Rant fans are getting a break this week. This post exemplifies a smashing success in energy efficiency and is a bit of a spinoff on capitalizing energy efficiency as I discussed in Facility Management, Taliban Style and Better than Doritos.
The story begins with a board meeting for the Iowa Association for Energy Efficiency. BTW, this is the least expensive, far and away, greatest-benefit-per-dollar-invested energy efficiency organization in the country.
The board meeting was at an apartment complex, Sun Prairie, in West Des Moines or thereabouts. As I pulled in with 134F heat at 9:30 AM, I was thinking, “Is this the right place? Why are we meeting here?” This looks like a run-of-the-mill, but well maintained apartment complex. That’s where that para dig em ends.
This all began with the apartment complex owner/president, Keith Denner, in 1988 as they started building apartment buildings. The last one was built in 2003.
In my 17 years of experience in this business, this story is amazing for the following reasons:
- These multi-family facilities are very efficient, as measured by bills, not fru fra. Note, this is the first sentence in the history of the English language that multi-family and efficient appear in the same sentence.
- Mr. Denner knows precisely how to plow the benefits back into his business. He’s generating volumes of politically incorrect wealth from energy efficiency! Man, I love it. The DOE was obviously not the instigator of this business model.
There is no magic to the savings generated by these facilities. However, Mr. Denner smashes the mold of the owner tenant relationship and leasing agreements related to energy cost.
These facilities feature hot water heating systems served by efficient boilers. Again, this is more expensive than the usual cheap and crappy electric baseboard heating, but it comes with a vision of leveraging the value it provides. Apartments are cooled by through-wall air conditioners, the efficiency of which is lousy, but it doesn’t matter because: walls have R-19 cavity (between studs) insulation with an inch of rigid insulation over the studs – this is huge – and R-50 or so attic insulation. Windows have “quilt” blinds, which to me sounds kind of clunky but they are not. The key is they probably add about R5 to the windows insulation value, but more importantly they have tracks forming a quite effective seal to minimize otherwise unstoppable convection associated with conventional blinds. The result is these blinds are literally at least 10x more effective at blocking heat transfer than other blinds.
More recently, there was a project to install more efficient boilers, replace all toilets (don’t laugh or roll your eyes), variable frequency drives, steel shingles, and solar water heating (go ahead laugh and roll your eyes). The solar water heating was required by the profit averse DOE to get a grant to include a study on the cost effectiveness of this recent project / portfolio of measures.
Here is another eye popper to me. All toilets in the complex were replaced at a cost of about $250,000, with annual savings of about $175,000. Yeow! The new ones are Niagara Stealth 0.8 gallon per flush. Before you howl how they work, Mr. Denner states they have fewer clogs than with the former standard 1.6 gpf units. You can YouTube the Stealth yourself to see it in action but I wouldn’t recommend it. Let’s just say the Stealth could probably swallow a 15 pound woodchuck, whole.
Water consumption, after the toilet replacement, dropped by half. How is this? The new toilets have a newfangled flush valve that does not leak. Rather than the common flipper valve on toilet tanks, this has a button in the middle of the tank lid. I don’t know how it works or what the difference is. Consider it a homework assignment.
Here’s another amazing thing: Mr. Denner guarantees electric bills will not surpass $30, $35, and $45 per month, per apartment for one, two, and three bedroom units – and this includes a fixed charge of almost $10, and of course it covers summer peak use. In fact, he is “lobbying” the regulators to allow him to consolidate meters into one for each building or even the entire site. He will pay the bill and pass the fixed cost to the tenants. What’s the benefit of consolidating meters – massive meter charge savings equal to roughly one third to one half the entire electric bill.
Actually, he wants to consolidate everything into one bill for tenants: rent, electricity, heat, cable/satellite TV, and internet. This would be a huge hassle saver for people moving in and they are therefore willing to pay for it.
Individual meters are supposed to keep tenants from wasting energy willy nilly. This is silly (hey, it just popped in there). It’s the same argument that higher mileage cars will simply result in more driving. What a bunch of crap and Mr. Denner has demonstrated this, or rather, his tenants have. These buildings use so little energy, people can set the temperature wherever they want and it doesn’t make much difference. As Mr. Denner states, setting up the thermostat during the day in the cooling season doesn’t save squat because the Btus just pile up and need to be removed when people come home at night. This is consistent with what I’ve always said about programmable stats and cooling.
The installation of variable frequency drives on hot water pumps may not have had a great return on investment from energy savings alone. However, the resultant lower operating water pressure reduced control valve replacement by a reported 90%. These well-insulated buildings require little heating and thus hot water flow requirements are low to zero much of the time. With high operating pressure from full speed pumps, the valve seats will erode like open flowing water erodes soil. The result is the valve no longer can stop flow; the rooms overheat and the windows come open. Maintenance sees this and replaces the valve; a rather expensive and labor-intensive undertaking.
And another thing – instead of having crappy bottom of the line appliances, he offers new ENERGY STAR® rated appliances and new air conditioner for an extra $25 per month. Tenants gladly cough it up. The extra rent for these energy saving appliances is more than the total energy bill for the apartment. Add to that substantial maintenance savings associated with new equipment.
He also provides the CFLs – free. There must be a line beating a trail to the rental office to get into this place.
Lastly, Mr. Denner leverages his investments in EE to raise capital for expansion. The example he gives is virtually the same as the table nearby. This includes an investment in EE of $20,000 on a project with a four year payback. Conventional wisdom is the investment that will break even after four years. Really?
