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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Feral Cat, What Say You?

Energy Efficiency, Government, LEED, Stimulus, Sustainability0 comments

Back in August I came close to posting a blog “Enough of the Empire State Building Already” but that one faded away.  In case you never read anything about energy savings and sustainability, the building is undergoing a $20 million renovation to improve energy efficiency.  The project would shave the facility’s $11 million energy bill (a cool $4 per square foot) by 38%.  Johnson Control ran ads in every trade magazine I get and various publications, including major newspapers, ran articles by the dozens.

Coming in a close second to the Empire State Building was the Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, WI.  Apparently it was the first LEED Gold certified High School for New Construction Version 2.1.  Ok.  It seems everybody associated with the project ran an ad for their greatness: manufacturers and vendors of stuff used for construction, contractors, service providers, congress people, the governor, priests, rabbis, dog catcher, and the feral animals themselves.  This went on for months.

Well it all hit the fan.  As I was flipping through my stack of trade magazines this long holiday weekend, I saw in HPAC (short for Heating Plumbing and Air Conditioning but they actually go by HPAC – HPAC.com) in their August issue that a group of stakeholders including the building committee, a couple licensed professional engineers, and other taxpayers are appealing the certification with the USGBC.  They claim the design does not and cannot meet indoor air quality standard ASHRAE 62, minimum energy performance, ASHRAE Standard 90.1, OR the minimum commissioning requirements.  Ouch!  What do you feral animals have to say for yourselves now?

I’m not going to do a ton of investigating of this crime but I have no reason at all to believe the appellants are not standing on firm ground.  What is interesting is the firestorm of HPAC reader comments, which read like blog comments of far left and far right cutting each others’ livers out.  Jeezo, the comments are still swirling three issues AFTER the first mention of it in August.  Comments include the following, each of which I respond to:

  • One of the points I raised concerned legal liabilities and the USGBC’s refusal to accept responsibility for advice about guideline compliance.

o   The USGBC shouldn’t have responsibility for advice it gives.  It’s up to the design and construction teams.  The guidelines are available.  If they can’t read, find new firms to do the job.

  • The USGBC seems to prey on undereducated, uninformed owners and the public.

o   Nice.  There are certainly uninformed folks, but I’m sure the USGBC is a deceitful money grubbing outfit headed by Gordon Gekko’s offspring.  The guy would probably dump a five gallon bucket of used motor oil in the lake if you paid him $100.

  • LEED is a standard of relative greenness, not a contract for overpaid lawyers and underemployed engineers to litigate.  …the LEED process has been a powerful force bringing green design mainstream.

o   Agreed.

  • LEED is bogus.  Let common sense prevail.  Why can’t you simply tell the architect/engineer firm(s) to design the most EE building you can without a third party intervening?

o   Because cheap and crappy always wins the bid and the average firm doesn’t really know squat about REALLY producing an efficient, comfortable, and code-compliant facility.

  • I agree [not me – the next guy reader/commenter].  USGBC does not check if equipment is installed per drawings.

o   If it did, it would cost a fortune and no one would do it.

  • [in response to the previous statement the next guy says] Get a life.  LEED is a standard of relative greenness… blah blah.  [The exact same statement as above by the same guy, published two months in a row]
  • [in response to the previous]  Mr. Perkins just doesn’t get it.  Building green just to get LEED points, rather than building a building that will improve the health of occupants[with minimal] lifetime costs, is total BS… Too many folks just care about LEED certification, not if a building really works.

o   In my opinion, LEED actually improves the odds that a building “really works”.  It requires somebody to at least fake their way through commissioning and at least think about designing for efficiency and healthy environments.  To say LEED diverts designers and contractors away from these things is irresponsible.

I mentioned before in this blog that our MO is to fix immediate problems first and take corrective action later.  Too frequently building owners/stakeholders go after the party they think is responsible and meanwhile the building festers away.  The second too-frequent approach is to hire the same fools responsible for the kludge to fix it.

