Continuing on from the surface scratch delivered in Refrigerator Sitcoms and Lethal Toaster Ovens, this post provides more fact, fiction, and maybe some things you’ve never considered for saving energy.
First, I came across some interesting data while reviewing evaluation reports for a major Midwest utility last week. Recall in Bait and Switch, and again backed by ACEEE as explained just last week, regulatory agencies need to stop stopping fuel switching from dumb uses of electricity to smart uses of natural gas. The specific item is the electricity guzzling clothes dryer. As it turns out, the saturation of electric clothes dryers in this utility’s service territory was 84%. The average number of loads per household is about 6.6 – call it 7. Doing a little ballpark math; with 117 million households in the country, guesstimating about 85% have their own laundry equipment, we have available 106 billion kWh to dry clothes. That is equal to 24 typical 500 MW power plants running full tilt every hour of the year, or what China adds to their power supply in about four days.
A few more interesting tidbits on wash machines: savings from wash machines are due to the wash machine itself, (hot) water savings, and dryer savings as these washers spin more water out of clothes before being tossed into the dryer. Considering a residence that has electric everything (water heater and dryer), savings are roughly 210 kWh per year for an efficient wash machine. About 10% is from the washer itself; 50% from reduced water heating, and 40% for the dryer. To calculate savings for natural gas, find a consultant. Furthermore, about half the customers have electric water heaters (OMG!), but only about half the loads are washed with warm/hot water. This is figured into the mix above.
And BTW, swapping out all the electric water heaters would take down another 18 large power plants.
Speaking of China, here is another tip you won’t see anywhere: buy good stuff and keep it for a long time! As you know, since you are reading this, about 27 months ago, Michaels Energy was hatched out of Michaels Engineering. Last month, we dropped Michaels Engineering completely and rebranded with a new logo. The molt is complete. However, I still have clothing with the Michaels Engineering and the former Michaels Energy logos, and to me this stuff is as fresh as the cheese in the grocery store. Once you’re old enough to not be charged extra for car rentals and married or in some other committed relationship, no one cares or pays attention to others’ attire. So, now I have a bunch of date stamped clothes I would otherwise use for another 15 years. Energy saving tips: buy good stuff and don’t rebrand. You’ll save money and energy and reduce the trade deficit, but unfortunately may put someone making 78 cents per hour out of work.
Then there is this classic: use the dishwasher and not the sink to clean dishes. Question: does this factor in washing the dishes with the tap before putting them in the dishwasher? Does it also include not blasting water full throttle out of the tap when washing them by hand?
Energy saving tip: don’t buy so much crap. The street I live on is pretty typical of every neighborhood I’ve been familiarized with. Whether it’s one, two, or now typically three-car garages, peoples’ cars are parked outside because their garage is full of crap: toys, bikes, exercise equipment that was used for 11 days, various recreational vehicles, four or five half-completed projects. It’s especially hilarious when the vehicle is a behemoth SUV parked outside. These owners then start their cars 15-20 minutes in the morning before heading off to work to defrost the windows and warm the interior a little. In the summer, they are sizzling hot already in many cases. Save your upholstery, leather, vinyl, and paint job by clearing out the garage and parking the car where it should be. Buy good stuff and maintain it.
Energy saving tip: close the garage door already! Many homes with attached garages have substantial insulation such that they can lessen the heat loss through the connecting wall. Closing the garage door also keeps the cars warmer in winter to reduce the temptation for warming them up in the morning. It also helps thaw snow and ice off the car. A non-energy benefit is keeping varmints out of the garage. It doesn’t get any easier for mice to walk in through an open garage door. We also had a robin one spring that insisted on building a nest on our garage door opener. Wouldn’t be pretty.
Energy saving tip: eat venison. That’s right. This would save enormous quantities of energy. These 150 pound rodents are a bane to farmers, motorists, gardeners, and arborists. The DNR should eliminate bag limits altogether. Savings include no artificial resource consumption, unlike cattle that produce one pound of meat per ten pounds of food, generally corn, and an ocean of water. It’s locally grown. It’s practically organic. It reduces garden damage, increasing home-grown food production and all the savings with that. It would save millions of dollars in car damage and reduce injury, and even death, due to crashes. Do you realize how much energy an auto body repair shop uses? And finally, it allows my beloved trees to grow above waist height. Speaking of waists, it’s much leaner and healthier, packed with iron and protein, and just might keep some people off the defibrillator.
 Enlarged to show texture (i.e., a mild exaggeration)
 Provided pork or beef fat isn’t mixed in 1:1 to make sausage.
I’ve read enough energy-saving tip lists to fill a Webster’s dictionary. In this rant, I dissect some common ones, some uncommon ones, and provide some myself.
Cook with small appliances – toaster oven, slow cooker, electric skillet: I would strongly advise against a toaster oven because (1) using it to make toast wastes energy – a “slice” toaster evenly toasts bread with coils in the closest proximity possible minimizing wasted heat, (2) my experience with toaster ovens for baking things like quick bread is that they burn. The temperature and coil proximity (ironically) is too close to what is cooking, and it blasts the dough with ultra-intense heat such that the surface is cooked while the middle is raw and (3) toaster ovens are disasters waiting to happen. It represents the only time I’ve ever used a fire extinguisher to put out a bona fide fire in my house. They also will be used as a shelf for buns or bread, and then you have a plastic bag melted to the top. Save energy; don’t burn down the house; don’t light plastic bags on fire – destroy the toaster oven. If you do choose to roll the dice with a toaster oven and the contents catch fire, get the fire extinguisher, pull the pin, and be ready to blast before opening the oven, which will feed the fuel with a lot of oxygen and the flames may shoot up to the ceiling – this is no joke.
The most efficient means for cooking with electricity is the microwave. I don’t have the data but I guarantee a much greater percentage of electrical energy is absorbed by the food than with any conventional cooking method – by far. Note, I did not say pale rubbery food is desirable.