Per my understanding, this sort of property is refinanced about every three years. Assume an investor expects 10% return on investment. Increased income increases the value of the property for refinancing, in this case by a whopping $50,000. After TWO years the net cash in pocket is $30,000 – a little better scenario than $0 after four years, like the dunderhead payback “valuation” method.
And this isn’t like cashing the equity out of the facility, making for a house of cards that eventually collapses. It isn’t speculative either. It is real and the lenders accept that.
None of this is rocket surgery. It just takes an open mind and viewing facilities as a money machine rather than a dreaded necessary evil that must be built and maintained as cheaply as codes will allow, and then some. This is real pioneering stuff and Mr. Denner deserves… well his bottom line provides his just desserts. Let’s just say I wouldn’t expect to see him shaking hands with Secretary Chu on TV anytime – this is the anti-Solyndra.
 Sourcing a couple documents with irrelevant assumptions on my part.
 I would use these too in this building. Decent EERs in the 15 range are simply not available.
 A wild but reasonably conservative engineering guess.
We are from the government and we are here to help. Kaboom! That would be my door slamming in their collective faces.
A number of years ago, and just recently I was reminded of it again, the federal government was selling it’s handouts to citizens – actually advertising free stuff, food or services are common. This is perverted. We do not have people starving in the streets of this country and this is a lock because if we did, the media would be all over it like flies on watermelon rinds. Quite the opposite: we have a type 2 diabetes explosion, especially among the poor. But I shall cease writing on this topic and switch to energy efficiency, which has a parody problem – ambulance chasing programs.
Program portfolios for years have been relying almost exclusively on lighting projects for savings, even in legacy markets. But one thing that can be said about lighting is at the end of the week, they result in real energy savings that are quite reliable and accurate whether it is a custom (customer specific savings) or prescriptive measure (average savings for all applications/projects). In the big picture over many years, the programs clearly impact technology adoption and market transformation and I believe whether contractors or customers realize it or not, the programs make things happen that wouldn’t otherwise happen.
When I started in this industry in the mid-1990s, T8 lamps with electronic ballasts still had a lemon reputation in many markets because the first of these had design flaws that resulted in premature failure on a large scale. For example, ballasts would fail en masse within a year or two. Soon, in barely 20 years since their introduction to the market, they will serve as standard practice, no longer eligible for incentives. The lighting gravy at the end of the tunnel is not far off; LED technology is upon us and rather than serving as bleeding edge demonstration projects, they are now becoming the norm where reliability is critical and labor cost for maintenance is substantial.
Most custom and process (industrial) efficiency programs consist of money and goals in pursuit of projects. Like the federal government, they are campaigns to give money to customers who are doing projects anyway and don’t need the money and probably don’t want the associated hassle. Like lawyers chasing ambulances to redistribute money, programs are essentially like a strategic air command with radar and satellite reconnaissance in search of projects to act upon – like a rooster taking credit for the sunrise. They inject themselves with the grace and need of a cop at a frat party.
It is reasonable to expect that states new to EE will have weak custom and process efficiency programs and they will take the waste-high vegetables (lighting) first. Mature programs should have a well-groomed force of energy efficiency experts and “trade allies” in the territory. Programs should be leading customers down the EE trail rather than being a nuisance. It reminds me of the cartoon, featuring Chester, the little dog, as the program energy advisor and Spike the industrial customer. Chester harasses Spike repeatedly being smacked aside. Spike finally relents to the suggestion of beating up a cat (Sylvester), which sounds easy but he is sliced like fine cheese by an escaped panther as a result of Chester’s great idea.
Programs must do far more than hurtling cash at industrial customers for new light bulbs. Lighting is the least of their concerns because it is nearly the least of their major end uses of energy. Industrial customers need value and assistance from programs. They need value in the form of expertise to identify and/or quantify energy impacts of major process and supporting system modifications and optimization. The production guys may know something is costing the company tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in waste but without nailing down the numbers accurately, the bean counters will snub the project. Assistance in the form of shepherding projects to completion is the assistance they need, probably more than a cash incentive. This may include simple drawings, control concepts, or simply getting a contractor on site and showing them conceptually what is needed and develop a cost estimate. As a customer, they just want to sign “here”, as customers do when the FedEx guy drops off a stack of shipped goods.
Large C&I customers are a different specie than residential and small commercial customers. They are far more practical and logical in weighing costs against benefits whereas consumers are emotional, rarely logical, prejudiced, predisposed, and political.
 Keep your eye out for twists on overused idioms.
 As opposed to the pejorative low hanging fruit.
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.
Warning: I am not a CPA or tax attorney, and I do not have 63 years available to determine for myself that all contents of this rant are correct.
A couple years ago I wrote an Energy Brief about the need for life cycle cost analysis to make the right decisions for selecting the best option for an energy project. Since that time, we haven’t exactly been living up to this ideal, in large part because we’ve been doing a lot of work for profit-driven enterprises.
Life cycle cost analysis for non-profits is pretty easy. It includes first cost, borrowing cost, if any, maintenance, effective useful life of the measure(s), and energy cost. It gets much more complicated for profit seekers because of tax laws. In general, profits that are taxed equal revenue minus expenses. Energy is an expense and therefore, a dollar of energy savings is not (even close to) a dollar added to the bottom line. Another perverse element of taxes is that when a customer invests in equipment they have the pleasure of paying property tax on that equipment. I learned this as we bought a bunch of office furnishings and invested several hundred thousand dollars for our new office space downtown. Then over time the stuff can be depreciated and subtracted from earnings.