Owners and stakeholders should first fix the problem by hiring somebody who knows what they are doing.  This does two things, both of which they want to fix a screwed up building: (1) gets the building working optimally as soon as possible and (2) by doing so gives them leverage with the responsible parties for some sort of settlement.

Attacking USGBC for establishing green building methods and metrics but not enforcing them with an iron fist is ridiculous.  Why not go after ASHRAE for not coming down on people like a ton of bricks for not following ASHRAE’s standards?  Energy codes that are state law in many states aren’t even enforced in some of them.  I’m not sure about the rest of the parties involved with LEED projects but engineers have codes of ethics.  I would say blowing off owner desires, cutting corners and lying about what was or was not done probably violates these ethics.  How about attacking these losers and scoundrels and running their underwear up the flagpole instead?

Tidbits

I would guess you haven’t heard but the Chicago Climate Exchange is shutting down.   At one point in this blog I explained I think that trading something that has no value in and of itself is unprecedented.  Currency is only thing I can think of that has no intrinsic value but currency is actually a means to put value on things.  I can buy groceries with currency.  I can’t buy anything with a carbon credit.

Numerous corporations were buying carbon credits and even “supporting” the legislation in the event some sort of cap and trade passed.  The legislation disintegrated and there remain only a few ashes of political will to even whisper the phrase.  The carbon value that existed was 100% speculation.  The value that remains is 100% nothing.

As I mentioned in a recent post, if cap and trade didn’t pass during last congress with unstoppable majorities in both houses and the White House, I don’t see it happening.  This does not rule out the EPA creating their own laws to put a price on carbon dioxide.

In “The Nebulous Green Job” I ranted about Green Jobs, of all things.   As it turns out the green jobs stimulus portion of the stimulus has not been too stimulating.  The Washington Post reports that the recently green-educated graduates are having difficulty finding work in solar energy installation, green landscaping, recycling, and green building demolition.  Well, heeeyeah!  Electricians and plumbers are on the prowl for PV and solar water heating systems.  There is already a live and well recycling and building demo industry.  I just burned up “the tube” in my microwave oven this weekend and the nice local do-everything, small but mighty superman store otherwise known as Coon Valley Dairy Supply replaced it.  I asked what they did with the old ones.  A local guy picks them up and strips them down into piles of materials to be sold to buyers – no government green-job intervention included.  Cool!  If there is a market people will find it and fill it.

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

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Cool Milk, Raisin Bran, and I’m Fine

Energy Efficiency, Government, Stimulus, Sustainability0 comments

I stay in hotels/motels probably 40-50 nights per year, at least it seems so.  If lodging facilities were in a league of teams competing to be the greenest facilities, these guys would be the Detroit Lions.

Most franchise motels, those not located in downtown high rise buildings, are built with the cheapest, crappiest stuff possible.  The only thing that is decent in them is the TV but sometimes even that is a junky 19 inch CRT clunker.  Who has spent a night in room with through-wall air conditioner/heater with a temperature control knob that spins round and round like the fake knobs on a Fisher Price toy for a 2 year old?  They fit as tight as clown pants and leak like a small fishing boat with a cannon ball hole in the hull.

At least they’ve gotten rid of the “Styrofoam” comforters that were once ubiquitous lodging fixtures.  I believe Styrofoam comforters were made of some sort of synthetic material and I think they may have been fireproof, like children’s fireproof pajamas.  (do they still make those things?)  Anyway, they could probably survive in a steel melting furnace.  They were scratchy and stiff like snuggling up under a cozy hunk of cardboard or yesterday’s newspaper at best.

