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.
It has been a while since I’ve picked on an economist for his or her seemingly foolish statements and theories (other than the Ben Bernanke but I’ll get back to him later).
Ed Dolan, university / government wonk, states in an interview that there is no lock-step relationship between economic growth and energy cost. Rather, the world’s best performing economies have substantially increased their energy efficiency in terms of energy consumption per gross domestic product (GDP). He states while the OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) – about 35 mostly free countries – increased efficiency by an average of 55%, the United States did “a little better” at 81%. A little better? That is enormous.
Ok. There is a lot to chew on here. First, of course the economy does not move in lock-step with energy prices. If it did, our GDP growth would have been 200% cumulative over the past few years since the hydraulic fracturing boom for natural gas began. Instead, we’ve been growing at the glacial pace of less than 2%. Like carbon dioxide and global warming, “experts” argue whether ambient CO2 levels are a function of global temperatures or if global temperatures are a function of CO2 – what follows what in other words. No comment, because I don’t know and I’m burned out on that topic. But I would say energy prices and economic growth are barely related except in extreme long term cases, perhaps more than a year. The economy can impact energy prices or energy prices can clearly affect economic growth, despite Mr. Dolan’s assertions. Consider what the fracking boom has resulted in:
- Royal Dutch Shell is building a $10 billion plant in Louisiana to convert natural gas to diesel fuel.
- Pennsylvania recently won a three-state contest to land a multi-billion-dollar chemical plant, again from Shell. This plant will make ethylene, a feedstock for plastics.
- Several years ago, ammonia plants were being dismantled and shipped overseas for re-assembly and production. This is reversing, and ammonia production is booming in the US again. Ammonia is a key ingredient for nitrogen-based fertilizers as well as a refrigerant.
- Chevron Phillips will be building several chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana.
- Nucor is building a $750 million steel plant on the Mississippi in Louisiana. The feedstock for this is iron ore. I wonder where they may get ore?
- Even textiles, yes, textiles, are moving back to the US. Brazil’s Santana is building a denim plant in Texas.
Then there is the incredible job machine to drill for the natural gas and manufacture the stuff to support it. Despite the political class fighting to claim credit for the low unemployment in Ohio, it is the hydraulic fracturing boom that is soaking up the unemployed and drawing business from around the country/world. Economists at Citigroup estimate 3.6 million additional jobs from the fracking boom by 2020. This is moving the needle and not just helping out a few obscure businesses.
Back to Mr. Dolan’s commentary – he seems to imply that energy costs don’t matter but energy efficiency does. What is the difference in using a million decatherms at $5 (low cost) or a half million decatherms at $10 (efficient) in his context. This is the case we have compared to Europe where natural gas prices are triple or more than we have here in the states. Since the efficiency difference is a little higher compared to some countries and a little lower compared to others, cheap natural gas gives the US enormous advantage in a broad swath of the economy.
Natural gas is not like petroleum, the price of which is set in the global marketplace. At this point, natural gas is primarily a land-locked commodity transported by pipelines and not cost effectively by ship, although this will be coming. Therefore, low natural gas prices are a boon to the countries that have it. Natural gas prices are thus just as effective as efficiency at lowering production costs and improving profit. Obviously, I’d advocate for efficiency as a risk mitigation strategy in this case.
I agree with many things Mr. Dolan states. One is that traditional mineral rich parts of the world are less free and less industrious; in my opinion because they have wealth to spread around, and that wealth is controlled by thugs like Hugo Chavez and Vlady Putin. I agree with his concerns about environment-be-damned, “low-competence” Russia. With massive conventional sources, they can waste it and be competitive, and take that energy to the world market with very little margin for environmental disaster – see Chernobyl.
The interviewer then asks about the Ben Bernanke’s money printing, romantically known as quantitative easing, which sounds like a laxative. Mr. Dolan says it isn’t the magic bullet. This is correct. It isn’t a bullet at all. It’s a stool softener.
Just like energy prices, interest rates can lead or follow the economy. Unlike Mr. Dolan, the Bernanke seems to think interest rates are virtually the only parameters of economic fuel. It’s like having a pig of a building and all the Bernanke knows is lighting. He retrofits the lighting with T8 lamps (tubes). Still a pig. He replaces them with 28W lamps. Still a pig. He removes lamps. Still a pig. He limits fixtures to one lamp per fixture. Still a pig. He cuts the wires in the panel and gets electrocuted. Still a pig. And there remains a plethora of unintended consequences due to sheer ignorance, like people can’t see and have to walk across the street to use the restroom. Possibly, the pig is running its chiller all year because the outdoor air dampers were wired shut and half the heating valves are shot requiring the discharge temperatures to run at 48F all year. Possibly something else is wrong. Do ya think? Forcing one parameter to obscene levels cannot make up for Everest size problems and barriers elsewhere.
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.
Unfortunately, some products and services in life still require cash – coins or paper. Some of the last places I use these anachronisms include taxis, and… and tips, or an occasional soda machine. Oh and the beloved antique parking meters and toll roads in some places. Here is something to consider: if the meter only takes coins, skip it. You’ll spend $50 of your time finding a few bucks of quarters somewhere and running to the meter every hour or two – all to save a $10 parking ticket.
A few times a year when traveling with others, we need cash or coins for a parking meter. How much money do you have? Nothing. Nothing. Yes. Nothing. Yes? What does that mean? As an answer to, “how much money do you have?”, “yes” is about as useful as some benchmarking results I’ve seen.
There is benchmarking, and there is BENCHMARKING. Most consultants say they do it, but it typically varies somewhere between almost useless and misleading information. Why? Because they tell you how many coins and bills they have in their pockets and not how much MONEY they have in their pockets.