Corporate bean counters roll all this junk together and spit out something around a two-year payback requirement. But there is likely some subjective risk-aversion quotient in there also. The payback requirement isn’t an arbitrary qualification for an investment in EE. Rather it is a simplified way to boil all these factors into one easy-to-understand metric.
I would guess most readers do not know that the US has the second highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, behind Japan, but just barely. Coincidentally, these two countries among the most debt ridden countries in the world, including misers like Greece and Italy. Surprise! Pile on state taxes and companies can be staring at close to 50% marginal tax rates, the tax on the next dollar of earnings. Iowa of all places has a top rate of 12%. Texas on the other hand has no personal income tax OR corporate tax on profits.
Since the end of the recent meltdown that began in 2008, Texans have generated as many jobs as 47 states plus the District of Columbia, combined. Our most populous and once golden state California has since contracted. Without Silicon Valley – Apple, Google, and Facebook alone – the once golden state would be a burned out smoldering carcass.
Texas: 733,000 new jobs in past 10 years (no other state topped 100,000)
California: minus (negative) 624,000 in past 10 years (dead last)
You do the math. Probably the most hilarious non-comic event I read about was Gavin Newsome, California’s lieutenant governor and a band of dimwits, er I mean congress persons from Sacramento recently traveled to Texas, on California taxpayer money, to see why Texas was stealing all of California’s jobs. These people should be fired for that alone. As a friend of Californians, I would have asked the pilot to drop them off in Havana and quickly get the hell out of there.
The challenge to do EE with for-profits is when companies are making good money, they don’t so much care about reducing cost as they are with increasing output, expanding and making more money. This is compounded with the nearly 50% tax hit against EE impacts. When companies are operating in the red, they of course tend to reduce cost but without spending money to do so. Eliminating jobs or furloughing is an easy, very effective way to reduce cost with virtually no immediate cost. Energy efficiency costs money now and returns savings later and furthermore, it is difficult to save energy on a production line that is sitting idle in the dark.
When companies are losing money, they want an extremely quick payback as they are risk averse and they want to see investment paying off as quickly as possible. When companies are making money competition for capital is brutal as they have a lot of demand for it for expansion.
These all remind me why utility-sponsored performance contracting eliminates these barriers for most profit-seeking enterprises. For the growing company with shortage of capital, such a program provides capital with virtually no carrying (borrowing) cost because the program uses the would-be cash incentive to buy down the finance rate. For the customer running in the red, the project provides an immediate positive cash flow, guaranteed. Of course the money losing enterprise needs to be financially sound and not an immanent risk of insolvency.
Depending on the corporate bean counter and tax attorney, a performance contract may be declared a lease, or an operating expense to avoid the property tax and depreciation hassle. I believe this also helps it fly under the Sarbanes Oxley radar and associated red tape if they want to play with that fire. Sarbox is a toxic residue from the remains of Enron scum mixed with brilliant Washington opportunists who always attempt to avoid the last collapse with a suffocating mélange of hellish regulation. The most recent straightjackets and matching millstones are rolling out at banks, credit card companies, and brokerage houses near you via the Dodd-Fwank bill.
Maybe if rather than beating on companies that move and expand business overseas, Washington would provide us with a competitive business climate and knock off the myriad of carve-outs for politically connected money-grubbing schmoozer-losers… We could revive manufacturing, move demand for energy from overseas to this country where we can do something about it, and increase return on EE investment by creating more after-tax income.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
Many states have opt-out provisions for major consumers of energy so these consumers do not have to pay into EE programs. The reasoning typically goes something like this:
- They are major users of energy so they naturally are going to cut energy cost to increase profit; they can take care of themselves
- They shouldn’t have to provide outside subsidies to these programs
- They don’t participate in the programs so why should they have to pay in
The facts are these concessions are required to get EE laws (bills) through legislatures and/or governors.
Consider that typical opt-out regulations require that these end users must develop, implement, and in some typically very lame fashion report their results.
Let’s use Minnesota as an example. Minnesota has a pretty high bar for customers to be eligible to opt out with a minimum of 20 MW, or 20,000 kW in demand. According to my calculations, such a customer might have an annual electric bill of something close to $10 million. If the EE rider (charge) is 1.5%, this means they would pay $150,000 into the program.
To avoid paying this $150k, the end user must write its own energy efficiency program, document activity and verify savings. Is that going to happen? Maybe, but not very well. I don’t know about Minnesota but we have reviewed opt-out customer plans for program evaluations in other states and they go something like this:
“We’re going to save energy.” The end.
The opt out provisions in some states have no teeth. As evaluators, we are left to evaluate plans like that provided above but we are not allowed to ask questions and we are no allowed to go on site to see what they are doing. So our customer-specific evaluation report looks like this:
“Based on the [lack of] information provided, we find no reason to make adjustments to savings.” What else can you do? I’d like to say, I don’t think these guys intend to do squat but, wouldn’t be prudent.
Energy efficiency programs are weird things, partly I guess because utilities are fully regulated monopolies in most places. Theoretically, programs benefit all customers because EE as a resource is less expensive than power plants, more wires, and more fuel consumption. If some customers want to waste energy like crazy, the effects aren’t just enjoyed by those end users. This drives up prices for everyone served by the same monopoly. Similarly, peoples’ right to choose a gas guzzler doesn’t just affect their fuel costs. Their participation in driving up demand puts upward pressure on fuel prices for everyone.