Ventilation and exhaust in most lodging facilities are terrible.  A year ago I stayed in an older hotel in suburban Chicago.  They had the room temperature set way back to 55F and this was mid-January, about 15F outside.  Good thing?  NO!  I turned it up to around 70F.  I worked on my computer in the room for a couple hours before our client/colleague arrived from O’Hare for dinner.  In two hours the room struggled to get to 65F.  I never took my coat off in that time.  Why was this happening?  Exhaust fans somewhere, kitchen or swimming pool were sucking the building negative, big time, as I noticed with the blast of incoming wind when I entered the building.  So these guys probably thought they were saving energy by setting back room temperatures but instead, they were heating their makeup air coming in through the cheesecloth walls with crappy guest room electric resistance heaters, rather than much less expensive natural gas that they probably had somewhere on the rooftops.  At the same time they were freezing their guests.  This is the polar opposite of the Iowa State University removal of kitchen trays.  They are wasting energy like crazy and shooting their feet with terribly uncomfortable guest rooms.

Later last winter I stayed in a motel in Phoenix.  Ironically, this place was suffering from moisture problems.  The bathrooms had no exhaust whatsoever.  After a reasonable shower there is a stagnant fog bank until the door is opened.  The fog condenses on the cooler room surfaces.   The metal stuff around the ceiling was discolored by rust and the wallpaper was sagging and also discolored.  So let’s take a space that has plenty of cooling load, in Phoenix, and add a bunch of latent (moisture) dehumidification on top of that, and rot the bathroom to rubble at the same time.

In a motel in near the Minneapolis airport, they lacked ventilation/exhaust.  Entering the building, it smelled like a high school football locker room in August.  Again, I’m sure somebody thinks their saving energy while they are driving customers away with their raunchy environment.

Some lodging facilities still use incandescent light bulbs and there doesn’t seem to be a correlation with lighting type and facility age, nightly rates, or facility size.  Needless to say, these places deserve to go out of business because if there is one easy thing to do to save energy in a lodging facility with no adverse effects…

Another thing that always cracks me up is the location of ice and vending machines – typically in a small almost enclosed space.  The ice machine is hammering away as it bathes in its own waste heat at about 100F that hangs around like a cloud.  The soda machine and ice maker are working overtime to keep their contents cold with excessive heat gain in 100F heat while their compressors are working harder with higher condensing pressure.  Then there are those stupid ice machines that dump a pound of ice into an acrylic hopper thingy that dumps into your ice bucket.  The ice sits there and mostly melts before the next guest comes by.  They empty what’s left and need more.  Push the button for more ice and it dumps about 3 pounds into the hopper again.  They only need a handful so they either take 3 pounds or leave it there to melt – melt in the room or melt in the 100F cloud – take your pick.

With the bucket of ice in hand, go back to the room and take a crappy tiny plastic glass out of the crappy plastic liner.  It holds about a thimble’s worth of fluid.  You almost have to bite the ice cubes in half to fit them in the glass.  Nothing shouts cheap and crappy louder than these plastic thimbles.  A nice glass tumbler is probably worth paying at least $5 more per night.

And then there is breakfast which runs from reasonably sustainable to pornographically wasteful.  I’m very easy to please for breakfast, like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times and Ridgemont High, “All I need are some tasty waves, cool buzz, and I’m fine.”  All I need is some cool milk, raisin bran and I’m fine.  Last week’s raisin bran feast featured two of those tiny jokes for boxes of cereal, a half pint carton of milk, plastic bowl and spoon.  I eat a tiny simple meal and have more garbage than I can carry in two hands to the waste bin.  What’s wrong with a big dispenser of bulk cereal, some porcelain bowls, metal silverware, and bulk milk?  What would that be, like 95% less landfill waste?  Bulk cereal and milk must cost about ¼ of the hokey kiddy boxes and cartons.  Somebody is short a few cards of a full deck.

Towels.  I think every motel/hotel features reuse of towels with a cheesy door hanger thingy with a white owl on it.  Help us save the planet (while we commit every environmental sin in the green bible).  It says simply hang your towel up rather than throwing it on the floor in heap if you want to reuse it.  I have found this to be more challenging than changing a tire with my bare hands.  The housecleaners take it no matter where I put it.  You almost have to hide it between the mattress and box spring but you would have to remove the mattress and lay it perfectly flat or they would notice the lump and take it.