Heating and cooling equipment – Yeah, yeah, replace the filter every now and then. Did you know that a dirty filter is a “better” filter? The more crap lodged in the filter, the smaller and smaller the particles it will catch. Hence, a “better” filter. To maximize heating and cooling efficiency, a filter romantically known as a cat catcher is best. This is one of those green things a person could tape to a clean windshield and have better visibility than some cars with dirty windshields that I’ve been in. I.e., it catches the big stuff that plugs coils and nothing else. A clean filter will result in MORE fan energy consumption, but will also extract more heat from the natural gas being burned or cooling provided by the condensing unit/AC . Oh, and these are like single speed bikes, not race horses. Turning the thermostat to 90 to heat up faster, or 50 to cool down faster, doesn’t work like beating a race horse with a whip. It ain’t gonna run any faster. It will simply over heat or over cool the house.
Clothes – This is a big deal. We heat our house almost entirely with wood and a wood stove. The furnace thermostat is set at 52F in the winter and the temperature will drift down to 52F from 70F in something like 18 hours when it’s 10F outside. It only takes an hour or two to return to Bermuda conditions in the living space. Think of beautiful fall sweatshirt weather. Energy efficiency tip: don’t be a wimp. Dress for the season.
Here’s a problem – in the office we have energy inefficient attire requirements. We have to wear shoes, pants and shirts. When the AC goes down, it’s miserable. Not so at home. Peel stuff off till comfort is achieved. Energy efficiency tip: take advantage of freedom from the fashion Gestapo.
Here’s another thing about living in cold climates – observe the people who whine the most – they dress like they are in Tallahassee. Cold weather sucks for two reasons: (1) machines don’t like to work because things freeze, jell, and condense in very cold weather and (2) pretending it isn’t cold by dressing for the Gulf Coast.
Here is one from We Energies: Use cold water for disposal (e.g. in-sink-erator). This is good advice, but they should stop there. They go on to say cold water solidifies grease, allowing it to more easily pass through the disposal and pipes. OMG! Do not put fat of any sort down the drain.
Get a power meter for 120V outlets – One such brand is Kill-A-Watt and they cost maybe $20. I used this for the couple rants I wrote about vampire loads where I conducted my own in-house tests. Check what your own vampire loads and non-vampire loads (operating TV, computers, monitors, etc.) are and decide what conveniences you want to give up, if any.
Recognize the big users: If you want to save energy, you need to hunt the big fish and use them wisely. Running a clothes dryer too long on one load may equal all the vampire loads in your house running for a year. An electric dryer sucks 5,000 Watts baby. The electric stove is probably in the same ballpark. A refrigerator less than ~ 10 years old is probably in the 100-150 Watt range and they run half the time, which brings me to the next one.
Don’t be stupid: That’s right. Standing in front of the refrigerator and watching the contents like a sitcom wastes energy. I had a roommate who did that frequently. I don’t know if he was fantasizing about what sort of cardiac sandwich he could make or what. Leaving the door open while rummaging through the beer selection to pick the perfect style for the mood is perfectly acceptable. And keeping the fridge full of beer also helps reduce energy consumption, just a smidge. Why? Opening the door of an empty fridge allows all the cold air to spill out. A fridge full of beer has no air to spill.
I barely got started so I will need to do a series of these over time, but I won’t overwhelm the reader with too many of these in a row.
Did I tell you the fiscal cliff, aka, the fiscal ant hill would result in high drama? Here I am, a couple days before the New Year, and the President flew his 747 to Washington all the way from Hawaii, while congress people from all over the country pour in for the media carnival which will result in NO substantive budget resolutions whatsoever. They won’t come close to 10% deficit reduction once interaction effects (behavior change as discussed last week) are accounted for. I doubt we will fall off the ant hill and rather, there will be a meaningless delay scam so they can all go home for their New Years bashes and at the same time, establish another media spectacle in a month or two.
 Note to millennials – a Webster’s dictionary is a book with ink on paper with the definitions of thousands of words, all in convenient alphabetical order.
 Hard core energy geeks: yes, more air flow results in greater cooling capacity as the compressor works against less dP and thus moves more refrigerant.
Remember peak oil? That was the glorious theory, which at some point will occur and no one will know, or maybe it won’t matter, that the stewards of the planet have maxed out oil production, and we would be headed for terminal depletion – and we adopt Mad Max-like diplomacy to survive. By the way, the Mad Max dog is an Australian Cattle Dog, or Blue Heeler, and his name is Dogmeat and he has his own Facebook page. We had a Red Heeler when I was a kid, and her nickname was Tough Dog for a reason. Not mean. Tough. So I’ve always had a soft spot for Dogmeat.
Last week the International Energy Agency, a French-based organization, declared the US would blow past the Saudis in oil production, a mere eight years from now in 2020. Eat your heart out, Vlady. That may actually be the case, but in this article from the Houston Chronicle, IEA goes on to make other absurd predictions. They project that with Obama’s push for vastly higher corporate average fuel economy standards to reach 55 mpg by 2025, we will be “all but self sufficient by 2035”. Stop the press.
Projecting energy and other commodity markets employ plenty of eggheads but this is for sure: they have a dismal record for accuracy. Years ago when I was clearing out some archive junk back at our old office, I came across a DOE projection of energy costs from 1980. The projected cost of natural gas then was $3 per therm, not dekatherm, by 2000. I think in 2000, natural gas was actually selling for 10% of that projected price, i.e., 30 cents per therm. Right now it is selling at the hub for 37 cents per therm. These long term projections are worthless as are promises to reach some goal by 2050.
Pumped up domestic production (pun alert) will put some downward pressure on prices, all else equal. And like the President says, “As I’ve said before”, the general populous doesn’t care about saving energy or being green unless it improves their own bottom line or somebody else is picking up the tab. When the benefits of saving energy and being green outweigh (another pun alert), the desired 4 ton hulk SUV, folks may instead buy a reasonable minivan or even a, gulp, station wagon.
Achieving a 55 mpg average in the projected market of energy independence is most likely not going to happen. The only thing holding me to “most likely” is the diesel engine, which to my knowledge, and I stand at least a 50/50 chance of being wrong on this, is unavailable in any domestically produced automobiles. It is entirely conceivable to design a diesel hybrid that is tire-squealing fast.