The typical benchmarking reports energy consumption in Btu or kBtu (thousand Btu) per square foot. The value of a Btu of energy depends on its form. Is a hunk of wood with 100,000 Btu worth more than a therm of natural gas (80 cents on my last bill), or 30 kWh (more than $3 on my last bill) – each with approximately the same Btu content? A chunk of firewood with equal Btus to that of a therm of natural gas is worth less than the natural gas, and natural gas is worth less than equal Btus in electrical form. Why? Because natural gas and electricity are more useful and flexible forms of energy.
In every benchmarking thing I’ve seen, all Btus (electrical and fossil) are mixed together. In some cases, the electrical Btus, which are worth five times as much as fossil fuel Btus, count the same. This is worse than worthless because it can be terribly misleading.
Recently in a meeting I quipped, “I hate it when fossil and electric Btus are mixed together for benchmarking.” The guy next to me said, “Well, it’s like city mpg versus highway mpg.” Come again? I bit off a piece of my tongue and mentally rolled my eyes. This is exactly the same as valuing one dollar bills the same as five dollar bills. It’s worse than worthless. It is misleading.
Other benchmarkers at least true up the Btus to provide some sort of apples to grapefruit comparison. They use source Btus, which are those thermal Btus back at the power plant used to generate the electricity. These are then added to fossil fuel Btus from the site (building). This is better but still not very useful.
ENERGY STAR® for commercial buildings uses this method to determine the energy score of a building. This source energy comparison serves its purpose quite well for ENERGY STAR, but what it fails to tell the owner is, where is the opportunity – what fuel, and what might the opportunity be worth?
The chart below, for example, shows energy intensity for three hypothetical elementary schools, each with full air conditioning, and each with realistic energy consumption. You can see how terrible site Btus are for comparing energy performance, but yet amazingly, that is what some in our industry use. It can easily provide upside down results as shown – the worst building has the lowest site Btu consumption because all the Btus used at the site are expensive electrical Btus.
Useful benchmarking takes a human brain with experience because buildings are rarely as clean cut as these in the example. Buildings are used in different ways, particularly in the summer. They have additions, sometimes many, with different types of systems. They may share meters and almost always have multiple meters. Just knowing if you have all the meters, and only the right meters, takes experience and expertise to flag something that simply does not look right.
Did I mention some buildings, especially schools and some industrial facilities, are only partly cooled all year? ENERGY STAR® benchmarking for these facilities is going to be somewhat to very misleading. To qualify for the ENERGY STAR®, you can’t cheat, letting occupants swelter in hot weather. In other words, you can’t earn the ENERGY STAR® by letting the occupants freeze in winter, cook in summer, and sit in the dark all the time.
If your benchmarking tool, or guy, can’t tell you whether a building is a fossil fuel hog or an electricity hog and then convert it to a ballpark energy saving potential in dollars, call somebody else. You can’t buy stuff with a payback and you can’t buy stuff with an ENERGY STAR® score. What you need to know is, “What can I do about my cash flow?”
 Btu = British thermal unit – heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
 It takes three Btu of thermal energy to produce a Btu of electricity but it also takes power plants and transmission and distribution to deliver to the customer; thus the multiple of five rather than three.
 Energy use per square foot or “SF”.
Widgetitis: Obsessive compulsion to build canals with teaspoons – or meet program goals with showerheads.
A short story about economist Milton Friedman from The Wall Street Journal sort of sets the stage for effectively meeting program/portfolio goals in big chunks:
“Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”
Widgetitis is a term I “coined” this week for the title of my ACEEE paper to be presented in August at the Summer Study for Energy Efficiency in Buildings. The context is obsession with products and stuff which have evolved to the point of diminishing returns, total free ridership, and grasping for rather absurd widgets to get savings goals. Meanwhile, Rome burns with buildings hemorrhaging energy like a severed jugular in a Freddy Krueger movie. Some examples, Jeff?
My favorite: the programmable thermostat. We have evaluated these things all over the country and the savings are abysmal for numerous reasons which I explained in a past brief. If the customer gives a damn and would program the thermostat, they would already be manually controlling their old fashioned thermostat precisely per their occupancy patterns. My mother, for example, turns the stat down when she goes to bed or leaves the house for whatever reason. She may leave the house for her grandson’s evening ballgame or a weekend away, or she may spend the night watching TV and the weekend hosting guests. Do ya think a programmable stat is going to save anything here? No! It will waste energy and make Mom angry. The person that doesn’t give a damn will put it in override all the time. The person that does give a damn will override it for manual control.
The occupancy sensor for lighting. For reasons similar to the programmable thermostats, savings for these things can run in the red. People who care turn the lights out when they leave the room. For these applications, occupancy sensors waste energy when they replace manual switches as the controller leaves the lights on for a while after the room is vacated. This delay is necessary. Otherwise, lights would turn off every time an occupant sits or stands still. Which brings me to the next point; the damn things turn the lights off while you work studiously. You have to move about four feet to trigger an infrared sensor. Blinking your eyelids will almost trigger an ultrasonic sensor. When I walk into our supply room controlled with an infrared occupancy sensor, I’m 5 paces into the room before the lights come on. Good thing I know where the X-Acto knives are stored or I may hemorrhage like that Freddy Krueger victim.
Computer control software. This is software that is installed on a network server and shuts down or puts corporate and school computers to sleep. The problem again is, many/most people shut down their computers normally at 5:00, but to be safe, these systems don’t shut them down till 7:00 resulting in longer run times. And who uses a desktop computer now days? People use laptops, tablets and iPads that burn an incredible 23 Watts max and they take them home at night!
Server farm virtualization. Technology moves so fast that those suffering widgetitis weren’t able to catch this virus. Whoa, that’s like a quadruple pun – like a double eagle, a 75 foot swish, a 109 yard kickoff return, back to back perfect games, or hitting for the cycle twice – in one game! I know as much about body embalming as I know about computer networks, but server virtualization includes loading up machines and making them work at full(er) capacity rather than have five times as many partly loaded machines. The objective is to reduce the number of servers required and energy savings come along for the free ride. Virtualization saves money by requiring less hardware and is therefore, an undisputed free rider – not to mention that it would crash benefit/cost tests.