I think the most sustainable motel I’ve stayed in was in Monterey (CA) last summer.  My room had no air conditioning.  Actually, I didn’t need cooling all week in mid-August so this was actually a pretty smart thing.  The room also had all CFL lighting of course and the bathroom had wall-mounted occupancy sensors – impressive!  Breakfast featured bulk everything, and no disposable dishes or utensils.  But no raisin bran!

Tidbits

I was pointed to this video on YouTube by a reader, regarding Playing With Fire.  A bit humorous, but scary.

And by the way, not only is this gamble risky and won’t work, it already isn’t working.  Interest rates have gone up since this was announced – the opposite of what was supposed to happen.  Could it be that people aren’t rats after all?  Supply and demand – when markets move in the opposite direction the puppet master would like, you know which is going to be right.

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

Home Field Disadvantage

Energy Efficiency, Government0 comments

As mentioned on these pages before, stuff that doesn’t work well for me will be tolerated for maybe a couple bad experiences before I move on to something else.  When something starts to go haywire, you don’t want to be around me and you certainly don’t want your children around me.  Probably the worst thing to go haywire is a computer because I know I can’t take my frustration out on the computer since that will obviously make things worse, so the vocabulary gets a little extra spicy.

Back in about 1983, I was shopping for my first car.  Growing up in rural America farm country, 90% of vehicles on the road were made by the big three, now known as the big one and the incompetent and crappy two.  One of the vehicles I test drove among the several Detroit models was a Honda Accord.  This was back when they were the size of today’s Civic Coupe.  I remember it to this day.  It was like the first decent micro or import beer I tested, although I can’t remember what that was if you know what I mean.

The Accord was unlike anything I had driven before.  The suspension was firm and it handled crisply.  It accelerated very well for a car with a small engine.  It was a quite ride.  But it cost $2,000 more than my second choice at the time, a 1983 Ford Mustang so I bought that.  What a piece of junk.  This was a car that was transformed from the 70s muscle car to a wimpy plasticized rattlebox.  It always had some sort of natural frequency in the drive train that vibrated such that the rearview mirror gave me a blurred vision of where I had been.  I took Wrigley’s chewing gum wrappers and rolled them up to stuff behind the chincy dashboard cutout with a cheesy faux wood pattern to keep it from buzzing from the vibration.

Today I have very high expectations for any vehicle I own.  I bought the Acura RSX new seven and a half years ago and piled about 100,000 miles on thus far.  The only things I’ve replaced is oil, filters, tires, wiper blades, a battery, and windshield fluid.  There have been no mechanical or electrical problems but last week the engine light came on and I thought maybe my “luck” was up.  No problem.  I think it was gas-cap issue.

I have no allegiance to buying “American” stuff.  I’m an open-market competition advocate.  It’s my money and I’m going to buy what I think is the best value, including John Deere yard and garden equipment.  It’s expensive.  People have told me this or that brand is just as good.  Sure.  You go right ahead and buy your heap of lightweight, rattly sheet metal, belt-shredding, piece of crap.

In some distant precincts, or maybe its just certain buyers, there seems to be a strong home turf advantage for hiring EE consultants.  Alien firms are virtually locked out of the market.  In some cases we’ve been on projects where we needed to use local engineering firms because they know the market, technologies, and how to handle the vastly different conditions.  Paahleeeese!  Does the first law of thermodynamics not apply on planet Z?  Does water not freeze at 32F?  Do the customers have two heads?  If so just tell us which one to talk to.  We’ll adapt to anything.

There may also be perception that if you have to get on a plane that you can’t be responsive, and that travel time and expense may cost a fortune.  Responsiveness may be an issue on the other side of the ocean seven time zones away, but not in the continental U.S.  Travel expense is also probably an overhyped disadvantage.  It takes more time to drive within some service territories to distant end users than it does to fly some places.  It takes no more time or money to fly to the coasts than it does to fly to Ohio or Missouri.  Actually, flying to coastal destinations is typically cheaper than flying a couple states away because there is far more competition.