Stored electricity can pour enormous power to rubber on the road. A 1972 Datsun with a converted power train to a few dozen twelve-volt batteries, and a couple forklift motor drives, will blow away a modern Corvette, for example. People do this as hobbies, but I surely wouldn’t, Shirley. A fast diesel hybrid would be really cool, but boring, as I like manual transmissions, but it should satisfy many in the mass market. Note, however, that huge hulks like the Chevy Suburban would still have awful mileage – moving a four ton monster requires gobs of energy, period.
Despite every president from Richard Milhous Nixon (does anyone know anyone named Milhous?) promising to do something about dependence on foreign oil, it appears likely that we are going to get there, or at least virtually get there via greedy money grubbers developing new technology to extract energy stores here in the states. Ironically, the feds, who remember are supposed to want us to get off foreign oil, have yet to devise a way to greatly curtail this new gusher of energy supply, because it comes from beneath privately held land. If North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states with massive stores of oil and natural gas were a giant national park purchased by the federal government, like Alaska, we wouldn’t be in this position. I wouldn’t be writing about the Mad States of Saudi America.
Think of the fallout if this happens, and we no longer need 20% of our oil from the Middle East. The US has patrolled the region and kept the relative peace, sort of, since WWII, at an estimated cost of $70 billion per year, per The Wall Street Journal. This is the first estimate I’ve seen for this, and it is interesting because I have always heard from the peak oilers that oil from the Middle East is heavily subsidized. According to my calculations from information gleaned from the referenced WSJ article, the value of oil the US purchases from the Middle East is $131 billion per year. By golly, I would certainly agree with the peak oilers on this one. Why not get out of there and let the Chinese and Russians keep the rockets and bombs to a dull roar for themselves. Maybe even the Europeans would be forced to do something for themselves for once.
The potential implications here are extraordinary, but it remains to be seen how Washington will dork it up.
The day after last week’s election, the headlines included discussions about the “fiscal cliff” coming on January 1, 2013, when the “Bush” tax cuts expire and substantial automatic spending cuts kick in. I guarantee this will not come and go without high drama. First thing after the election comes the ceremonial token olive branches, and five minutes later both sides return to sharpening their heals and digging in.
I would say energy efficiency has it’s own version of the fiscal cliff coming, and that is the end of the gravy train – lighting retrofits – the so-called low hanging fruit, a term I adore as much as the end of the day. Actually, it will be more of a descent into Death Valley as mandates phase out old-fashioned T12 and incandescent light bulbs. So what is the solution to the Death Valley Spiral? Vampire loads! This I read recently on a blog post or email. Going after vampire loads would be like making car radios use less power to improve gas mileage. Vampire loads don’t amount to squat, and I mentioned this in a blog a long time ago, but I just reran my own home tests.
First, what is a vampire load – energy consumed when a device is turned off. Leaving things on – like stereo and home entertainment equipment is not a vampire load. Here is my vampire load study:
The cable box DVR takes about 15 minutes to boot up, and it seems to not really have a power off mode, but if one likes to wait 15 minutes three times a day to save $20 in a year, go for it. Granted, this could certainly come with better not-in-use power characteristics. Nevertheless, this IS NOT a phantom/vampire load anyway. The VCR/DVD player burns a stunning 1 Watt, most likely to burn the digital clock on the display.
What is one frontier you never read or hear about? Stupid use of expensive fuel, and the most expensive fuel is electricity. If the country wants to take giant steps toward reducing energy consumption, why not promote fuel switching from dumb uses of electricity to natural gas wherever possible.
Last March or so, I bought a retractable clothesline for $12.95 at Menards. Simple payback: about 7.5 weeks (5kW, half hour per load, load per day, 10 cents/kWh). With the deck and clothesline on the north side of the house and winter coming, the “efficiency” of the clothesline is not so grand, so I’m staring at my 5 kW electric dryer.
Why do I have an electric dryer? Because in the La Crosse area, the standard apartment lease comes with “hookups” for washer and dryer but no washer and dryer. So, the hookups of course include electric-only energy sources for clothes dryers. Our choice, therefore, when moving here was electric dryer or the thrill of the Laundromat.
These hookups without appliances are as commonsensical as the Wisconsin bubbler. Tenants have to buy and lug washers and dryers from place to place? Why not refrigerators and stoves too?
The mom and pop stores around here, where I prefer to shop because service to me is king, do not even carry gas dryers. Electric water heaters are another travesty. Using electricity to dry clothes and heat water is the same as buying a Husqvarna 5kW generator that burns gasoline to make toast in the morning.
In a triple or quadruple irony, it reminds me of the Nissan Leaf commercial. Speaking of double ironies, you have to sit through an ad to watch the Leaf ad on YouTube. Electricity is actually a smart fuel for cars, just as wind is for power generation, but there are about 46 physical limitations and barriers for making it a decent full blown alternative to liquid or gaseous fueled transportation.
Some barriers to smart fuel switching include old school energy program thought. Without an exhaustive investigation, I am not aware of any programs that provide incentives to switch from expensive, and from a resource perspective, more wasteful electricity to less expensive natural gas.
The fuel switching is a matter of cross-subsidization where, for example, an electric customer gets a rebate from the electric utility for switching to natural gas. The electric rate payers are benefiting the gas customers. If you stop and think about this a little bit, it is entirely foolish. When the electric utility throws money at a customer for installing more efficient lighting, it benefits the light bulb manufacturers – in CHINA! What is the difference to the electric rate payers OR the electric utility? Electric rate payer money via EE programs is used to reduce demand and sales of electricity while benefiting others customers and other retail sellers of stuff. What difference does it make whether the stuff is light bulbs, insulation, windows, automatic controls, or natural gas?
And consider this, nearly all the new electrical generating capacity is produced by natural gas. We pay to build natural gas plants, poles and wires to produce electricity at perhaps 70% efficiency (roughly for combined cycle plants) to power water heaters, clothes dryers, stoves and other stuff. Therefore, we use more natural gas, not less. As a result, we require more infrastructure for both natural gas and electricity delivery.
Not promoting fuel switching costs consumers at every turn. What is the problem here? Figure it out. Let’s go.
 Not knowing what a bubbler is is about as shameful as not knowing the name of a character on an HBO drama series, or the third string center for the Packers – from the 1988 squad.
This is not about the excellent 80s band, unfortunately.
Companies that provide necessities of life serve as punching bags to the public, media, and politicians. I’ve said this before. This week, we have more examples of beating up electricity and other utility providers.