So IF these companies that opt out are not doing anything to reduce consumption or demand, they are having an adverse impact on the rest of us. To claim they don’t want to subsidize EE programs for others is like saying; “We should only have to pay taxes for the road from my factory to the interstate. We don’t need no other stinking roads.”
The major challenge with residential and small business programs is they are difficult/impossible to deliver cost effectively. Many, if not most do not pass the myriad of tests, including the Total Resource Cost, or TRC test. On the other hand, portfolios, all programs always pass the TRC or why have them. Obviously, from a program perspective, large commercial and industrial programs are cost effective. Why? Economies of scale. Program administration costs and other overhead are relatively puny because large C&I projects are relatively – you guessed it – large!
Does anyone, home-owner, school, hospital, major corporation shoot for 1.5% energy savings? I don’t think so. I’ve never seen this. Why bother with something so dinky? You can’t even measure it. Theoretically, since programs have this sort of goal for all end users combined, huge opt-out customers only have to meet the same goal. Why go through all the reporting and overhead hassle to save a paltry 1.5%? Nobody is going to do that. So if opt-out customers really are going to have an energy-saving plan, it’s going to be for something substantial, probably averaging in the 10% range, which is what we typically see for huge industrial end-users. If you are going to save that kind of energy, why not be in the program and take the incentive limit of half or three quarters of a million dollars (typical) nearly every year? Believe me when I tell you some end users do this and they are loving it.
So add it all up:
- To save a relatively tiny share of consumption, opt out customers theoretically inflict a bunch of red tape on themselves.
- If they really are doing energy-saving projects or plan to, they are passing up a bunch of free money from other customers, including probably from their competitors!
- Why shouldn’t their projects be subject to evaluation like all other programs? This is a bit like the cops being on the mob’s dole.
I would say end users that opt out are either not very smart business people because they can easily suck more money out of the system than they pay in, or they don’t want to pay in and they have no intent to reduce consumption and demand. What else is there? There are no cost effective measures left? Uh huh. And my dog is the reincarnation of Winston Churchill.
Last week the unthinkable happened in Gomorrah, er I meant Washington DC. (No, it wasn’t about the narcissistic congressman from Queens.) The US senate in an unbelievable act of “bipartisanship” voted to end the $6 billion ethanol tax subsidy. See Galactically Stupid. However, apparently it is not expected to pass the house because of garbage attached to the bill and because tax policy is to begin with the house and the president opposes dumping the subsidy. Some repubs are against any tax “increases”. Does this mean tax cheats that haven’t filed for several years should just keep cheating too? Too bad I’ve been paying taxes. I would really appreciate the tax omission grandfather act (TOGA, TOGA, TOGA!).
How bizarre is this? The president and house are “united” against the bill and the senate dems are carrying the thing to a 3:1 win, with considerable repub support. This is truly bizarre but nevertheless, some amazing progress.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
I swear we were introduced to the food pyramid when I was in grade school but a little web searching gives me just a couple – the one from 1992 and the new and improved one in 2005.
The 1992 edition is shown below. If you can’t read it, good.
The 2005 vertical colorful edition with the stickman and skewers for hands and feet follows.
For 2011, the USDA has switched to this brilliant “plate” that looks like a pie chart developed by a group of kindergarteners employed by Microsoft, except I really don’t think anyone would want their brand tied to this thing.
The purpose of these things is supposed to improve the health of Americans. In 1992 the obesity rate in the US was nearly all below 14% for every state in the union. Only six states had higher rates, Wisconsin being one of them – fried cheese curds and bratwurst.
Due to its success in 2005, they rolled out an improved version. By this time only four states were as good as Wisconsin was bad thirteen years prior. Let me try a different angle on that. By 2005, all but four states had MORE than 20% obesity. We improved from only six states with more than 14% to all BUT four states ABOVE 20%.
By 2009, the last year for which data are available, only Colorado is below 20%. Thirty-four states are over 25% and nine of those are over 30%. It appears that since these brilliant tools rolled out that obesity rates increased from 10-15% to 25-30%. Progress. A picture is worth 742 words. Data are depicted in the nearby US Obesity Rates chart.
This is the brainchild of the USDA, the same organization that floods schools with subsidized fat-bomb food. Meanwhile, there wages a war against soda and salty snack foods companies but the real culprit is the USDA that peddles this crap. Surprise!
Despite being bombarded with data, having nutrition labeling on everything, including in some jurisdictions (NYC) on menu items served by mom and pop restaurants, the trend continues. Why? Americans on average don’t give a hoot or maybe they just don’t want to change; don’t want to give up anything. Give me pills, sugar free this and that, fat free this and that, none of which work. For most people, the solution is simple. Eat less and lower fat and sugar filled crap. And get more exercise. What good is a cartoon chart or for that matter, more nutrition information?
And so it will be with energy efficiency. The smart grid and smart meters are anticipated to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter for energy efficiency. There’s a problem with this mentality. People have to give a hoot. We can bombard people with information at every turn but one has to give a hoot to save energy.
Consumer behavior programs are important to the EE business, but as far as I know this primarily only includes turning stuff off or turning it down. Nearly every single EE technology, retrofit, replacement, upgrade, and modification requires a strong element of behavioral discipline. About the only thing I can think of that may lack behavior to avoid snapback (erosion of savings due to behavior change) is a refrigerator and freezer. I can’t imagine people standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open thinking, “I’m going to look at this stuff in the refrigerator a little while longer because I have an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator now.”