In some cases however, there is a need to have a Johnnie on the spot and we make it so, or make it clear in a proposal that we will make it so.  The latter doesn’t seem to work.

Programs that lock out alien firms are doing their ratepayers no favors.  They lock out innovation, new ideas and possibly more efficient and effective ways of doing things.  When we bid on local jobs, we take nothing for granted.  I feel we deserve nothing for merely being one of the closest firms.  Once hired regardless of where, it is our mission to have the client so pleased they wished they’d never have to go out for bids again.

In other cases, I think buyers may have something like Stockholm Syndrome and they become sympathetic to their consultant’s predictably unreliable and tardy work.  This is probably universal and not just for EE work but other consulting and even other businesses entirely.  But hey, the consultant is cheap and the buyer knows what they are getting: crap.  But there are no surprises or disappointments because expectations are lower than Brett Favre’s salvage value.

Tidbits

This just in: USA Today reports that $300 million spent on just over 600,000 appliances ($500 per appliance!!!) is achieving $27.5 million in annual energy savings.  Doing the math, that’s about an 11 year “payback” on program investment.  To put this in perspective, a rule of thumb for EE programs run by utilities is total program cost to savings ratio (“payback”) is 1.5.  Yes, the decimal point is in the right place.  Do we need further reason to lock the federal government out of EE?

The spokeswoman says energy savings were only one goal of the program.  Yes.  The other was a political payout followed by a glut of used appliances and a drought of new appliance sales.

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

Playing with Fire

Energy Efficiency, Stimulus, Tax Stuff1 comment

I was pretty much like every other 12 year old boy.  I liked fire, explosions, and crashes.  If you think I’m crazy, why are movies sometimes beginning to end filled with the same?  Enough said.  Growing up on the farm there were always plenty of things to burn.  One time I asked my dad if I could burn an old cattle feeder that we no longer used.  No problem.

You never see these things anymore but they were wood structures, like a weekend cabin that could withstand an F4 tornado, except it was all wood, nails and fasteners – solid fuel.  So I loaded it up with 40 or 50 paper feed bags – like the big dog food bags.  This probably would have been enough to get it going and burn it down.  But I’m impatient and I want a big fire.  So I grabbed a milk jug and put some diesel fuel in it and thought, eh, what the heck.  I’ll go half and half with gasoline.  I knew gasoline was risky.

So I sprinkled that all over the pile of paper bags and lit a bag (there was a door on the end about waste high).  I watched the flame creep up the paper until it got into the fuel-soaked portion of the bag.  That started to burn as I watched and then, Fahwoom!  A giant fireball blew up and rolled me back, bass over teakettle like when I was kicked one time by a cow – which may explain my dementia.  Fortunately, I knew I was playing with fire and I was prepared to backpedal real fast.  All I got was singed hair on my arms, knuckles, and eyebrows.  I got what I wanted though!  It was a hell of a fire.

As I mentioned a while back, I’m an efficiency freak, and not just for energy.  I also get riled up regarding economic efficiency and how it could impact our industry.  There are many things that apply the brakes and throw sand in the gears of the economy but I’ll get to that later.

This week, I want to discuss the Federal Reserve (Fed) rather than energy efficiency directly because the stakes are enormous and I think everyone should know what is happening.  For years and years (forever) there has been a lot of concern about the nation’s debt.  Why?  I would guess that 99.9% of Americans think we will need to pay it off sooner or later and that’s going to hurt like a tooth extraction with no painkiller.  If only.

Last week beneath all the election buzz the Fed announced it would buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasuries over the next six or nine months.  This is on top of the $1.3 Trillion it’s already purchased.  These numbers, by the way, are staggeringly incomprehensible.  See what a trillion dollars looks like.   I did a little “measurement and verification” on this and it appears to be fairly accurate.  Furthermore, companies in the U.S. have a total of $800 billion cash on hand.  So in the end, we are talking 2.5x companies’ cash on hand.