First, as I was explaining in my “Energy Efficiency 101” course Friday for new and recent hires at Michaels Energy, power companies are expected to provide power 24/7, every minute of the day, hell or high water, with no emissions, no nukes, out of sight, and with negligible cost. It would be easier and less controversial to add Bill Clinton’s melon to Mount Rushmore than it would be to build a base-load coal or nuclear plant, but get this; in Wisconsin, Dominion Resources is being lambasted for shutting down the Kewaunee nuclear plant near Green Bay.
The fact is, we have abundant generating capacity in the Midwest and in Wisconsin in particular. I always love it when people on the outside ascribe motives to a company’s business decisions, which are essentially based on making money. Apparently, Dominion made a mistake in buying this plant, unless it paid fire sale prices. Nevertheless, Dominion says it cannot turn a profit to operate this plant with the abundance of electricity in the state. And who wants to buy a money loser? Dominion is likely acting as my neighbor down the street. Their house has been for sale for at least 2 years, but apparently they don’t need to move that badly and therefore, they wait for a buyer with deep pockets. My guess is Dominion would rather shut down and hold the plant rather than sell at a deep discount and lose money. Maybe they are guessing the cost of carbon will skyrocket. Who knows? But by all means, vilify them for trying to turn a profit.
For more ignorant commentary, just turn on the television or browse the internet for press coverage of hurricane Sandy devastation. “We have an antiquated, fragile electrical and communication system from the 1950s.” “Why didn’t the President invest the $800 billion in hardening the New York electrical grid?” “Why isn’t the power grid buried so we don’t have these massive outages.” In response to these, one by one:
Let me first say that interestingly the most sophisticated personal communication device in the world, the Apple iPhone (and all other cellular phones, not to pick on Apple) was rendered absolutely worthless, while the pay phone – you know the ones at the outskirts of parking lots that millenials have never used before, the ones from the 1950s, are the only ones that worked after Sandy passed through New Jersey and New York. People actually waited in line to get a chance to use one of these things after the storm.
In response to the antiquation, I have an answer for every question that begins with “Is it possible…”. The answer is always yes, but how much money, time, and resources do you want to throw atit? I’m sure we could build a military grade, shock (as in bomb) proof, electromagnetic pulse proof, wind proof, flood proof, fire proof, rodent proof, shenanigan proof system, but at what cost? On Long Island, thousands of lineman from all over the country converged to restore power as quickly as possible. They are not doing it with extension cords. They are rebuilding substations and distribution systems, and I suppose there is a band-aid here or there that they cobbled together with spare parts and will come back to fix later, but for the most part, I’m sure they are restoring the systems to long term functionality. This alone costs a mint and takes “too long”. Would Long Islanders prefer a buried system that costs billions while they sit in the dark till next September? I doubt it. Remember – reliable, free power. In this case that means restoring to the old way of doing things as quickly as possible.
Regarding the stimulus not going to grid hardening: I’m not going to get into the thousands of stories of waste, fraud and abuse from that, but I would just say that $800 billion would do whatever Bill O’Reilly thinks it should do, from Times Square to Battery Park – what is that – a quarter of Manhattan – maybe?
And speaking of burying things, vital arteries of the NYC transportation system, both mass transit and road traffic, are underground, and from what I’ve seen, most of it was flooded with salt water.
In other news, I read an interesting piece from Holmen Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal this week: “Hug a Price Gouger.” Apparently there are price gouging laws in effect in some, if not most or all states, so retailers don’t take advantage of market forces when selling essentials, like batteries, gasoline, or generators. But what do we get whenever people pay below the supply/demand curve? Shortages and hoarding. Rather than paying a high price and considering “do I really need a shopping cart full of bottled water”, consumers pay the normal charge, and they simply “stock up” at precisely the time everyone else needs some. Or would customers buy just five gallons of gasoline at $12 per gallon rather than standing in line for three hours to fill-er-up at $4.65. Rather than being thrown in jail for charging what the market will bear, maybe we should just let merchants weigh the costs, benefits, and risks of lost future business and charge what they want, when they want.
Jeff Erickson of Navigant Consulting presented an interesting paper at last week’s American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) Summer Study for Buildings. The title was, “Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Battle over Energy Efficiency.” I thought it was just clever (aka bait and switch) advertising, but the presentation featured, almost exclusively, how the free market, small government tea party and the profit-bad, regulation-good occupiers might view energy efficiency.
The tea party would favor consumer choice for incandescent light bulbs and gas guzzlers over government regulation of these common, and other uncommon for that matter, consumer goods. They would also advocate free markets for energy supply. The problem with this notion, however, is that the utilities were developed on a regulated monopoly business model, I would guess for economies of scale reasons. Also, natural gas and electricity are more like public benefits, as are roads, water, and sewage systems.
Free enterprise exists where barriers to entering a market are reasonably affordable, where access to consumers is vast, and/or where the product or service is pretty much optional. In my case as an electricity consumer, for example, the street transformer, the wires feeding it, and the wires going to my house from the transformer up to and including the meter, are owned by Xcel Energy. I can only guess where the electrical supply actually comes from, but it is safe to say Wal-Mart is not an option for buying electricity at this point.
Consumer choice for electricity, for me, realistically includes: (1) Xcel Energy, (2) a natural-gas-fired generator, (3) photovoltaic / batteries, or (4) other options that are even less cost effective. At the current bargain basement cost of about 70 cents per therm of natural gas delivered to my house, I could generate electricity for roughly 12 cents per kWh. This, of course, does not include the $4,000 (or whatever) cost for the electrical generator churning out electricity with a stunning 20% efficiency.
Switching gears for a moment, I’ve overheard discussions of how the deregulations of the telecom and airline industries have been failures – how? Apparently because many carriers filed for bankruptcy. These are failures of adaptation, not failures of market changes. Nearly all, if not all the legacy airlines have filed for bankruptcy and others like Eastern and PanAm were essentially liquidated. These legacy carriers were saddled with unsustainable contracts with unions. The “solutions” included crippling strikes and/or eventual bankruptcy to put these doomed-to-fail contracts through the shredder and start over.