EVERYTHING else can have snapback and erosion of savings over time, if not immediately. Efficient lights use no energy so leave them on all the time. I have an efficient furnace now so I’m going to maintain a New Delhi climate in my house. I have trouble keeping it cool in this building so I’m going to turn the chiller down to 40F and not bother to change it back. Never mind that chilled water temperature may not even be the problem.
At Michaels’ La Crosse office, we have about three acres of west facing glass that unfortunately does not have good thermal characteristics. Anybody who knows anything about EE knows solar loads on cooling systems are huge. Yet our high quality three acre’s worth of roller blinds are only about 30% deployed on average as the solar energy pounds away. I’ll report back to see if this shaming worked. If not, I’ll list the names of everyone sitting closest to unprotected windows. I’ll see if threats work! No. I take it back. I want to isolate the shame effects from the threat effects. I’ll report on the shame effects in a month and if that doesn’t result in 100% compliance, I’ll do the threat test the following month.
Here is a really twisted perversion of energy efficiency: some technologies often result in more energy consumption, consistently. Consider occupancy sensors for automatic lighting controls. The first thing I did on my computer when we moved into our offices downtown was go to wattstopper.com to find information for the sensor on my wall to see how I could neuter it, and I did so immediately. I set it to be manually switched on and auto off. My overhead lights are used about 20 minutes per year – sometimes in the winter when I’m gathering up my stuff to go home, and sometimes for meetings with old bats who can’t see. Otherwise the high pressure sodium streetlight outside is plenty.
I’m hard wired to shut stuff off when I’m not around or using stuff. However, I’ve been trained by our occupancy sensors in other rooms to leave stuff on. We even have a sticker on one switch that says Leave the Lights On! More progress! I would just as soon fix these with a 34 inch Louisville Slugger. Occupancy sensors are clearly meant for users who don’t give a hoot.
On top of all this, occupancy sensors punish hard work. I was told years ago that if you sit absolutely still for the delay period (adjustable from maybe a minute to a half hour), the lights may go out. Bull. You have to do a fourth quarter Bucky jump around to keep the lights on. It isn’t easy working while jumping around.
Jump around, jump around, jump around
Jump up, jump up and get down
Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!…. (thank me for seeding this inspiring tune in your head for the rest of the day)
In case you haven’t attended a Wisconsin Badger football game, be sure to check it out.
Programmable thermostats are probably the worst thing that ever happened for energy savings. We’ve inspected hundreds of these things for program evaluations. They don’t save energy because in order to save energy you have to give a hoot. If you give a hoot, a programmable thermostat is a nuisance. A classic example included a recent verification of an installed programmable stat in a church. Prior to the installation, they turned their manual stat back for all but a handful of hours needed for occupancy each week. Post implementation, the heat is on 8-5 every day of the week. The program implementer should be fined but even so, what was wrong with the manual stat in this case? And if you’re sitting there, thinking, “I have a programmable thermostat and it is programmed according to my actual schedule, saving energy.” Really? Obviously you give a hoot. Go home and replace it with a manual one and save more. BTW, people who don’t give a hoot just put these in manual override all the time. So unlike occupancy sensors, they provide no benefit whatsoever to anyone.
Our industry has an awful lot to do. This is another reason I am not in favor of in-your-face mandates. We’ve got to sell people on energy efficiency, or else their obstinance will undo the good deed. People have to give a hoot and behave!
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
Now that I’m an old man, defined as being over 40 years of age, career half over, graduated from college 20 years ago, kids of classmates are graduating from high school, kids born when I was partying in college are graduating from college, and other depressing facts, I can say experience in anything can be almost worthless and in some cases, it is worth less than nothing.
At Michaels, we have interfaced with engineers, particularly ones who were in sales and it was stunning how little they knew about buildings, control systems and how equipment and systems use energy. It reminds me of when I was a kid; I would sit in wonderment about how automobiles were manufactured. How do they make that dashboard, the top of which was a large as a kitchen table? How do they make the thin auto body pieces parts? It was like rocket science to me. There must be some magic computer like Hal that made all this stuff happen. I have to wonder whether this is the case with some “energy engineers”.
Likewise, these guys who had been in their industry for many years and were suddenly recruited into the energy efficiency business seem to think energy savings is some nebulous, random, stab in the dark. In former lives they may have served as experts for their companies but anyone who could spout off the dimensions of a two square inch square would be viewed as Einstein. For purposes of energy analyses, the savings equal the cost of what they were selling divided by the maximum acceptable payback for the customer. (It takes somebody with 5 years of post k-12 education to do this?)
For one such real guy, the baseline, or the existing conditions are arbitrary. That’s just the way it is. When asked what the operating conditions were prior to implementation of the project, the response, “what do you think they should be?” Head, meet brick wall.
In other cases, an engineer may seem to know an energy model (spreadsheet) is not meant to be used for the specific application of the technology, say a variable frequency drive, but they use it anyway because that’s all there is for variable frequency drives. Everything is a nail as seen by the hammer. Meanwhile, I’ve seen new graduates come in and almost immediately run circles around guys with three or more years of experience.
So what does it take to be a great energy efficiency engineer (or occupation x)? First it takes commitment to excellence, which sounds like a bunch of crap, but what I mean is the engineer does not accept anything he/she doesn’t fully and deeply understand. If results look weird, they have to find out exactly what is going on. Is it an error or is it some unforeseen, non-intuitive characteristic that is driving the results to be different than expected. This trait is absolutely essential. And they know when enough is enough. One can’t spend hours finding a half dozen “errors” that have negligible effect on a complex energy model.