What is the Fed?  It’s a mysterious central bank with twelve regional banks run by appointed egg heads who are accountable to no one.  Typically, these people have spent their entire lives in academia, politics, think tanks – i.e., a parallel universe.  They set the federal funds rate – the rate central banks charge one another for overnight loans.  When they talk about cutting or raising interest rates, this is it.  The Fed’s mission is supposed to be monetary stability; to avoid extreme fluctuations in inflation, deflation and the exchange rate of the dollar.  If you have an interest bearing money market fund or certificate of deposit, you already know these interest rates are zero.  Controlling the federal funds rate is all they normally do, but they are now going crazy.

Real lending rates (personal/business loans) for all of us track interest/yield on federal Treasury bonds.  For example, the 30-year mortgage tracks in step with the 10 year Treasury bond (I think).  The 15 year mortgage tracks the 5 year Treasury and so on.  “Real” interest rates are set by the marketplace by buying and selling bonds and other debt.

Never think you can’t lose money in bonds.  Bond prices and interest rates move in opposite directions.  For example, a thousand dollar bond may be issued at 5% interest.  Consider the $50 payout fixed.  In this simple example, it would pay $50 per year in return for your cash and risk.  When interest rates go up to 7%, the value of your bond drops because it’s paying you only $50 per year and the bond price will adjust to reflect the current 7%.  The value of the bond would drop to something probably in the $70s.  The opposite would occur if interest rates drop.

It’s all supply and demand.  If there is tremendous demand for bonds, the bond price is high relative to the interest rate.  Enter the Fed.

The nearly $2 trillion in bonds the fed will own will be purchased with freshly printed money.  They are buying U.S. bonds with funny money.  Why?  To “stimulate” the economy.  By sopping up bonds like crazy, they get very low interest rates.  The borrower (U.S. Treasury) wants to sell bonds with the lowest possible yield and as long as they have the Fed throwing gazillions at them, it’s easy.

Many of you have probably refinanced your homes at unheard of rates lately as a result of this Fed activity.  That’s great and you should do it but don’t for a minute think the ball-peen hammer isn’t coming around.

Here is the risk.  The huge gamble the Fed is making is artificially driving down the cost of borrowing to spur the economy so people buy stuff.  They hope the economy will get going and people will pay taxes to lower the deficit/debt and have money to invest in U.S. bonds, rather than the Fed doing it all with funny money.

Injecting all this cash into the world economy and “monetizing our debt” is driving down the dollar.  Supply and demand.  More dollars floating around, more supply, means the value declines.  All you have to do is watch commodity prices for the results.  Comparing to a year ago:  Gasoline up 10%, Gold up 23%, Silver up 42%, Copper up 27%, Corn up 55%, Soybeans up 22%, Beef up 13%, Cotton up 117%.  Do you think this escalation is due to supply/demand (although cotton, used to make the greenback is really up)?  No.  They are up in large part because of a weak dollar.  It’s inflationary for us.  You can easily find information on rising food prices in case your trip to the store doesn’t do it for you.

A weak currency is good for trade to a certain extent.  A week dollar generally means a strong yen, euro, franc, pound, etc.  Strong currency means people from these countries can buy American goods for cheap because they exchange their highly valued currency for a lot of our currency and buy our stuff.  The opposite is true for us.  Imports are expensive, which also puts upward pressure on inflation.  This is great until the people buying our debt start to squeal.  Go back to that thousand dollar Treasury bond.  If that is purchased with Japanese yen and the dollar subsequently drops 20% against the yen, the Japanese guy is stuck with crappy dollars so when he cashes out, he gets 20% fewer yen than he would without the devaluing.  Or he can just keep his crappy dollars and hope for the best.