Dishwasher pre-rinse heads. I know less about this technology than embalming. Obviously it reduces water (presumably hot water) consumption for commercial dishwashers. I don’t know about you, but to me cleaning dishes is like fighting fires. You can dribble water forever or blast it for a second. This may be a perfectly viable measure, but Rome continues to burn.
The most recent case of widgetitis came to our attention recently – a doozer: tight sealing damper blades for a skyscraper to reduce infiltration. Rome burns. I’m sure everything else in the building is running in tip top shape, milking every bit of value from every Btu consumed.
The crux of my ACEEE paper is to eradicate widgetitis in new construction programs. When I see new construction reports that only include occupancy sensors, daylighting controls, energy recovery, efficient this that and the other, more insulation and better windows, why bother? Ok. There, this provides some benefit cost information for decision making but does it bring innovation to the table?
All these criteria and specifications can be legislated – meaning they can all become part of the code and there is an end of the road for this across the board. Two examples that have reached the end of the road: motors and exit signs. Then what, Widgetman? There will still be plenty to do in new buildings and even more for existing ones.
Innovation: the creation of something in the mind. Widgets, while vast, are limited. Applying, assembling, and controlling them to minimize energy consumption is not.
Possibly the greatest thing about energy efficiency is there is no limit to learning. In what other occupation can engineers work with social scientists, urban planners, economists and 16th century Mongolian art majors? Last week I attended a presentation by Christopher Russell, energy efficiency and finance swami, or is it guru? The higher ranking one. Or maybe I should just call him Colonel Russell.
His presentation started with the tale of two college campus facility managers, Doug and Dave as I recall, with names changed to protect the guilty. I’ll call them Dick and Harry for double protection.
It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while a person tells an energy efficiency program or project fable that I find myself violently agreeing with. In this case, Doug, er I mean, Dick was presented as an all-too-familiar customer representative/facility manager. His attitude is “energy is a necessary evil, a fixed cost, and not a resource to be harnessed,” and his idea of success is to keep the phone from ringing with problems and complaints. Gee, this sounds just like many HVAC and automatic controls contractors. Just slap it together, stop the phone from ringing, and move on to the next project. I don’t care what the energy consumption looks like, just stop the complaints. Who cares what the energy implications are? But I digress.
Doug Dick is a status quo thinker. He believes the pie is fixed and everyone must fight like a boorish thug for their budget. Then, once his slice sequestered, hoard it, and if necessary, spend it to (god forbid) reduce the budgeting leverage for next year. This is standard practice for government, by the way, including the Navy (at least back when I was there).
Dick Doug is eventually handed a mandate from on high to reduce energy consumption in campus facilities by XX%. Hire an energy efficiency professional to best determine maximum return on investment? Hell no. That would cost a lot of money, make Dick look dumb (he thinks), and the EE pros will recommend a slew of projects that upper management may get their hands on, which results in Dick having to do even more stuff! Rather, Dick decides to be proactive for a change and implement an expensive project that will drag on a couple years to keep the greens off his back. In this two year span, he thinks the fad will blow over… and then it hit me. Dick, the facility manager, is like the Taliban. He is dug in, resistant, and will never surrender. He will weather the storm and wear down his adversaries with brutally intransigent patience.
I have a great deal of passion for energy efficiency or I wouldn’t be in this business for 16 years. Reasons include; non-renewable resource preservation, saving money and increasing profit, risk mitigation, and all that sustainability stuff. However, thanks to Mr. Russell’s analysis and one question I asked, something like a cold fusion miracle occurred. He used an example, but I made up my own. A detailed assessment for a new energy management system has been completed and the project data is shown in the table nearby. I’m not going to puke all that information back at you in words, but I would just point out the lousy 5.8 year simple payback. Most customers would laugh and tell you to get lost because they only do projects with a simple payback of 2.0 years or less. A million years ago, I wrote an Energy Brief explaining why simple payback is a terrible metric to make decisions with. One reason it is lousy, as discussed way back then, was because payback has nothing to do with wealth. For example, what does a 2 year payback tell you about how much working capital the project will generate? I can’t buy lunch with a payback.
The annual cash flow shown includes the 15% down payment the smart guy, Dave, er Harry represents the plunk down of $39,000 for this project. Over the 10 years of the loan there is a positive cash flow (savings greater than payments) of about $2,000-$6,000, depending on the interest paid on debt, which is tax deductable. That looks pretty cool but still not that hot, Jeff.
Then we have the cumulative cash flow, and wow, this is suddenly becoming impressive. At the end of the 20 year life of the project the cumulative cash flow is $360,000 for a not-too-shabby internal rate of return of 18% on the original $39k down payment. Or you can do nothing and destroy $585,000 in capital on wasted energy. Try to get that kind of return in the stock market! Speaking of which, I have that comparison too.
Warning: Place your index and middle fingers over each eye socket before gazing at the chart – to keep your eyeballs from popping out of your skull.
I apologize for the positive message this week. This was a pathetic rant. Next week I will discuss other features and benefits for investing in energy efficiency.
 Note this is for demonstration purposes only. The wealth created by doing the project is
 7.5% compounded average gain since 1972
The best thing about working in our industry is the potential for continuous learning, unlike nearly any other field. There are enough things to learn about buildings, manufacturing, systems, how they are built, as in design, construction and commissioning to fill a 45 year engineering career. One always finds something “new” even in old buildings – bizarre design concepts for example. Have you ever seen how Fig Newtons are made? It isn’t easy.
Engineers might think, what else is there to programs besides determining energy savings, simple payback and possibly ROI? About 75%, if not, more. There are market assessments, energy-savings potential studies, program development and implementation, and evaluation. Skills needed to support the industry include marketing, economics, statistics, sociology, psychology, political science, and criminal justice. Well, maybe not so much of the latter just yet.