A non-essential but very helpful aspect is having strong mentoring and being surrounded by knowledgeable engineers who know what they are doing and conform to the above themselves.
Recently while writing a proposal for a large EE program evaluation, the minimum experience requirement for key team members, constituting maybe three or four main actors directly responsible for the outcomes, was five years direct experience in evaluation. Surprisingly, I would probably pick about the same number. A new grad can learn a heck of a lot in a year or two and by year three or four be running some good size projects. Not so ironically, this is about the time engineers become eligible for licensure.
Does this mean anyone over 40 should get their afghan and find a rocker and sit on the porch all day talking about AM radios, eight track tapes, VCRs, and never getting out of school for anything short of six feet of snow (almost true by the way)? Some folks probably should but in other cases, the answer is, of course not. Talented old people were once smart 20-somethings. I’ve never come across anyone who didn’t have it in the 20s but later found it in their 30s or 40s.
Experience is not enough. Firms need to demonstrate they know what they are doing with work examples, references for similar work, and lists of clients and how long they have been clients. For many cases with big projects, one needs to describe the difficulties and challenges of the project and how they will be overcome. That takes experience.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
It seems like every time I visit my mother, at some point, maybe the night I arrive or the next morning over coffee, she starts dumping the local rubbish on me. So and so are “separated”. What’s her name is pregnant. Jimmy got busted for a DUI. Ronnie has cancer. I went to four funerals last week. And always something about my brothers, who as you may know run a large farming operation, are taking too much risk or can’t possibly afford this or that $300,000 piece of equipment. Being the anti-gossip and direct guy that I am, I ask, “Mom, why do I need to know these things?” and “You can’t do anything about it anyway, so why bother” and “I’m sure they know what they are doing, having been in the business for thirty years.” In summary, I don’t need or even want to know.
When I played little league and maybe even high school baseball, we had things like the 10 run rule and the point of that was to cut off the game and get on with something productive because the team getting hammered is never going to come back with any chance to win the game. It wasn’t for mercy. It wasn’t to protect the meek from getting clobbered 46-2, which everyone knows would happen if the game continued.
Reality can be unpleasant to painful or underwhelming and I only want to know about it if it affects me and especially if it’s something I can do something about.
The majority of our energy efficiency work includes calculating energy savings and incentives for large commercial and industrial projects and evaluating all kinds (literally) of EE programs. Here we actually want as much information as we can get to do our jobs because hundreds of thousands of dollars can be in play and we like to get things right, especially when a lot of money is involved.
In some cases, it would be handy if the client accepted what “everything” means. It’s a little bit like describing what “no” means. One dictionary defines everything as, “every thing or particular of an aggregate or total; all”. And we write four memos regarding what “everything” means with respect to what we need. Everything. The reports, notes, manufacturer cut sheets, invoices, customer contact information, billing history, the maintenance guy’s favorite past time.
Other times we get a couple pages from a report, which is like grading an engineering exam while being provided with the question, and two equations the student wrote, and no answer. For example, a project includes the installation of a 500 horse power variable-speed compressor among several other existing compressors. The duty cycle for the new compressor is provided, but what was going on before the thing was installed? What other compressors are there now? Was it just installed to add more capacity? Answer: “never mind, here is the filtered information we want you to use”. “The consultant [providing the original study] knows what they are doing.” Ok. Let us see how terrifically brilliant they are as we review their work in its entirety. What’s to hide? Is this a game? Is that what this is, Lieutenant Caffey? Am I funny? Do I amuse you? Do I make you laugh?
One of the most important purposes of program evaluations is to provide feedback to improve return on ratepayer investment from the program, an element of which is determining if savings are actually being achieved. I think everyone has seen sitcoms where the main characters messed something up or broke something and as a result they try to divert attention from it or put a happy face on a troll. What is the point in that when it comes to evaluation? I won’t speculate for the answer to that question. There are many possibilities.
Other times, the findings are plain as the nose on your face – like we metered lighting hours on 25 projects and they indicate an average annual burn time of 2,500 hours and not 4,300 assumed in the program’s deemed savings database. According to the implementer, the sample was faulty or it was not statistically significant.
We have to face the music at times when others review our calculations. If something is incorrect or uses inaccurate or non-representative data, or is for some reason generally a mess, we work with the reviewing engineers to make things right and if that means a savings adjustment, so be it.
The bottom line is, there are plenty of opportunities to capture real savings and we as an industry need to ensure we capture these savings rather than manufacturing savings by whatever the motive or reason.
In closing, to quote a guy I agree with 90% of the time, Mark Zweig, a consultant for consultants, “I never wanted to be one of those CONsultants who tells his clients what they want to hear and hopes he never gets fired. I am much more interested in being an INsultant who tells his clients what they need to hear.”
If a client doesn’t want to hear it, it is time for a new client.
Worthless EE tip of the week: disable your auto ice maker in your kitchen refrigerator and save 1% of your home’s electric bill. I believe there is a heater in the ice cube moulds to melt the ice so it can be flipped out. Whoopty doo. Yawn. If I understand it correctly, they say the ice cube makers pull an extra 84 kWh/year, which is about 10 W. A refrigerator only averages 50-60W running around the clock. Have your ice and eat it too.