So what the fed is doing is very dangerous.  They are devaluing the dollar.  The Fed can’t keep printing money to buy bonds.  Sooner or later the debt will need to be financed with real money from real investors seeking what has been the safest investment on the planet.  Continuing to use printed money, the currency will continue to fall until foreign investors that are buying like 40% of our debt give us the middle digit and pull out.  Then what?!!  Trillions of dollars will be lying about.  Everyone has cashed out and the U.S. dollar won’t be worth anything because nobody wants them and there are gazillions of them.  Compounding the problem, interest rates will go sky high because the Treasury can’t find people to buy their debt that melts faster than a Klondike Bar in downtown Bagdad on a summer day.  Inflating our way out of debt is easy but devastating.

The Fed and the government have to stop treating employers and investors like lab rats.  We are not stupid.  We can see the lunacy.  And they wonder why they can’t “create jobs”.

I’ll be out buying gold bullion at $1,400 an ounce to hide in an undisclosed location.  Once it takes a grocery cart full of cash to buy a loaf of bread, I’ll be able to buy the bakery with an ounce of gold.[1]

Epilogue

There are other very negative consequences of buying debt with printed money.  First, it takes a lot of pressure off free wheeling congress to control the deficit.  Second, what is the Fed going to do with all these bonds that pay extremely low yields once interest rates start rising?  They are going to lose a gazillion dollars selling worthless bonds, that is if the economy ever gets going.  Who will take that hit?  Sounds a bit like Fannie and Freddie to me.  Taxpayers will be stuck with that bag.

Since we lab rats won’t behave like they do in a text book, things may not pick up for years and years.  See Japan which has tried this for what, 20 years?  They have enormous debt.  Government tried to stimulate the economy about a dozen times.  People aren’t spending due to deflation.  Stuff just keeps getting cheaper as they sit on their cash.  This with the Fed’s activity has dropped the value of the dollar by 15% against the yen since April of this year.

U.S. officials are being lectured around the world about these reckless policies.  The death spiral of 2008 was all due to ruthless, evil banks, we are told.  Well the Fed has had interest rates very low for a long time, in addition to congress pushing home ownership onto people who can’t afford them.  We had a stock market bubble in the late 1990s.  A commodity bubble just before the 2008 collapse and the housing bubble just popped.  Another commodity bubble is building and I would say the late stock market run-up is building a bubble as well.  Stocks are rising as companies are improving earnings by slashing costs – laying off people.  This won’t last as companies have limited costs to cut.

When will these people look at past policies and the ensuing results and learn from history, rather than their bogus theories?  The economy is not like physics where there are laws like gravity, speed of sound, and conservation of energy.  The economy has a huge macro human element.  The most accurate prediction of what will happen can be found by looking back at history.  I remember as I sat on the sidelines in the late 1990s while people were paying insane prices for stocks.  Valuations were far, far outside historic norms.  But we were in a different era.  Sure, Sonny.  The NASDAQ composite has gained minus 50% since then.

Thinking hyperinflation could never happen here is short sighted and dangerous.  Nobody imagined 9/11, the submersion of New Orleans, or last summer’s unstoppable oil spill.  The Fed didn’t prevent the 1930s from happening and they won’t stop the next one either.  In response to the 1929 stock market crash and recession, Hoover did exactly what gave us 10 years of misery; raised taxes sharply to cut the deficit and Smoot Hawley to cut off trade with the rest of the world.  We are trending toward the same thing all over again.  HELLO!

Lastly, I’ve said before that we need a strong economy and demand for energy to have a strong EE industry.  We’ve done ok through this recession but no one will care about EE when the dollar isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, or we spend the rest of my career in a grinding contraction like Japan.

Tidbits

Back in March I railed against daylight savings time because it doesn’t save energy.   National Geographic referenced reports saying the same.  But one study claimed there was savings: The Department of Energy.  The hell you say!  It saves precisely 0.02% total energy consumption.  This reminds me of predicting CO2 levels by viewing 500 year old tree rings.  The reported precision is about 1000X greater than they can possibly measure or calculate with confidence.  I wonder how many millions of dollars somebody got to build a model that would support the answer they pulled out of the air to start with.