The topic of this rant is energy savings potential studies; in other words, the potential for energy savings in a market, which is typically defined as a state or a utility’s service territory. There are four levels of potential:
- Technical potential: this is how much energy could be saved regardless of cost-effectiveness. When the federal government talks about potential, this is it because they never care about cost effectiveness. We, on the other hand, live in the real world with constraints.
- Economic potential: That’s right – the subset of the technical potential that is cost-effective by some definition like “total resource cost”, “ratepayer impact test”, and “utility cost test”. Some of these have squishy benefits included in them like societal benefits and you can assign to that whatever you want – like the value of not looking at a transmission line makes society 0.0001% more productive due to the avoided bad mood of workers and its impact on productivity. Or electromagnetic fields that cause cows to produce less nutritious milk and calves with three eyes. Or lower criminal justice costs because less infrastructure provides less opportunity for copper thieves. They will have to steal something else and maybe that something else will be less dangerous resulting in lower healthcare costs paid by the lowly taxpayer.
- Market potential: This is how many of the economically justified measures can get implemented. This is tricky as consumers are irrational so I used to say market potential is a subset of economic potential, but not really. For example, back in “Replacing the Burger” I talked about how people would rather get 500 points toward a free Starbucks than buy a CFL with a payback of one month and a life cycle savings of $4,000.
- Achievable potential: I’m not positive on this one but I believe this is a subset of market potential and differs by limited funds of any program. While you could convince 1,000 customers that doing something is smart, you only have money to reach three of them, in addition to your mother and one coworker.
Results from potential studies contribute to a lot of important things, like determining how many millions of dollars to spend on programs, what customer sectors, technologies and services have the greatest potential for return on ratepayer investment.
I think it’s a pretty good guess that just about everyone reading this has shot baskets with a basketball. Most likely not everyone who has shot baskets has done so with their eyes closed – just tried it before – something stupid to do in a game of h-o-r-s-e. Or, have you turned off the headlights while driving down a dirt road at 60 mph in the pitch black of night? Just for fun? I actually feel I have a little more control in the latter situation.
What do you want to achieve when you shoot a free throw with your eyes closed? Not to look like a fool right? You want to at least hit the rim; not throw an air ball or something over the backboard clanging around in the iron back there. Even a brick would be satisfactory and give you a feeling of achievement.
Some potential study requests for proposals ask for the blindfolded free throw, probably expecting the results of Larry Bird and Danny Ainge at the free throw line with their eyes open. (I’m an old timer and I don’t know any of the thugs in the current NBA– back then, they only had cartoon thugs, like Dennis Rodman).
The blindfolded potential study consists of do it fast with no or very little primary research, which means no talking with customers or investigating their facilities.
Our role in these things is typically data collection and measure ID. My expertise does not include crunching the data and puking out numbers that serve as targets for program portfolios. But common sense tells me you’re going to get much, much more reliable information with a decent set of primary data. We just bid a project with in-depth site surveys of 950 homes. Now THAT is primary data and it will produce the best estimates possible I have to believe.
How does one handle a study with no primary data? I’m not sure but I think it includes a heavy dose of looking out the rearview mirror, applying new codes and standards going forward, extrapolating the curve for new codes and standards, and copying what the neighbors are doing. A blindfolded study cannot uncover new potential that programs are totally or mostly missing. One could also apply some economic analysis due to market acceptance of technologies and its impact on cost – and how that cascades down to market and achievable potential. This method I say is to pick and answer and reverse engineer the arithmetic to make it so.
As an example, the following chart demonstrates the results of a potential study I saw a few years back. The data have been removed and the years were different (I just pulled energy numbers and years out of the air but the graphic looks almost exactly like the one it mimics). Look at the results of the study – it’s purely an extrapolation of what has been happening. Congratulations. The result is the goals actually caught up to what was happening anyway.
I plead guilty as well if I can’t get my hands on SOME sort of real data. But how much do you suppose was paid to produce the results above? No idea here but it’s pretty safe to say the answers were destined before the data were collected.
I came across this interesting study performed by engineers from Columbia University. It shows energy intensity per square meter (don’t ask) of building footprint. As I said, it’s interesting but not very useful. It does not include building square footage so obviously the Chrysler building is going to consume more per square meter than some brownstones on the upper west side.
I also doubt the crude end-use analysis showing only 5-10% of electricity consumption from cooling. These buildings probably require mechanical cooling half the year on average, some probably all year. A bleeding edge cooling system will require 1.3 Watts per square foot at full load. The actual average efficiency is probably half as good, doubling the power/energy required for cooling. Throw on poor control of typical systems and it’s probably closer to 3 W per square foot on average and roughly 3 kWh per square foot for a good system and 4-5 kWh per square foot to middlin to poor one. Now you’re in the neighborhood of lighting consumption. End-use data from various sources confirm, cooling’s share of energy consumption is about 30% in the NYC climate.
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.
The race is on to develop and deliver next generation successful energy efficiency programs. There is indeed innovation in the marketplace. The days of what I call “hamburger selling” will end, probably in the next decade. Selling EE in these cases is like selling hamburgers – who can sell the most and the cheapest hamburgers that people will eat. The product is unsophisticated – lighting, primarily. The market is huge and opportunities ubiquitous. Marketing and selling the burger is the name of the game and will be for a few more years.
In the past five years, energy efficiency has spread like wildfire across the country and although it’s a little twisted, if you consider all the vegetation, grass, trees, shrubs, and scrub as EE potential, the wildfire has consumed only the grass. The grass will soon be gone. How will the shrubs, scrub, and trees be reeled in? It will require a combination of technology, but more so intellect and selling things (programs) people want.
What will this look like? I’m not telling because it’s intellectual property, but I will say I can see it beginning to happen in the residential sector. Last week we attended the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference hosted by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, in Chicago. As I mentioned in The Super Genius Grid, somebody will develop an app to make EE into a game or social media thing of some sort. Sure enough, this is beginning to happen via residential behavior-based programs. One such program is delivered by Efficiency 2.0.