In this article, we are informed that most consumers have no idea how much energy it takes to ship from factory to store. So I thought, what are the energy implications of buying local? How much transportation energy does this save? I like strawberries from Watsonville, CA. A truck hauls 60,000 lbs of strawberries 2,100 miles for roughly 350 gallons of diesel fuel. The diesel fuel it takes for my pound of strawberries would get me 0.17 miles in my thirty-mile-per gallon car. Worthless information? You be the judge.
Finally, there is this article on KFC’s sustainability efforts. The company rebranded itself because its former name sounded like a premature heart attack. Now it offers reserved parking for hybrid cars. First, people who drive hybrid cars would probably rather walk more, not less which leads me to the obvious second point, a Prius and a bucket of the Colonel’s best with a side order of stents is not a scene I can paint in my mind. I was going to stereotype and say KFC lots are full of SUVs, Buicks, Chevys, and minivans but I shall refrain and stick to the google street view facts from a Lakeville, MN (suburb of Twin Cities) store: 4 GM cars, 2 GM SUVs, 2 GM pickup trucks, 3 Chrysler minivans, 2 Chrysler cars, 1 Ford car, 1 Nissan SUV, 1 used defribulator, and zero hybrids.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
State and federal budgets are headed for the cliff to varying degrees with few exceptions. Here in Wisconsin, we’ve had the Battle Royale fight to the death cage match with the repubs on one side and the unions on the other while the dems were hiding out in a witness protection plan.
Meanwhile at the federal level, we are on a dangerous trajectory unseen in my lifetime. People have whined about the deficit and debt since my adolescence – the Miracle on Ice days against the Soviet Union. I kept saying, “It’s not a problem. It’s not a problem.” Why? Because the debt as a percentage of our economy was reasonable, and flat but very few people consider this metric – the one that matters most. They just clobber each other over the head and call each other names and we have Jay Leno fodder like “pay-go”.
However, this all changed since the meltdown Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2008. The debt as a percentage of our economy really IS becoming a major concern. We are staring at $1.6 trillion deficits for as far as the eye can see. Personally, I think the word trillion should be banned because it sounds inconsequential. How about $1.6 million million, or $1,600 billion?
Do we cut spending, take away grandma’s pharmaceuticals, sell her home, and set her and her senile dog up in a tent under the bridge, or do we fleece “the rich”. See, I’ve always believed when politicians talk about “the rich” they mean households with incomes of two freshly college-educated people, say an engineer and a nurse or a school teacher and pharmacist.
As a rational person, I did a little Saturday morning research and some pretty simple math to prove my point. The chart below containing data from the IRS paints a pretty clear and grim picture for those expecting a free ride from “the rich”. What it shows is total incomes and numbers of returns (households) by income bracket. The average income of those in the top 1% is $1.2 million and the next 4% the average drops sharply to $220,000. My analysis goes like this: suppose we just took everything these people made above $100k, $250k, and so on. Taking everything in excess of $100k from the top 10% of earners is “only” $2.4 trillion – $800 billion more than the deficit. I.e., if the government confiscated all household income above $100k, we would have an $800 billion surplus. But almost no one in this country considers $100k to be wealthy.
So let’s move to $250k, which apparently according to the President is the line between the rich and not rich because he’s said ten thousand times he’s not touching the piggy bank of anyone making less than $250k. Well guess what; if we take everything in excess of $250k, it doesn’t even balance the budget. Everything! Of course if we tried this, no one would make more than $250k. If we took 90%, there would be very little income over $250k and so on. Lastly, if we take everything in excess of $1 million, you know, stick it to the rich, it has practically a negligible impact on the deficit. Hello Pesky! And remember, this is EVERYTHING above $1 million.
I conclude with facts that raising taxes on “the rich” is akin to fixing the weather-stripping on a large commercial building that is hemorrhaging energy waste.
And so it goes for energy savings. One has to ask themselves, what can I expect for savings to pay for a renovation I want? Start by considering you can’t save more than the building or a piece of equipment is using. Sound pretty ridiculously simple? Some end users could learn from this.
If you are on a buildings and grounds committee, you should know a few basic rules of thumb. I will use schools as an example here. New construction costs around $150 per square foot. The cost of lighting and HVAC for the building is probably 20-30% of that cost with HVAC costing $20-$35 per square foot. People should consider their own energy costs per square foot, but it’s most likely going to be in the $1-$2 per square foot per year.
So put some numbers together to get a SWAG (scientific wild ass guess) of what your return on investment may be for an HVAC system replacement. At Michaels we call such a limit of savings or return on investment a bracket or a bracket calculation. For example, if you are paying $1.50 per square foot per year and a new HVAC system costs $30 per square foot, your best possible return is a 20 year payback – that is if you save ALL the energy being consumed now. It is safe to say that actual payback is twice that long. Ditto for adding a variable speed drive to a pump. One of our engineers may consider a variable speed drive for a pump and I may pull out my calculator and within thirty seconds conclude it’s never going to fly. The motor uses $750 electricity at most, and installing a drive is going to be at least $2,000. After screwing around with more detailed data and analysis, it will be a 12 year payback and that’s going nowhere.
Imagine being hired to analyze options for an HVAC replacement, considering several alternative systems. Wouldn’t you know it! The payback was infinite because the new system would cost more to operate in energy than the 90 year old steam system that provides no ventilation and no air conditioning. The board is shocked at the price tag and doesn’t want to pay for the study! They were “misled”. Wha? I would call it an introduction to the real world, circa 2011.
