It is awfully unfortunate that “begin with the end in mind” has been beaten to a cliché, because it is SO applicable to everything. In recent years, I have seen about 5,200 articles, blogs, emails, newscasts, gum wrappers, and fortune cookie messages that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Perhaps I was a complete dork when I was a high school senior deciding what major to pursue in college, but it came down to three factors: what am I good at, what is the demand for the profession, and what is the pay for the gig?
Begin: Amusing, Worthwhile, Important, True Story
I went to one of those puny schools we see in rural America today: originally built in the 1920s, with a 1960s addition. Guidance/career counselor? Never heard of it. School nurse? Are you kidding me?
In grade school we played kickball on a concrete platform, maybe 50 feet by 100 feet. On both ends were basketball hoops mounted on two five inch steel pipes (no padding), each about four feet apart anchored in concrete – like I-beams but without dangerous sharp edges! On the middle of each side of this court was another such pipe – making a rectangular kickball diamond – two basketball hoops for home plate and second base, two side pipes for first and third.
This was near the end of the cold war, and I remember nuclear fallout instruction films featuring school children crawling under desks in case of attack. That kickball court was designed to withstand a direct attack by Soviet missiles. I’ve discovered why anything built by my 1970s vintage boss – bookshelf, table, picture frame, coat hanger, is built to withstand a nuclear blast.
Kickball worked like this: “pitcher” rolls the ball toward the “batter” who kicks the ball and if he/she makes it to first base (the five inch steel pipe with no padding) before being nailed with the ball by a fielder, safe at first base!
Mike Arp kicks a worm killer and sprints for first base. The pitcher takes the grounder and throws a laser hitting Mike in full sprint between one leg and the other, tying up his legs (tripping). He face plants on concrete directly into first base, with his head. We laid him out on a table inside with a half grapefruit bulge on his head. He’s ok. Nurse? Hell no. He may have been awarded the rest of the day off.
As a product of this rough and tumble school, I didn’t even know what engineering was, but my high school educated parents were plenty smart to insist we take all the math and science we could devour. By freshman year in college I had found my major – engineering. It met all criteria above: competence, demand, and high pay – gee, just like today!
Engineering still has top-of-the-chart salaries and demand. Any list of top careers is full of engineering and various healthcare slots. Example of engineering demand: at the depth of the “great recession”, what was the unemployment rate for engineers? Two percent. And believe me, there are PLENTY of crappy engineers, so this was/is amazing.
Promoting STEM: high pay and virtual guaranteed job. What else is there to know? I just don’t understand kids who go to college to major in African Art History, and then with graduation looming realize nobody needs this. This too was not made up. We met such a woman working a hotel front desk in Madison a year ago. Good grief man (or woman), think about the destination before you start the trip!
Resume: Energy Efficiency
Energy programs are similarly myopic, and this will come around to bite commodity programs that go through the motions like the infamous basket weaving major. A commodity program, as you would imagine, is most common, and their mission is pimping widgets – light bulbs, energy star this and that, and maybe some variable frequency drives if they are really progressive.
In the future, programs need to do more than throw money at customers. Programs need to HELP customers – provide valuable services to inform and guide them to the right choices. Audits and studies often take a beating by commodity seeking administrators. Why? Because the studies themselves are commodities and/or the program has major flaws that throw up barriers to participation.
Studies are not the end game. Implemented projects are the end game. Programs need to be designed with the end in mind, customer by customer.
I froth at the mouth when I listen to hand wringers hem and haw about “dry holes” – as in dry oil wells representing studies that get shelved and result in no action. This is bologna. The program is flawed – it doesn’t serve the customer well; it is overly burdensome; it throws up barriers; it takes too long; it’s too risky for the customer; or the providers are not qualified or sufficiently competent.
We don’t have this problem with detailed studies. Our studies almost always get implemented with 10-40% savings, but we can’t take full credit. The program and utility contributions actually make it easy, not hard for customers.
Design programs and hire providers to serve the interests of the customer, and the results will be there in the end.
 I kid you not, at all.
 Source: National Society of Professional Engineers
I remind and inform people from time to time that my career in this industry consists of three distinct eras. In the first era, lasting about five years, I was running, climbing, crawling, and digging around in commercial and industrial facilities for comprehensive energy assessments and studies. This included gobs of energy analyses, simulations, and fairly complex cost estimating. The second era included essentially mentoring others to do the same, plus reviewing thousands of calculations and hundreds of reports. The third includes business development, program development, implementation, and evaluation – with a much grander view of the industry. In the process, I have had the fantastic experience of getting to know other energy efficiency professionals and more about what they do. The challenge is daunting but who wants it any other way?