Part of the next swath of EE will be developing programs that people want to buy or participate in. That’s what E 2.0 is about. It amazes me how consumers respond – irrationally all the time – which helps explain the iPhone, iPad, iThis, iThat, iOther and the i-got-to-have-it. The E 2.0 program offers points and awards to “empower” customers to reduce their energy consumption. They partner with communities to compete with one another and to offer free money for spending at local businesses. Like mom and apple pie – who wouldn’t want that? The winning community gets a free solar panel for one of their schools – woohoo!
The E 2.0 program is a psychological program (my term) where communities are profiled as to where they shop, what they buy and all this stuff, like grocery club cards do. They see what you buy and they provide coupons and discounts for that stuff or related stuff.
If I got the message correctly, consumers don’t want useful real information, which as I understand it is what OPOWER delivers. OPOWER, again per my understanding provides data on how your bills compare against those in your community and how you compare against yourself in past years. They tell you if you turn your thermostat down 2 degrees no one will notice and you’ll save $50 per year (asterisk, asterisk). This seems like useful information to me but the message I got from E 2.0 and a somewhat similar provider, Simple Energy, is that customers want gimmicks, games, prizes, lotteries, and free stuff, NOT information.
Apparently consumers like lotteries and this is obviously true when it comes to state lotteries and the gaming industry. I officially gambled once, in Vegas. It was a stop on a road trip to California and when in Vegas… I played the quarter slot machines starting with $10. I think I plunked 40 quarters into the machine consecutively with no wasting time winning anything, at all. I was done in 5.75 minutes and hooked like a crack addict. No really – I said, “Boy that was fun. Let’s get moving.” I don’t even like “illegal” office pools, like Super Bowl, er I mean, “The Big Game” or the NCAA tournament where there is a 100% payout and no taxes. I have no interest in dumb luck.
I avoid as much as possible anything with unfavorable odds including insurance, gambling, and investing. “Investing” in an insurance policy because the premium seems cheap relative to the policy amount is stupid and a loser all day. I already told this story a while back. Gambling – ever seen a millionaire gambler? Not for long. If you believe in the possibility of wealth creation via gambling you probably believe in water running uphill. Investing – fund managers claim they can beat the market. Bull.
Ran in the ditch there a little but needless to say, to me information is useful. Games: don’t have time and who cares? However, this is very similar to old-school marketing versus “stupid” social media. I get it and I’ll get with the program.
The E 2.0 guy said people don’t care so much about what their neighbors are using for energy. Whoa! This flies in the face of the OPOWER message to compete against your anonymous neighbors. Why do people not care what their neighbors use? Because everybody thinks they are different – just like you did in high school, when you wore the exact same kind of stupid stuff everyone else wore; listened to the same music; had the same sneakers; watched the same TV shows and on and on.
I can vouch for everyone thinking they are unique. Large energy users included, think they are different than everyone else when, in fact, the first and second laws of thermodynamics are universal. Sure facilities are different. That’s why we need to look at stuff and analyze stuff specific to them but we don’t have to have been born in the building and spent our entire living breathing lives there to know what’s going on.
This is the challenge, however – savings from these programs run a few percent of consumption, maybe 2%-5%. This may not sound like much but it is I believe including all customers and that would be huge. The challenge is how to measure and verify savings on such a tiny scale. These numbers are far down in the weeds. If a kid leaves home for college it will have more impact – my unscientific guess that I would pretty well guarantee.
The other problem that the E 2.0 guy nonchalantly said is that when the program is pulled, all that remains is the measures implemented – the ENERGY STAR stuff, CFLs and whatnot. Like leaving Weight Watchers, people go back to Twinkies, Ding Dongs and diet soda.
In the end, it comes down to prizes, dumb luck, games and gimmicks (which most people prefer apparently) versus benchmarking, competition, action and generating wealth for the sake of generating wealth. That is, the E 2.0 versus the OPOWER way of thinking.
The race is on!
One other thing I noted in a separate session at the conferences was that in 2007, James Inhofe and Hillary Clinton slipped a provision into a law to require ground source heat pumps be evaluated against alternatives for HVAC system replacements on a 20 year life-cycle cost basis – for every new federal facility / system replacement. Senator Inhofe is Mr. “climate change is the biggest fraud of our time”, but he supports efficient heat pump systems. Why? Could it be the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association is headquartered in Stillwater, home of Oklahoma State with board members including from big companies?
In the DUH column this week, suburbanites with efficient McMansions and a 40 mile commute use more energy than inner-city dwellers.
In October 2011, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy delivered a report, “Follow the Leaders: Improving Large Customer Self-Direct Programs”. But before I discuss/interpret that, what is a self-direct program? Some large energy users wish to opt out of utility sponsored energy efficiency programs, and specifically they want to avoid paying the energy efficiency cost recovery rider. This particular rider is a surcharge, similar to tax on gasoline that is supposed to be used for roads. These large energy users state they can better invest this money in their own energy efficiency program – a self direct program.
On average, this rider may be 1% for an electric utility. So a large energy user with an annual electric bill of $5 million would “self-direct” the use of the $50,000 they would otherwise pay to the utility to deploy to their own energy management program. These customers think they can better invest their own money. I would consider this an ignorant and unwise assertion and I’ll get to this later.
The executive summary of the report, summarized and paraphrased by me, provides no surprises:
- Only a small fraction of self direct programs capture savings that benefit all users as utility-run programs do. Programs should benefit all customers, even non-participants.
- Provisions vary widely and some do not require any sort of measurement and verification.
- The majority of self-directed programs are poorly structured.
- Programs cannot claim to achieve the same bang for the buck as would be realized with the larger utility-delivered program.
- Self direct provisions are popular among policy makers.
- Long term impacts of these programs are unknown.
- Without oversight these programs are “unfair” to other rate payers.