I was just explaining to my friend how Delta Airlines had retrofitted their planes to have skinnier chair cushions to shoe-horn another row or two of seats into their cattle-class cabins. His response: “Dude, but you can still fly practically anywhere for $400.” True. In twenty years of business travel, plane tickets haven’t budged much at all, EVEN with much higher fuel costs. I bet that non-fuel cost per passenger mile has actually declined over the same period because new low-cost carriers like Southwest, Frontier, and Jet Blue have joined the market. I call this a huge victory for consumers. Telecom, the costs for which I know much less about, has been a similar smashing success. Long distance is so cheap at any time of the day, it isn’t worth tracking – better than the buck a minute for “collect calls” from the 1970s. Half the readers probably don’t know what a collect call is. Again, a few bankruptcies of cement-shoed companies later, consumers have benefited hugely.
Deregulating utilities, electricity in particular, has never been successful to my knowledge because it meets none of the criteria above. Consider water and sewer, which, like electricity, are necessary for modern life. It is less expensive (and hassle) to hook up to a central municipal system that uses vast economy of scale to provide these critical services at a virtually negligible “startup” cost, and very low operating cost. It also provides environmental benefits of lower risk by poking fewer holes into the water table and better containment of nutrient-rich sewage. I’ve seen lakes go from green algae bombs to nice clear water in just a few years with the installation of municipal sewage systems for homes that lined the lake shore.
Regulated monopolies that exist with large centralized providers of “the necessities of life” will continue to be the best option for consumers – for as far as the eye can see. Policies to minimize cost with reasonable environmental regulation are necessary, while consumer choice is preferred.
This is why, in my opinion, our industry needs to lay off mandates for “unequal” alternatives. Unequal alternatives include standard and halogen incandescent light bulbs, CFLs and LEDs. Each has one or more substantial differences in cost and output, including color rendering and full startup time. Conversely, standards for some consumer appliances have demonstrated in numerous cases to be huge successes. One example is the lowly refrigerator. Energy consumption for refrigerators has fallen by almost three quarters since the early 1970s while inflation adjusted cost has barely budged at all. More importantly, cold is cold. The beer, ice cream, and lettuce don’t know the difference.
Other success, of course, includes cost effective lead-by-carrot programs that incentivize cost effective, efficient alternatives – and no, I am not repeating myself. The programs AND the products and/or services shall be cost effective for consumers. Energy efficiency shall be the lower cost resource alternative to more power plants, fuel, poles and wires. This is something the tea partiers should get behind with some well-presented market information.
This week I have an I-can’t-take-it-anymore topic: gasoline prices. It is not the gasoline prices that chap me, but the pouting, mud throwing, food fights, whining and probably worst of all the stupid solutions to the so-called problems.
Gasoline is like any other product or service that is a must-have in society and therefore, like electricity and natural gas, consumers feel entitled to all they want at a negligible price. And by the way, why all the hype right now? It’s around $3.50 per gallon. Being an election year obviously feeds the flames and I guess there just isn’t enough other bad news in the world for the 24/7 cable news and internet news world to hype up for ratings.
Products and services for which consumers feel entitled are sold and manipulated by blood thirsty, evil, corrupt, large corporations. A little sarcasm? Not so ironically, the evil and most hated industries are the most heavily regulated: utilities, oil companies, insurance companies, and pharmaceuticals. If oil companies were able to drill willy nilly wherever they want, prices would come down. But Americans don’t want that. If health insurance would be decoupled from employment and people were able to shop for it anywhere in the country and if the tax subsidy were removed, prices would come down. But it has become a right that employers provide it. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy on this because individuals pay way more than large groups. That’s because large groups exist. If insurers had to fight for individuals one by one and there were no large groups the “gouging” of individuals would go away.
We are not hostage to oil companies. We can drive less and people can buy more efficient vehicles. If your vehicle today doesn’t get at least 30 mpg, your rights for complaining about gasoline prices are rescinded. If you have to haul a hockey team, soccer team, or squad of ballerinas I’m quite certain there are minivans that can do the job at 30 mpg. Suck it up.
Politicians, as usual, are more concerned about making political hay from the issue than doing anything about it. The left piles on the populist evil big oil and a few evil individuals like the Koch brothers. The right beats on the President even though domestic production is up. When Bush was in office, high oil prices were the result of his connections to big oil. With Obama in office, the narrative is he wants high oil and gasoline prices.
Then there are completely ignorant talking heads like Bill O’Reilly. As I mentioned in Electric Bills and Waldo a couple months ago, the United States had become a net exporter of refined petroleum products and I said that was a good thing. Oh no! O’Reilly just found this out a couple weeks ago and he is completely incensed. Oil refineries selling their product in markets that have the greatest demand and selling to the highest bidder is a crime, apparently. Exports should be taxed to the gills! Are you kidding me? Nothing makes smoke pour out of my ears more than the political class talking as though the only reason companies exist is to fund the government. They want to set the rules so the private sector company doesn’t make what the politicians think is too much profit, doesn’t move manufacturing overseas, builds factories in the right state, pays the right wages, provides the right benefits and so on, and of course pays enough taxes to the emperor. Ditto O’Reilly.
Next is the narrative of the evil “speculator”. “Speculators” view the market, world events, current prices and futures prices. Most speculators are companies that buy a lot of petroleum products – like airlines. It’s called a hedge against risk. They may believe locking in $3 jet fuel for the next year is a good thing to do in case all hell breaks loose in the Middle East. By the way, this is one of the major reasons prices are high now – because AquaVelvejiad threatens Israel on a daily basis and is thumping his chest over the straight of Hormuz.
Sure there are gamblers in the futures market but they too serve a purpose. They provide liquidity and capital to help the markets work. However, they DO NOT make a lot of money just because oil prices are high as O’Reilly believes. They buy and sell futures and futures options. They can bet the price will rise by buying long or buying call options or bet the price will fall selling short or buying put options. For every winner there is a loser. In whole, it all stabilizes the market although once in a while a house of cards develops and the market collapses and many of those evil speculators get torched badly.
Then there is this dopey accusation: gasoline companies are price fixing. This has been disproven a thousand times. And it is simple common sense – if they are conspiring to fix prices, why not price gasoline at $8? Why does the price go down? Why does it fluctuate at all Mr. Conspiracy?