This is like going to the optometrist because the patient can’t see very well, thinking they need a $100 pair of glasses. The doctor does his series of tests and he diagnoses cataracts. The exam costs $150 and the cataract surgery costs $7,000. Otherwise, the eyes are fine. The patient is enraged and refuses to pay for the exam. The patient still wants the eyeglasses – prescribed by said optometrist! This is a perfect allegory to a real story.
You may be able to choose among solutions, but you cannot rewrite history, pick your own reality, or defy the arithmetic.
Checking in after my rant No Brazil Syndrome, how many radiation-related deaths have occurred as a result of Fukushima’s damage sustained in March 11’s massive earthquake? Zero. Meanwhile, in the same period, probably more than 3,000 Americans have died in car crashes and deaths from the tsunami in Japan alone exceed 13,000.
Like most other things, you (you) have infinitely more control over your well being than that thing poses. Stay out of the sun or wear strong sunscreen, don’t smoke, keep your BMI within better than recommended limits, skip the red meat, wear your seatbelt/helmet, exercise, don’t break the speed limit, check your cholesterol and blood pressure, get your colonoscopies…
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
An overarching theme of the Energy Rant is that much energy policy has a feel-good foundation of fluff. Last week I ranted about the feel-good dream of having plentiful, inexpensive renewable energy. This will take a miracle because conventional sources are still huge and growing. We have enough coal, natural gas, tar sands, oil shale, and offshore energy to last beyond our kids’ great grandchildren. Of course most readers of this are champions of energy efficiency, but energy efficiency also has too much feel-good fluff.
Consider compact fluorescent lights, which despite my rant about it’s mandate a few weeks ago has been a fantastically successful development from the private sector sped along with the aid of EE programs. That market has been pretty well transformed, especially in states with high rates and years of EE programs behind them. Here’s the “problem” – the program has been successful. The market is transformed. Programs can no longer take credit for it but they don’t want to let go of the “savings”. Well c’mon!
This guy’s letter from the National Resources Defense Council illustrates this. He is responding to a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece describing the “ineffectiveness” of California CFL programs. An independent evaluation of the program demonstrated that savings were much less than claimed. Sounds familiar per our first hand evaluation of some similar programs. He says the op-ed is based on a “consultant report that makes arbitrary and unsubstantiated reductions to the benefits of the compact fluorescent lamp program”. Well if that isn’t the cat calling the kettle black. Talk about unsubstantiated. I’m sure there’s nothing in the report to back up its conclusions. The guy probably hasn’t even read the executive summary.
Per our experience, this hack’s comments are unfortunately not uncommon. Utilities, program administrators, and implementers do not want to be told their programs are saving less than they claim – as they almost always are. I’m not sure who did the above evaluation in California but I will bet my house that they did not underestimate savings because: (1) it jibes with results we see for similar programs and (2) evaluators do not hammer savings for fun because it can lead to confrontation. We tell it like it is; not how someone wishes it would be.
We’ve recently completed impact (savings) evaluations for programmable thermostats; let’s just say in a state with a temperate climate – a state that has been lampooned in this rant a couple times. A programmable thermostat is 98% a heating-energy-saving technology. In the referenced temperate climate, where you can heat the entire house with a toaster oven, or at most your basic kitchen oven, what do you expect? Even in states that need heating, the attributable impacts can be tiny. Reasons for poor attributable savings include customers not using their furnaces; they were the programmable thermostat, programmable thermostats replacing programmable thermostats, and programmable thermostats in permanent override.
Impact evaluation for residential end users is often done by billing regression, which is a sexy term for comparing the bills before implementation to the bills after implementation and making appropriate adjustments. Consider evaluation for programmable thermostats with the only gas-using device in the home being the furnace. Billing regression is the ONLY way to go. Any engineering analysis is going to have much lower precision and confidence. But noooo! The program people didn’t like the regression results. Can we “engineer” savings? NO!
The other thing I’m seeing is rules changes to capture more savings. Incentives are limited by total dollars per year per customer, minimum paybacks, and maximum percentage of measure cost. This of course protects against free riders. Then there is the incentive itself – how much incentive is there per kWh, kW, or therm saved? Some utilities are greatly increasing incentives, lowering payback limits, and increasing annual payout limits. Does this result in more attributable energy savings? Probably not much. Evaluations will probably show they are mainly making more projects eligible and thus claiming more savings. I estimate free ridership will go up a lot. Program evaluators walking into the evaluation of these “upgraded” programs should prepare for pushback and maybe a little firestorm in some cases.
Some utilities whine to regulators that they’ve already done a great job of saving energy and all the easy stuff is gone (hence the expanded pay out and slackening rules discussed above). I don’t buy it. First, their 20th century programs are running low on remaining opportunity. Could be, but there are alternatives if they AND the regulators would open up to program innovation. Second, opportunities are created every day by engineers, architects, contractors, building owners, tenants, the milkman, janitor, cooks… you name it.
I haven’t seen any studies yet but I would bet there is more opportunity for cost effective measures in NEW buildings – ones that are already built. You just need to be capable of seeing the hand in front of your face and know how to “read” – i.e., understand what you are looking at. Buildings are loaded with opportunities we find but rarely see coming out of programs. Why? Perhaps because in many cases there is no equipment to sell. Examples: grocery store has a main air handler maintaining 75F in the space and at the same time an adjacent one is struggling to maintain 70F. The little one is cooling like crazy in the summer and pumping cold outdoor air all winter to try to get to 70F while the main unit is burning gas like crazy to make up for it. Obviously, this is an incredible opportunity and a very simple concept. Somebody just has to LOOK. And THINK! This is far more common than a congressman would ever imagine.