My executive summary of the ACEEE executive summary: Self direct programs are weak, sparing more vivid prose.
Let’s first address the reason these programs exist, which is summarized in number 5 above. Opt out / self direct programs exist because lawmakers are beholden to large corporations (in this case, or unions in other cases) that don’t want to pay for these programs. When necessary, upholding the political class trumps the best interest of society. One doesn’t hold a seat in the House of Representatives for 50 years without playing by these ideals. Term limits anyone? How about logical, geographically random congressional-district boundaries rather than having those in power draw the lines (gerrymandering) to keep them and their party in power 10 years at a time? Ok. So I meander, but this is the root cause.
The “we can better invest our $50,000 than someone else can” argument is bunk. Fifty thousand dollars may sound like a lot to you or me, but not for a political fundraiser or a huge facility. For $50,000 one has to, presumably, write a plan, implement stuff, and evaluate with M&V. This requires substantial effort and skills not possessed by large users. As the report found, not going to happen. These customers would do well to spend $50,000 on new equipment that they think might save energy. Whether it would or not is another question.
Here is the bottom line – if these customers sincerely want to reduce their energy consumption and cost, they are foolish for opting out. The truth is they are “not foolish” (get to this below) because they have no serious intention of spending that money on EE. They just want to keep the $50k. Opting out for customers that think they can better invest their own tiny bit of money is foolish for the following reasons:
- Overhead associated with the program is borne by all rate payers. There are enormous economies of scale.
- Customers can get their money back many times over. Smart companies, and we know many of them, regularly pull hundreds of thousands of dollars from these programs for implementing energy efficiency. Some of these companies are publically traded and have great earnings. Do you suppose there is a connection with being energy efficient, leveraging programs, and taking money from competitors that would rather opt out if they could?
- They lack expertise, possibly with the exception of lighting, to know what their ROI numbers look like.
- Huge customers WILL get the attention of their utilities and/or program implementers.
Huge energy users participating in EE programs should however, be allowed to get all their money back and then some. In the example above, I use a $5 million customer. Depending on the level of rider, a substantially larger customer with $20 million in annual consumption may be capped out by program limits. Such a company that cannot recover their annual contribution to the program has a valid point.
A few other random comments from the report: Three primary reasons large users feel obliged to opt out: (1) Programs are not responsive to their needs. I doubt it. See the last bullet above. However, having evaluated many industrial programs, I understand this point in some cases. To the hammer (program) everything is a nail (lighting), and that’s how they work – pretty weak. (2) These customers have already implemented all cost effective measures. (LOL) and (3) they are subsidizing other rate classes. Uh huh, like I as a residential customer and tens of thousands of other customers don’t subsidize all rate classes too.
The report indicates that some states have “structured” self direct programs and shows which states those include. I imagine ACEEE is reporting what they are told but we work in some of these states and the term “structured” must not entail hardly anything. It’s one-way only feedback and don’t look behind the curtain. In other words, we only get to review end-user plans that are opaque, vague, and vacuous and those go in a file somewhere – probably in the offices of the lawmakers who let them get away with this. And, field investigations are not allowed. If this is structured, what does the relaxed plan look like?
Great report. Hats off to ACEEE.
Goats in Sheep Clothing
I could do an entire rant on this but it would require too much random research, so maybe I’ll pass these along as I see them. I was reading a press release from an energy efficiency company I had known for a long time. The “About ___” section of the press release says “___has been revolutionizing commercial and industrial facilities with proprietary energy management systems…” I was thinking, wow, they must have moved beyond lighting because I thought they were “just” a lighting company. Turns out, hell no. Every single case study in their portfolio is a lighting project. Energy management systems? C’mon. Energy management systems are synonymous with building automation systems, direct digital control systems – facility wide digital controls for HVAC converging to a computer and almost always accessible by internet.
Ceres V ACEEE
On the informative front, Ceres, which I know very little about, released a report on utility EE portfolios nationwide. Again, I’ve taken the data and merged it into a more telling story, at least more telling in what I’m interested in. That is, cost effectiveness at delivering savings and ratio of savings to sales (relative savings). The table below is sorted by relative savings.
I included the recent ACEEE rank for the states in which the utilities serve. This provides some interesting insight as some large utilities that rank very high in relative savings were not viewed very favorably in the ACEEE analysis. Bear in mind that ACEEE rankings are for entire states and include other metrics. Interesting divergences include Nevada Power which serves nearly everyone in the state (3rd Ceres, 17th ACEEE), and Salt River – Phoenix (7th Ceres, 17th ACEEE). The Ceres analysis indicates California (#2, ACEEE) towers over Massachusetts (#1, ACEEE).
Note however the states and utilities do not always align well, or there may be asterisks for some. For example, Wisconsin Power and Light has a small fraction of the EE business in WI while state run Focus on Energy would dominate the ACEEE ranking. Additionally, WP&L has only a commercial/industrial program. Duke Energy is smeared across multiple states. Note also that relatively tiny utilities in Texas are in the Ceres report while the giants are not, for whatever reason.
Regarding program spending per kWh saved, generally speaking where electricity costs are high (New England / New York), the cost to save energy is also high. However, by this metric again, it seems California got a lump of coal from ACEEE compared to Massachusetts, which has much higher cost per kWh saved, and I don’t think the energy costs are that disparate among the two. Also, generally speaking, states and utilities that have had programs a long time (the easy stuff is gone), have somewhat higher cost per kWh saved.
Recently, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy issued a report, “The State of the Utility Bill” and I thought, “now there is a topic for plenty of discussion.” No, that was no joke, although there was an interesting finding that I found to be very hilarious: All of the ~100 bills analyzed in the study (100%) included the amount due to the utility from the customer. I would say not having the amount due would have its disadvantages. (that WAS a joke)
I’ve witnessed and studied many issues regarding end user understanding of energy, energy consumption, and end uses – e.g., lighting. Our industry reminds me a bit of the political talking heads on TV. They hyper analyze things for which only they or a political news addict, and not the common voter is going to notice or care about. An example might be a response to a question on a hypothetical crisis in the Middle East. The pundits will quibble over the order of responses or their indicated aggressiveness as suggested by the candidate or even the question. Meanwhile, the average viewer is looking only for whether the recommendation would include blowing the enemy to kingdom come, finger-wagging sanctions, nothing, or withdrawing from the region altogether.