Causes of rising prices include the aforementioned tensions in the Middle East, and demand from the developing world. But also, many folks don’t realize that the weakness of the US dollar plays a significant role. A year and a half ago in Playing with Fire, I railed against the Federal Reserve’s “Quantitative Easing” (money printing) because it floods the world with dollars and with rising supply there is falling demand and value. This occurred last spring and the dollar scraped along at interim lows as gasoline prices peaked in May and fell into the summer. Gas prices otherwise never fall in the summer, except when somebody is messing with the value of the dollar in a big way. The dollar peaked in December 2011 as gasoline prices hit the lowest prices in a couple years. The dollar has since fallen off and gasoline prices are up. Get it?
The US isn’t going to go bankrupt and it won’t default on its debt. The government will either get the deficit and debt under control or we will inflate our way out of debt. We can effectively lop a couple zeros off our 16 trillion debt and voila, our debt is suddenly only 160 billion old dollars. The downside: a loaf of bread and gallon milk cost $700. A gallon of gasoline: $350. I feel the start of a credit card commercial coming on but I won’t go there.
The fact is, there are many factors that push prices up or down. Like any complex model, it is extremely difficult if not naïve to isolate the effect of one actor. Cleary though, rising world demand, limiting supply, tension in the Middle East, and a weak dollar and a dozen other factors put upward pressure on prices.
In Stalin Lives, I mentioned our plan for securing an ENERGY STAR® clothes washer and dryer for our house. What I did not mention was that the local appliance stores do not even stock gas-heated dryers.
Think about how stupid it is to generate electricity with maybe 35% thermal efficiency, lose 10% of it to line losses, as discussed last week, in it’s transport to the home and then use this high-value energy as a toaster coil to dry clothes. We, as well as I am sure millions of households, use “gas”, natural gas in our case and propane in others, for space heating while at the same time we have a electricity guzzling clothes dryer. Why? Because as I said, we bought the thing for an apartment that had only an electric energy supply for the dryer. In other cases per the local appliance retailers, they don’t even stock gas dryers.
This is a huge opportunity for energy efficiency programs struggling to find cost effective savings in residential sectors because of appliance efficiency standards and the phasing out of the Edison incandescent light bulb. There is one major problem, however – it doesn’t fit the current regulatory model because of fuel switching. Measures that include fuel switching are not eligible for programs and incentives in just about every jurisdiction I know of. This is one of the buggy whip holdovers that regulatory agencies are going to have to get over – among a bunch of other ones I’ll discuss in future posts.
The fuel switching argument goes something like this: electric consumers should not be cross-subsidizing gas consumers. And, electric utilities should not be giving money away to shed load, reduce their revenue and turn it over to the gas company, which may or may not be the same utility. Many if not most times, gas is provided by a different utility than the electric provider.
This is akin to the argument that utilities should not make money from energy efficiency programs, which can be done if regulators would allow it. This also makes no sense. Electric utilities are throwing money at customers to use less of their product all the time but typically it just results in less electricity consumption and not more of some other fuel consumption.
According to the Energy Information Administration, 61 million American households have electric dryers and they consume 1,080 kWh per year apiece. That’s probably a little more than a load per day. I’ll buy it.
I could spend the entire weekend digging for numbers and put this all together but instead, I’ll make some educated guesses. Using 11 cents per kWh, the electric bill for an electric dryer runs about $120 per year. A gas-fired clothes dryer would require a measly 38 therms to do the same drying. Using a conservatively high natural gas cost of 80 cents, this is $30 per year. Consumer savings is about $90 per year. This is probably an 8-9 year payback. Throw in $100 incentive and this brings it down to maybe 6-7 year payback. I am not a program benefit/cost or total resource cost expert but, this has to be a passing score for a cost effective program.
New residences should also get incentives for natural gas hookups and even supply if the residence is in a town with natural gas running through its neighborhoods. Before we moved into our house, ur apartment for instance was all electric but surrounded by natural gas distribution – stupid!!! What gawdawful waste of resources.
What sort of impacts then are we talking about? Sixty-six billion kWh, which would require about fifteen 500 MW power plants running 8,760 – that is if everyone took their turn such that there would be exactly 1.5 million dryers running at any one time – about 7,500 MW from the 15 power plants. I would guess that at least half of these dryers could be replaced, meaning homes with these dryers have gaseous fuel to the residence already.
The above guesstimates are reasonable considering there are 40 million households with electric water heaters (everyone has a water heater and there are 40 million electric units and not everyone has a dryer and there are 60 million electric units – get it?). Generally speaking, if people have natural gas or propane for their home they have a gas water heater, but not always; again, apartment buildings being the stupid cheapskates. Electric water heaters in this country require about twenty-five 500 MW power plants running 24/7/365. Surely a quarter of these could be lopped off, cost effectively as well.
There is an old saying I scoff at every time I hear it: “Work smarter, not harder.” Whoever says that probably has never done either. Necessity is the mother of invention. The more work that gets piled on a person, the more they innovate so they can go home at a decent time and not have to work all weekend. Although in some sectors, piling on more work means hiring more people out of “necessity” or just not getting certain things done out of “necessity” because the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 5:00 with an hour for lunch, period.
For energy efficiency, we’ve been working on the “harder” part. We promote efficient equipment and systems but I think we need to wise up and consider promoting avoidance of the absurd.
You have probably seen the ad for the all-electric Nissan Leaf. The opposite for some things like dryers, water heaters, and residential ovens/ranges, it isn’t quite as amusing, however.
At the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference I mentioned last week, three utility executives from major utilities including ComEd, Ameren, and AEP discussed the need for changing the utility business model because it doesn’t work with a non-growing and in some cases shrinking sales environment. This will probably be the subject of a future post but it just occurs to me, speaking of the Leaf, that they obviously are not counting on electric transportation taking off because this would create huge demand and increase in sales. When will the automakers come to the same conclusion?
Meanwhile another $115 million “winner” of favored Washington businesses, Ener1, a maker of lithium-ion batteries for automobiles quietly filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy last week. Speaking of absurd, the death of the electric car is coming faster than I imagined. The article mentions that not only are customers put off by limited range and luxury car prices, they fear lack of service and parts because only a few thousand exist and all the parts suppliers will be out of business. On top of everything else, there is a vicious circle of doubt in buyers’ minds.