Energy efficiency professionals comprise an enormous range of academic and career backgrounds when one considers program managers, administrators, process and impact evaluators, regulators, field staff, and technical support. Unfortunately, there is often bias and cynicism and misunderstanding between one pedigree of professionals and another, and this, in general, is the result of ignorance, as in lack of knowledge, not stupidity.
Starry Eyed Engineer
Consider engineering. Engineers coming out of school, probably like non-engineers, have stereotypes of what engineers do. They design cars, airplanes, and bridges. They test things until they fail. The fact is, very few engineers actually do those things and my saying for new grads: They don’t know what they want to do anyway, even if they think they do. That was my experience, and I have observed it many times interviewing these youngsters. “You want to design an air conditioning unit?” No. You will be stuck designing a mount for a compressor in a crappy rooftop unit and that will take months – designing a stupid stamped out piece of metal. Thankfully, this gives some people a great thrill.
Zeroing in to engineers serving the energy efficiency industry: this is my definition of engineering: if the task at hand requires an engineer to do the job, it is engineering. Many times the task at hand may seem boring or trivial but is as important and requires similar expertise, just in an unrelated track. For example, consider energy efficiency consulting for the design of a major ammonia refrigeration retrofit project versus review of a technical reference manual. I am guessing the typical engineer in a firm like ours with dozens of engineers would think, “Dude, the ammonia project is cool and the technical reference manual is for wimps”. Let me put that statement into layperson terms, “We play real football in the US compared to your wimpy brand in Spain, Italy, Brazil, et al.”
For the engineer, both require engineering and attention to detail. One requires more in-depth technical expertise and the other requires broader technical expertise, as well as applicability to other stakeholders – like strength versus endurance. Like American football versus world football: strength and speed versus endurance and a broader skill set. Moreover, like world football, technical reference manuals appeal to and are of much greater interest to a much larger swath of energy efficiency professionals. What people like and consider “real” depends on their perspective.
Stepping outside the relatively small engineering aspects of energy efficiency, we have marketing, outreach, integration with supply-side markets, process evaluation, and planning to name a few. I have experienced many times the treating of the other guys’ job as needless, a nuisance, not worth it or even worthless.
For example, some program implementers don’t like evaluators. I was attending a conference session one time while an executive from a large program implementation company was giving an evaluator on his panel the jazz. Everyone knows of instances where a guy leads on as if he’s joking, but not really. Between the chuckles and grins there is a serious punch in the gut.
The Machine Moves; Parts Alone Do Not
The fact is, there are many critical moving parts to the energy efficiency industry and many, if not most, stakeholders naturally think their piece is the most important because that is what they understand and generally have a passion for. But consider:
- Without engineering, impacts are unknown and many times un or under-realized
- Without marketing, nothing happens
- Without evaluation, things would veer into the world of Alice in Wonderland tomorrow
- Without regulation, there would be no programs to drive energy efficiency as a viable alternative to adding supply in willy nilly fashion
- Without programs, there would be no free riders; there would be
no riders at all
 Technical reference manuals contain, calculations, sources of information, assumptions, measure descriptions and thorough documentation of mass market energy efficiency measures.
 This is really difficult for me because I’m soooo out of touch with pop culture – a nerd.
 A google search of fat football players predominately features Green Bay Packers. Why is that?
It was the summer of 2001, the year of the shark. Sharks were attacking humans all over the world like crazy. It was also the summer of the Gary Condit scandal. Never heard of Gary Condit? He was a congressman from California who had an affair with an intern, and the intern went missing. Look at the guy. Wouldn’t you like to buy a used car from, or have your daughter work for this guy?
The outcomes were as follows: in August, The Wall Street Journal had reported, in a nonchalant manor, that the number of worldwide shark attacks were exactly on pace with the average number of attacks over the past many years. The media ran Condit out of town. September 11th happened, and no one cared about either of these overhyped stories anymore. Moral of the story: this is the United States of Entertainment. If there is no news, make news – like what’s her names dead baby in Florida – a tragedy, but a court case with no national implications whatsoever. Why was this such a big deal? I have my opinions, but I’m not going to waste my time on them.
And the hype keeps advancing – the more salacious, the better. A four star general and head of the CIA was recently outed by the FBI for an affair, and that came and went in about a week. Normally, news sells on what makes money, but I have my own ideas for why this one hustled out the back. Don’t you think an affair, with the potential for blackmail of the highest ranking spook in the US, is a bigger story than the trial of a high school dropout in Florida?