Likewise, there is a disconnect between what we think end users think or know and how they actually think and what they know. The utility bill is damn complicated to the average end user and even more so than the average energy professional realizes. The bill might include different seasonal rates, tiers, time of use, demand charges, ratchet clauses, and even more complex algorithms.
I learned long ago that when we need energy records for a customer, the best form is to get copies of actual bills and a close second is the utility’s CIS (customer information system) data. When the customer says, “Oh, I have all that in a spreadsheet. I can just give that to you.” I cringe because they won’t have what we need or it will be wrong because they can’t pick the right numbers off the bill – like finding Waldo. I don’t want it. It’s virtually guaranteed to be wrong.
The ACEEE report indicates just over 90% of the bills include comparison to the previous month’s consumption. I can’t find that Waldo on my bill. I do have comparison to year-ago consumption, the next most common element found in the study.
Average daily usage. Now what does that tell anyone? Anyone? It doesn’t even tell me anything, except that’s the form in which I am provided for the comparison to last year. I did buy a $9 retractable clothesline from Menards a few months back and it looks like our bills are very roughly 4 kWh lower per day versus the same year-ago period. Of course air conditioning is mixed in and that’s a monkey wrench. However, they provide average temperature, which is reported to be provided on only 38% of bills per ACEEE. I could do a weather calibration for that. However, I know that is a waste of time because there are other substantial factors – weather independent end uses – that will result in any weather adjustments being far down in the grass of normal usage variation. How about that? There is enough information to do a weather adjustment, which only 1% of customers MAX, could mathematically do, and of that 1% probably only 10% know weather normalization is a waste of time for a single energy bill. (single, not aggregate for a representative sample of a bunch of customers)
What would be useful is a monthly bar chart including the trailing 24 months with overlapping years for monthly comparison. Neither my gas or electric bill has this but my water bill does! Good grief, I buy electricity from a huge utility, natural gas from a dinky regional supplier and I get water from my village – population of the metro area is about 800 (this includes all the zeros – no typos or omissions).
Benchmarking provides incredibly useful information. Yeah. Let’s do that. The state of Iowa is wanting to do this for (I’m not sure exactly) government facilities including schools. There was an RFP and one (1) proposal was received. Why exactly, I’m not sure but I would say this – I would guess the buyer does not understand how difficult it is to do benchmarking right. It’s like recent rants where I said even measuring ambient outdoor temperature is difficult and the person doing it has to know what they are doing and literally understand heat transfer, including primarily radiation from surrounding objects and convection off the same objects.
Benchmarking requires knowing the type of heating and cooling systems and more specifically, the heating and cooling fuels, square footage, and of course utility consumption. The guy doing the benchmarking has to know whether the results look reasonable. The following are my unscientific estimates for how many benchmarking analyses would be correct for the following methods and skills of the benchmarking guy.
- Blindly collecting square footage data and energy consumption with no ability to do even a laugh test: 35% correct
- Number 1 but throwing out anything that looks really weird, like 50 kWh per square foot for a school or 0.15 therm per square foot for a hospital: 45% correct, not to mention a great many will be discarded
- Number 2 plus contacting the utility to make sure you have all the data for the facility. Many times benchmarking is wrong because there are data missing because not all meters serving the building are included: 55% correct
- Number 3 plus calling the customer to ask them about their heating and cooling systems and fuels used for these systems: 75% correct
- Number 4 but rather than doing a phone call, going on site and looking for meters and systems yourself ensuring you have all the meters serving the building and only the meters serving the building: 92% correct
There you have it. If an experienced expert can do everything in his/her power, there are still things that may not be able to be benchmarked with confidence due to:
- “Campus” meters – here campus being any meter serving multiple buildings (k-12, college/university, health care, military, and even corporate) without submetering on each building.
- Storable fuels like propane, fuel oil, and chicken manure. Tank levels and piles vary from month to month and so determining consumption requires accurate levels plus deliveries.
- No meters – what are you talking about, Jeff? Steam coming from a campus plant with no submetering. You can know how much natural gas the central plant uses or you can guesstimate the consumption eying the pile of chicken manure (or coal) and tracking deliveries. Old central steam plants for example can have rather enormous heat losses to pipe tunnels, making for melted snow and green grass in winter. A good bit of analysis is required to weed this out.
I avoid requests for proposals where I don’t think the buyer understands how difficult it is to do a job I can live with and for those RFPs there is always an ignorant bidder who doesn’t know the difference. Unfortunately, there is no money in telling the buyer what they are asking for is very difficult and that they are going to get crap for results from Cliff Clavin and Associates.
One more thing on benchmarking, total Btu per square foot, mixing all fuels together is a little better than nothing. Electric should always be separated from fossil fuel consumption.
- The incandescent ban advocates are proposing a switch to using lumens as the metric for selecting light bulbs for purchase at your favorite home improvement store. Uh huh. Around 1980 the US was going to be the last country on the globe to convert to metric units. You know base 10 everything with common sense conversions like a milliliter equals a cubic centimeter. Fuggeddboutit! Not gonna happen. There is plenty of fodder for a stand alone rant on this one.
- ACEEE in their Utility Bill study noted above calls utilities “regulated monopolies”. Cool. This is what I’ve called them for years and didn’t know whether this was offensive to them.
- Lastly – another mind blower – the US is set to become a net exporter of refined petrol products. This is good news if you ask me –a strong manufacturing sector. To clarify just in case – yes, this is refined petroleum products and not crude oil. Many readers were ranting this is misleading – only to a dolt. Plot and data courtesy, The Wall Street Journal.