The article goes on to say, “The company said it reached an agreement with its main investors and lenders on a restructuring plan it says will ‘significantly reduce its debt and provide up to $81 million to recapitalize the Company to support its long-term business objectives and strategic plan.’” Uh, sorry. The only investor stupid enough to recapitalize a company with virtually zero demand for its products is the US government on behalf of the US taxpayer, but the political tables have turned. Although the failure had little press, government recapitalizing failure will rightfully be lambasted.
Speaking of absurd, this winter has been absurdly warm from the plains to the east coast. My recent electric bill said it was 10 degrees warmer than the same period a year ago when it was about average. Alaska generally has the opposite extreme we have here in the upper Midwest. Yesterday (Saturday) the low was minus 52 and the high? (get a load of this): minus 37. WoW! Normal things don’t like to work when it gets cold, say minus 20. I can’t imagine the things that don’t work when it’s minus 52. A condensing furnace for example may not work as the condensate may freeze or the exhaust may ice up blocking the flow of combustion air/gases. Amazing. What do they use for antifreeze in their vehicles? Everclear?
Before I get to this week’s rant, or I should say, this week’s primary rant, I need to share this with you. Just before the holidays in Strange Magic,I tore into hands-free energy audit software. All you need is an address and billing information and voila, there it is; an energy audit that tells you everything you need to know to cut your energy bills by a certain guesstimate.
This week I came across an apparent competitor to the one discussed in Strange Magic, so I viewed their online charting and graphics. They present analysis via bar chart for various end uses; lighting, cooling, heating, miscellaneous, and so on. They present current consumption and potential consumption for each of these, demonstrating a savings of course. It took about three seconds for my eyes to pick up the fact that the ratio of all the end uses looked very similar. Sure enough every single one of the seven end uses has a potential to save almost exactly 23%. That will never happen. It would be like every guy on a 12-player roster scoring exactly 10 points. That isn’t how it works. Ever.
Now dude, this is bordering on fraud if you ask me. What did I say in Strange Magic? The best you can do is guesstimate savings potential for the entire building with the information you can get from billing records and a street address. Do not be fooled by this crap!
You old gray hairs like me would remember the days when they had cartoons before the movie started. That was the cartoon, except for it is serious as a brain tumor. On with the main attraction.
Our beloved California is once again “leading” the nation in energy efficiency policy. This time the target is… drum rolllllll… the phone charger! More accurately, all chargers – so-called “vampire loads”. So this week’s rant features analysis and research conducted in my house.
I’ve seen a number of articles on this topic but this one from Energy Efficiency News seems like a good one.
This is California with 37 million people and so the numbers are incomprehensible until we start pealing back the onion. These charger devices are reported to consume 8 billion kWh, or 8,000 GWh. There are 12 million households in CA, averaging 11 chargers per household: 120 million chargers. Do the math and you get 17 kWh per charger saved annually. If they are saving energy 24/7/365; dividing 17 kWh per year by 8,760 hours/year results in 1.9 Watts saved every hour of every year for every charger in the state. The article states that this is 40% savings, so the average charger wastes almost 5 Watts all the time according to California. See nearby chart for clarification.
So is this reasonable? Here are my findings using a “Kill A Watt” 120 Volt power meter:
- My phone, Motorola Droid Pro smart phone: Consumes about 7 Watts while charging, and turned on. Once it’s fully charged, it cycles between 0 and 3 Watts, mostly on zero. When the screen is turned off, you have to wait a long time before it gets a micro shot of 3 Watts. So it uses almost nothing when plugged in, turned on, not in use and fully charged. When it tells me it’s fully charged, unplug it to save energy, it would take 16 years to save a (one) kWh. I’ll get right on that.
- iPod Touch: This thing is identical to the iPhone without the phone part. It guzzles a whopping 3-4 Watts while charging AND in use.
- Dell Mini Computer: Booted up with the lid closed and monitor off uses 7 Watts. With the monitor on, 11-12 Watts. In use while charging full blast: 30 Watts. Shut down with a full battery: 0 Watts.
- Dell 4200, 12 inch laptop (my real computer): Booted up, running a bunch of apps, monitor on and charging full blast: 40 Watts. All else equal with the battery fully charged: 16 Watts. Shut down on a full battery: 0 Watts.
- Rayovac battery charger with 4 AAA batteries: 3 Watts. I don’t know how these things work exactly but they seem to consume consistent power. The batteries are always warm – 3 Watts warm.
So first off, as one blogger pointed out, saving energy by eliminating “vampire” loads is crap. Vampire loads don’t amount to squat. I’ll tell you want does amount to 10% of squat: not shutting down equipment like computers, stereos, DVRs, and stuff like that. But these aren’t vampire loads. They are load loads for crying out loud.
The vampire loads with my electronic stuff, which has to be pretty typical of battery chargers, is virtually zero.
Back to the battery charging. The power factor on these battery chargers is poor, at only 0.5 or so. Could it be this is what the once-golden state is targeting? Not so much. Poor power factor simply requires more current on the wires from the generator to the device. More current means more line losses. Line losses from generator to point of use are roughly 10%. So if we take 10% of 15 Watts (the remaining 0.5), ooh, ooh, 1.5 Watts. Well I’ll be darned.
This is within the realm of possibility but probably not likely. All of these 11 devices per household would have to be in use 24/7, at least (?). The savings is probably closer to one third of that claimed, or perhaps a quarter. The devices most likely use substantially less than 15 Watts on average – see the phone Wattages above.
But who gets the savings from power factor correction? Not the consumer; at least directly. Residential customers in every precinct I know of pay nothing for crappy power factor. It all boils down to reducing losses by my guesstimate of 7 Watts per household, or a whopping 6 kWh per year per household. You’d “save” more by reusing your towels a couple times per wash, in a couple weeks.
But remember, consumers don’t save. It’s actually the utility that saves. In a regulated market, some of that would flow to the consumer in the form of lower rates because the utility recovers more revenue for given assets: generation, poles, wires and fuel. However, the amount is so tiny, it’s within the margin of error I’m sure most likely upgrading chargers is a waste of money for consumers.
