterous.  Life has risk.  Is there anything, ANYTHING, worth doing if there is no risk?  There are costs and there are benefits.

Back to China.  China’s energy consumption has DOUBLED in the past 10 years while the United States’ energy consumption has decreased slightly.  For all intents and purposes, it’s been flat.

Here is something that will knock your socks off – since 1999, China has installed 416 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants.   “So what?”, you may be thinking.  A gigawatt is like a trillion dollars.  To give that perspective, a trillion dollars in $100 bills wouldn’t fit in a three car garage, tightly packed and stacked to the rafters.  Likewise 416 gigawatts can be generated by 832 large 500 megawatt power plants or 208,000 wind turbines by nameplate capacity.  This is eighty giant coal-fired power plants per year!!  And they have 330 more giant power plants on the drawing board.  Over the same period, the United States has built coal plants totaling 12 GW, or a measly 24 giant power plants.  China is averaging 80 per year, while the U.S. is averaging 2.4 per year.  GET A GRIP!

This is like giving Lance Armstrong a two day lead in the Indy 500 with his bicycle (he would be the US) but China has just taken the lead with the typical 225 mph Indy car.  It’s actually worse than that. It’s more like me running the Indy 500 versus the 225 mph Chinese Indy car passing me by.

In 2006, China generated as much electricity from coal as did the United States.  At the time they had 484 GW of operational coal plants.   Very roughly, they’re adding 10%, at least per year.  This blistering pace will fade with time, but it is fair to say they will have double the coal-fired electricity generation compared to the U.S. within 5 years.

Conclusion:  If we are truly concerned about carbon emissions and climate change, China has to do something.  The reality however is that whatever the U.S. can stomach will be of zero consequence considering the Chinese Indy car.  Unlike the floating continents of garbage that is choking the mighty three gorges dam and the 100 tons of benzene spilled in the Songhua River, carbon dioxide makes its way around the globe.  It doesn’t matter where it comes from.




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

Sane Personal Transportation

Energy Efficiency, LEED, Renewable Energy, Sustainability0 comments

A couple weeks ago I beat up electric automobiles for being overpriced and unpractical due to their short driving ranges and cripplingly long charge times.  This week I present a saner approach to substantial energy and emissions reductions.

The electric car is the equivalent of installing renewable energy sources before making conventional systems and technologies as efficient as possible in buildings.  Like buildings, we can cost effectively cut personal transportation energy consumption substantially, without sacrificing anything with readily available technologies – rather than pouring gobs of money into technologies that are just five years away from prime time; like they have been for the past 30 years.

Automobiles have gotten much more efficient over the past 20-30 years.  However, the miles per gallon have hardly budged.  Automobiles have grown continuously larger and more powerful.  The modern Honda Civic, for example, is much larger and probably heavier than the “larger” Accord from 30 years ago.  The modern version is most likely much more powerful as well.

Public enemy number one on this front is the explosion of the sport utility vehicle, which sort of peaked out just before hurricane Katrina, after which the $3-4 and upward gasoline prices caught peoples’ attention.  SUV buyers can be split into two groups: the family haulers and the egocentric.  A small group of SUV owners actually need it for regularly poor driving conditions (snow for instance) and/or towing.  Maybe we need to make SUV owners pariahs akin to smokers.  We’ll have parking lots, ramps, and garages that ban SUVs.  Or maybe we put scales where you pay the parking attendant and pay a tonnage penalty for overweight vehicles.   Or we could make the entrance to these spaces so small that only a Porsche 911 size car will fit through the gate.  Speaking of Porsche and SUVs, the Cayenne was an awful development.  How about LEED points for a SUV-free workforce?  I’m not so much in favor of these things although the LEED thing is intriguing.

I have been a big advocate of gas-electric hybrids since the beginning, especially for city driving applications where brakes are applied 40 times per mile.  My question though is, why do they make so many of them so goofy looking – like the Prius and the Insight.  Other models include hybrid versions of the common all-gasoline vehicles like the Civic, Camry, and Cadillac Escalade (which is a joke).  How about some sporty smaller cars like the Celica, 240 SX, Prelude, and Integra?  Unfortunately these reasonably-priced snappy fun-to-drive models are all defunct.

As a kid, I remember the late 1970s / early 1980s and the cars of the times.  When I was first old enough to drive, my older brother was nice enough to lend me his relatively new 1979 Mercury Cougar.  Look at that behemoth.   It had rear wheel drive and handled like crap.  The closest I ever came to an accident was driving this thing down a slushy road when I wandered out of the track.  Think of going down a waterslide trying to stop by digging in your fingernails.  The next year the thing was downsized by 50%.  The gas mileage probably doubled.  BTW, I don’t know why they put that woman on there.  The car is already hideous enough.  The last thing it needs is a supermodel next to it to make it look even worse.

Another blow to petroleum consumption could be dealt with the Diesel engine.  All else equal, the Diesel engine is substantially more efficient than the gasoline (Otto) engine.  Why?  It has a higher compression ratio, which generates a higher combustion temperature.  Like steam-driven power plants, efficiency is limited mostly by the highest temperature relatively cheap steel can withstand.

Later, after ditching the Cougar and suffering through three years with a 1983 Ford Mustang, I purchased a 1984 Ford Escort Diesel.  The Focus is the descendant of the Escort.  In fact, I think the big pitch for the Escort (gas version) was its fuel economy.  Most people I’ve talked to regarding the Diesel version are amazed to know there was such a thing.  Yes – 48 miles per gallon – 1984 – 27 years ago in car terms.  We don’t need rocket science or even some mythical magical battery.  We just need somebody with a brain promoting sane solutions to saving personal transportation energy.

Diesels faded from the American auto-makers’ lineups of cars for whatever reason.  General Motors somehow took a gasoline engine and turned it into a Diesel engine for its first shot at Diesel engines for light vehicles.  This was about 1982.  I remember driving my brother-in-law’s Diesel Silverado pickup truck and pulling a trailer.  It would literally take ¾ of a mile on flat terrain with no wind to get up to 55 mph.  It was the most pathetic excuse for a truck I had ever experienced.

I believe Volkswagen has offered diesel vehicles since way back.  To demonstrate how a sane approach to efficient transportation makes the insane look stupid, consider the Diesel versions of the VW Golf, Jetta, and Jetta wagon are rated at about 42 mpg, highway.  The tiny tin can lawnmower on wheels, the “Smart Car,” is rated at a pathetic 41 mpg.  You don’t even have room for an extra pair of shoes in one of those things.  They haul groceries as long as it is limited to Ramen noodles and canned tuna.

So how about these qualities to easily get to 60 mpg with virtually no sacrifice in performance, convenience, or ego:

  • Shrink cars back to where they were in the late 1980s with a proportional shrunken engine
  • Diesel engines
  • Hybrids
  • Styling that that doesn’t scream “I am a snooty college professor and I am better than you”.

These vehicles would result in SUBSTANTIALLY LESS EMISSIONS than a $40,000, 40 mile per charge ELECTRIC VEHICLE.  If you are thinking, “but we can power electric vehicles with windmills”, it doesn’t work that way.  Windmills and other renewable energy will always be fully utilized.  The incremental increase (or decrease) in electric consumption will come from conventional sources regardless of how you want to pretend you’re charging your batteries with a windmill.  In other words, electric cars will be charged with coal, natural gas, or nuclear power.

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