This will blow your mind. How many large power plants (500 MW) does it take to cook the thanksgiving turkey across the nation – just the ones cooked with electricity? Answer is provided below. Guess. Don’t be a loser. Guess.
I’ve seen perhaps 100 ads for dust collecting contraptions that everyone including the buyers know will end up under the bed, in the closet, or basement, and finally onto the garage sale to somebody else who will decycle it. These include the things like the Ab Buster 5000 (just made it up), junk you sit on, junk you rock on, junk you push/pull, slip/slide, squeeze or shake. They get body builders that spend 5 hours a day in the gym pumping real iron, doing real body building, to demonstrate the use of this crap with a voiceover of something like, “You will notice results in 5 days with just 15 minutes a day”, which is technically true. In 5 days the sedentary person’s gut, arms, or legs will be burning of lactic acid. The reality of course is, the schmo that buys this stuff is thinking they may look like the dudes and babes on TV if they buy the dust collector. I suppose that every once in a blue moon the stuff is actually used.
I’m more in favor of Rocky Balboa type training – simple stuff, like pulling a log through waste deep snow in Siberia. I run and the only weather or conditions not fit for running are those that might kill me or give me permanent brain damage. That would be limited to excessive heat. Everything else varies from great (minus -30F or 35F wind and rain in the dark or above 85F) to perfect (everything between 0F and 85F). There’s very rarely a legitimate excuse for not running. Real influenza, 103F body temperature, and barely being able to sit up in bed qualifies. I was there four years ago. There are practically no equipment requirements. Most requirements are provided by the state: that is roads, sidewalks, and when necessary bike trails (BORING). The roads are always open.
You really only need one pair but a couple of these are for ice and snow and the rest have varying degrees of mileage so I can bleed a thousand miles per pair by rotating new, old, new, old.
Compare this to the gym. And speaking of BORING, OMG, I was in Scottsdale at the Hotel Valley Ho a couple weeks ago; a fantastic 1950s retro hotel with a beautiful pool, patio area with immaculate greenery. As I was on my way out the door at O’Darkthirty to run, I noticed a row of treadmills on the second floor indoors overlooking the outdoor pool area. They were in use at least, but I was thinking what is wrong with those people? Why would you run in place staring at CNN with an iPod ruining your eardrums next to a stinky guy, in stale, stagnant air? I’d rather run laps in a Wal-Mart parking lot – or the Hotel parking lot, Interstate 5 in Southern California, or the tarmac at JFK in the rain. In this particular case, it was just above 50F and perfect outside, plenty of sidewalks and not much traffic.
Maybe people need an excuse (gym) to “work out”. I don’t get this. Treadmills are stupid (see above). Free weights cost not much compared to a few months of gym membership. Stationary biking can be had for a decent $100 doohickey attachment and a $50 tire for the bike you already have (no one does stationary biking unless they bike for real). There is nothing more brain damaging than riding a stationary bike. If you want to live forever, ride a stationary bike because an hour seems like 8 hours, like reverse dog years. Note THIS stuff is not dust collection material. Only obsessive hard core people use this stuff – triathletes, for example use it in Wisconsin winters. Nobody on TV sells stuff that actually works and gets used. No BS here.
In “Oh Behave” and “Biscuit Discipline” I attempted to make a point that information to save energy or to be healthy alone is not enough. Energy efficiency requires somebody, preferably multiple bodies if not all bodies being involved with constant favorable behavior to sustain savings over time. Both EE and fitness require persistence and activity over time. Grapefruit diets? Not so much.
Long term health and EE have this in common. Neither include simply buying your way to success. Ready?
Switching gears just a little, last week I came across this pyramid for energy efficiency in homes, which I thought was pretty cool. (Although as I type that, I’m thinking, wait a minute, the USDA food pyramids were complete flops, unless one rationalizes it was successful with the “created or saved” sort of government metric.) It seems its creator has prioritized things very well for a residence. It has renewable energy with the highest complexity and investment and I would add poor return on investment.
This spurred me to generate one of these for commercial buildings. The pyramid base – the best stuff – the raw vegetables, fiber, and omega 3 of energy efficiency is retrocommissioning, operations, maintenance, and discipline to stay with it. At the top: seven layer chocolate cake with chocolate drizzle and whipped cream – renewable energy. By the way, it takes just over 100 large power plants to cook the TG bird I mentioned above!
Payback ranges and percent of total facility savings potential are guessed for each category of measure. They are all wrong, so let’s just get that out of the way now. Misguided applications of practically any technology can have 200 year simple paybacks. Results can be all over the place and depend on many things possibly the greatest of which is, what is there now and how it is being used prior to implementation. The years noted of course represent a range of typical simple paybacks for the technology. The percentages represent the portion of TOTAL facility energy consumption the technology can achieve. Note for renewables I have a high of 100%, representing most likely a wind turbine. This can be done as Spirit Lake Schools (Iowa) had done many years ago. They were generating wind energy long before wind turbines sprouted like chia heads in the surrounding areas.
The chart is for commercial facilities only; NOT industrial and manufacturing facilities.
*Building envelope measures can have fast paybacks if the existing condition is terrible. For example, no roof or attic insulation – and in the case of flat roofs, the roof is pealed off anyway for replacement.
Some folks are proposing a switch to using lumens as the metric for selecting light bulbs for purchase at your favorite home improvement store. This would be in lieu of incandescent wattages or equivalents thereof. Uh huh. Around 1980 the US was going to be the last country on the globe to convert to metric units. You know – base 10 everything with common sense conversions like a milliliter equals a cubic centimeter. Fuggedaboutit! Not gonna happen. Funny thing is, by mid-engineering-school career, every engineer clamors to use metric only. Six months out of school they are polluted by old timers who like incomprehensible units like mass in units of grains – and so the insanity lingers perpetually.← Older posts Newer posts →