[1] Do not construe this as investment advice.  Roll your own dice at the casino of the Federal Reserve.

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

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Green Brains and Smart Things, For Once

Energy Efficiency, Sustainability0 comments

Back from vacation this week.  I hope I didn’t ruin your week!  Hahahaha!  (this week or last, you decide)

This week is more of a rave than a rant.  I want to share some energy efficiency and sustainability successes and trends that make sense.  If you have read many rants, I typically rail against dumb policy and technologies that are roads to dead ends.  Energy efficiency and sustainability, in my opinion, must either cost next to nothing or have a decent return on investment, even though that ROI may be difficult to quantify.

First cases come from a month and a half ago while attending a board meeting for the Iowa Association for Energy Efficiency on the campus of Iowa State University.  Like many if not most other campuses, they are implementing green policies to the point of having a full-time coordinator.  My knowledge of typical practices is that they include a bunch of fluff and dumb ideas, like “let’s put up a wind turbine”, while campus facilities are bleeding energy like [insert your own gory example here].

First, they got rid of food trays.  Let’s examine the cost and benefits.  Cost=zero.  Benefit; if I remember correctly, they reduced food waste by 50%, or was it 30% (?), saving all the resources and energy associated with growing, processing, transporting and cooking the food.  I believe students were on an all-you can eat meal plan as well, so the reduced food waste also lowered meal plan costs.  Going even deeper, you know how food portions have grown to obscene volumes in part by using obscenely large dishes.  Pull out your tape measure sometime when you get your food at a decent restaurant.  Your humungous portion is hidden by the fact that the dish it comes in could be used for giving your dog a bath.  A college cafeteria tray is big.  Point is, students probably eat less and are therefore healthier.  This is as brilliant as it gets.

Second thing ISU is doing is deploying solar-powered trash receptacles / compactors.  You may be thinking, what a stupid, overpriced waste of money.  Normally I would be on that wagon but these are actually smart trash bins as well.  They wirelessly ping the waste management company when they need to be emptied.  Therefore, rather than running around and dumping every trash bin every day even if it only contains a couple empty booze flasks, an empty case of Miller Lite, and a pizza box (college kids), they wait to be told to pick up the garbage.  Garbage truck fuel and much more importantly pricey labor is saved.  Maybe the return on investment is still only 2.3% but at least there are smart elements to it.

Now there are laws being developed such that retailers must charge for plastic bags.  Washington DC imposed a 5 cent TAX for every disposable bag – paper or plastic. I think I’ve said before that I disagree with ramming green down peoples’ throats, especially in this way with a tax.  I say at least the retailers should get to keep the money for bags, like the People’s Food Co-Op (PFC) in La Crosse does.  They actually pay you to bring your own bags/boxes.

The interesting thing in this article is that peer pressure is used to nudge the masses into doing green.  This works for me, and grocery bags are the perfect example.  When I was in graduate school one of my roommates from Belgium would always take his used paper grocery bags for our weekly grocery haul.  Then I started doing that and continued to do it a while here in La Crosse but then I quit.  Boooooo!  But I shop at least weekly at the PFC and I always take a reusable bag or box there.  In fact, I’ll even go back out to the car to get them if I forget.  My Capital brewery Blonde Dopplebock box has been through the PFC at least a couple hundred times.  If you don’t believe it, you can see the tape reinforcements, tattered edges, and notice the old logo and artwork on the box.  The sentimental value builds over time.  It’s like my 18 year old Wisconsin sweatshirt with vented elbows and neckline, with fringe.  It’s absolutely priceless.

There is still need for entrepreneurial design for this bagging stuff though.  I don’t see mom or dad filling up two grocery carts with kids in tow and then messing around with a mishmash of 14 reusable bags.  Better think about that one.  Need something like a backpack as a reusable dispenser for reusable bags.  Include creature features like a cup holder, or better yet, a Camelback to stay hydrated, or relaxed depending on the beverage of your choice.

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