Rambling on just a little more, The Washington Post report on this, calling it “vampire battery chargers,” says “Chargers waste electricity by continuing to draw electricity even when a battery is full and suck energy when laptops, cellphones, digital cameras and other devices aren’t plugged in.”
Chargers continue to draw power even when the battery is full? Well duh! The device is still running. As I found in my tests, shutting down the device with a full charge and the thing plugged in results in ZERO energy consumption. Maybe I should call Kill A Watt because their meters don’t work, apparently. Chargers still draw power when nothing is plugged in? None of mine do at least to the threshold of a tiny 1 Watt.
Lastly, the Times article says chargers waste up to 60% of what they consume. What happens with this 60%? Energy waste is almost always if not ALWAYS given off as heat. We’ve established that laptops consume about 15 Watts provided by a “charger” – an electronic doohickey (rectifier or something like that) that converts 120 Volts of alternating current into a few volts of direct current for computer consumption. This is the only place this ~50% waste can occur because my power cords aren’t melting. A 15 Watt CFL from my laboratory heats up to about 160 degrees. My charger: 85 degrees, while delivering 16 Watts.
It’s been a while since my heat transfer courses but I can promise the heat loss from the CFL is a complicated model because of the geometry. However, it is safe to say it has a lot more surface and better orientation to enhance heat transfer. That being the case, if both the CFL and the charger are wasting 15 Watts, the charger should be much hotter due to its small size (next to Bailey’s paw for scale) and lousy heat transfer characteristics. So I conclude there is very little real energy loss from these devices. To cover the phones, their charger physical size and profiles are much smaller and not warm at all.
I declare these vampire losses to be more of a flying rodent loss and somebody, preferably a team of engineers should spend a day or two, determining the real savings because it isn’t 2 Watts per charger as claimed.
And BTW, the power factor of that CFL 0.59. Uh oh.
Various areas of the country have various weird oddities. When we moved to the La Crosse area last decade, or the one before that, we found that apartments come with laundry hookups but no washer and dryer. What the? How about a friggin wash machine and dryer to fill that hole and plug into those pipes and wall socket? So we went to a now defunct appliance joint and picked up an Amana washer and dryer – electric of course because a rental joint isn’t going to provide natural gas.
I think I’ve finally talked my wife into getting the front load, ENERGY STAR® machine and a natural gas dryer, which will cost a pittance to run compared to 11 cent electricity. Is this normal? Do guys need to talk women into new appliances?
The selection process includes visiting a couple local stores and picking up some Consumer Reports from the library. I’m not a research freak but buying a washer and dryer is almost like getting married. A mistake could be a pain in the keister for years and I don’t want to be ripped off. As it turns out, washers and dryers are like toasters. My theory with toasters is, the less sophisticated and cheaper, the better and more reliable.
We did not call Electrolux or Whirlpool to see what they recommended. Electrolux and Whirlpool make just about everything in a major-appliance store. It’s like bread or hotels – dominated by a couple major players with various brands under their wing. Anyway, what sort of dupe would ask a manufacturer of anything for advice on what brand to buy?
Just last week I was reading an article on commissioning (Cx) light. The name sounds innocuous, if not intriguing but once I got into the article, I was thinking the owner would have to be a dupe to pay for this. In case you don’t know, commissioning is a quality control / quality assurance process where an independent third party expert with superhuman powers, knowledge, experience and skills oversees the design, construction, and post construction testing. The total cost may be $1-2 per square foot, adding roughly one percent to the cost of a new building. Services include ensuring the owner’s design intent is incorporated into the construction documents, built per the documents, and controlled per the documents.
The players in the design and construction game include the architects and engineers (A&E), general (or prime) contractor, their sub-contractors, and the owner. I haven’t participated in the process and from the sound of it I don’t care to. Engineers complain about the architects, contractors complain about them both, and typically the A&E provides project management and OK’s payment from the owner to the general contractor for doing the job they are billing for. Everyone tries to look good to the owner while kicking each other under the table like kids at the dinner table. When Mom and Dad leave the room the hair pulling, name calling, punching, and food start flying.
Good teams of A&Es and contractors will work together in the best interest of the owner. While I imagine there are many decent, upstanding contractors, the evil ones will take advantage of any flaw in the design and issue change orders with sky-high costs – see, at this point, the owner is stuck with the prime, like an evil tenant like Michael Keaton’s character in Pacific Heights. And, the prime will blame it on all the other idiots.
The Cx light ring leader in the article is a representative from the prime contractor. Oh yeah, let’s give the concern with the biggest weapon the trigger. In this scenario, the commissioning agent is established as the owner’s and prime contractor’s agent, and maintains continuity between engineers and contractor subs. I have another name for the guy: Joseph Stalin. The subs, architect, and engineers are Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania.
Energy efficiency services are nebulous, squishy and illusionary enough, which is why we have resorted to pre and post billing data to demonstrate savings. All the hand waving and puppet shows in the world can’t clarify things better than that. Building commissioning ten times less defined – you know, like 10 times colder. What does that mean? It’s cold. Ok.
As an energy and occupant-comfort guy, I think the most important part of Cx is the functional testing of the building’s automation and safety systems. There are few people in the universe that understand systems and controls well. Is the Cx agent from the prime a controls guy? Is Lebron James an expert in Fourier differential equations? I don’t know but I’ll bet not.
Requests for proposals for Cx generally include a laundry list of cut and paste crap from a web page. What owners really need is Cx agent agent. The CxAA would determine what is in the best interest of the owner and write an RFP that precisely defines what the owner needs. For example, interpret the conceptual design of the HVAC systems and explain their pluses and minuses to the owner. What might be better comfort-wise, energy-wise, maintenance-wise? Review the plans at this and that percent complete for x, y, and z. Provide functional performance testing. A CxAA type person is used all the time in the energy efficiency world. The hiring agency, such as the utility or public service commission will hire someone to write RFPs and assist with the selection.
The bottom line: Cx “light” is fine but the Cx agent should be independent from the design and construction teams. Don’t ask the line foreman at General Motors what kind of a car to buy. Owners really need someone to write a decent, well defined scope of work to get honey crisp versus granny smith proposals. Don’t ask for a piece of fruit.← Older posts