In energy efficiency, we engineers expose and shoot down overhyped technologies and equipment with no basis for savings or misleading outcomes. One example was an oil, acid, and moisture purger for chillers. The theory may sound plausible, but the physics are unknown, the thing is untested and what is the baseline? What does normal operation look like, what does operation with this thing look like, and what are the results?
Often during program evaluation of energy efficiency programs, and in particular for industrial processes, we are left asking, “What is the baseline?” What would the customer be doing without this wonderful doohickey or wiz bang process modification? We have to convince ourselves that what didn’t happen is as realistic as what did happen, and compare the two. Often times we get the strong to overwhelming hunch that what did happen is what would have happened anyway, without a program. In other words, the net savings are zero, and even the gross savings are zero, because there really was no reasonable, viable, less expensive, less efficient alternative.
Speaking of baselines, it always torques me off when media overhype unusual weather and blame it all on climate change. Cue the President. As I said before, our atmosphere consists of roughly 80% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, water vapor, and a smattering of other gasses, including CO2. If we didn’t have the atmosphere; if we didn’t have the greenhouse effect, we wouldn’t be here. Since more CO2 in the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect, and since man burns carbon-based fuels, man is increasing the greenhouse effect. Ok.
The devastation wreaked by Sandy is clear evidence we need to take draconian measures to reduce carbon emissions now. Really? Let’s baseline this.
Tom Skilling, from WGN, and Joe Bastardi, formerly with Accuweather.com, now with Weatherbell.com, are the two smartest weather guys I’ve seen. Weather theory, data, and news course through their veins 24/7. They live for it. Mr. Bastardi says we’ve seen this pattern before in the 1940s and 1950s: cold Pacific waters and warm Atlantic waters. Result: hurricanes run up the eastern seaboard and we have dry, hot Midwest summers.
The chart shows tropical storm/hurricane wind speed for those making landfall in and around New York.
And looking at drought information, I see that back in the early 1950s we had substantial drought in the middle of the country, starting in Texas (as we had in 2011) and spreading to the Rockies and Midwest in subsequent years (like 2012). Wow! Who’d a thunk that?! It’s the same pattern for both the East Coast and Midwest!
In engineering, we have clear physics and engineering principles, like the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Really complicated things like geometry, timing, and velocities for internal combustion engines require computational fluid dynamics. Things like gasoline magnetizers and turbo genies (think pinwheel in the motor’s intake manifold) are simply stupid. Still, other things like the oil, acid, and moisture remover for chillers require testing. They could be legitimate.
Many things get screwed up badly because the problem is not understood, or it is grossly oversimplified, ignoring other overpowering factors. The meltdown at Three Mile Island was one such event. Easy money policy by the Federal Reserve is another such case.
Consider the big picture. What are the key factors? What is the same or different compared to baseline historic trends? Think critically. Look at the flip side of everything. There are almost always offsetting phenomena, but sometimes there is compounding phenomena, otherwise known as interaction effects. Do your own research.
According to this article from Inc., the ten most important factors for employee satisfaction are:
- Purpose – to make a difference
- Goals for sense of purpose
- Opportunity for innovation
- Open mindedness
A year before finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I joined the Nuclear Navy. Nothing could be better. I was getting paid a decent salary for my last year of school. Getting up at 4:00 AM, marching, chanting, calisthenics, etc.: not required. No uniforms. And get this: I found that I had earned 30 days of vacation while attending my last year of school! After graduation, all the aforementioned hoop jumping was required but for only 6 weeks. It was hokey, but it was also a good time in beautiful Newport, RI.
Then I had to go to work, and one would think that nuclear engineering would be sexy and cool. Not so much, because the objective is to watch dials not move, at least in commercial nuclear plants that’s the way it had better be. But I wasn’t in a nuclear plant, land-based, submarine or surface ship. I drove a desk, stared at a computer monitor (which resulted in losing my 20/20 vision), and wrote letters of approval and sometimes rejection for this, that, and the other for a nuclear plant 2000 miles away in a desert.
I would say a reason I was drawn to calculus and all the good engineering stuff that followed was that it quite fully engaged my ADD brain, which needed to process information much faster than I could read or write. So writing for my brain was like putting a speedboat in a hot tub – not exactly like chocolate in my peanut butter. They did not go well together.
But I learned.
After four years of that, grad school, and landing at Michaels, I wrote reports by the dozens, and it was easy! The nit picking, as we used to call it, was gone. Every once in a while I would add in a zinger or two to what I was writing just to see if it would pass review. Pushing the envelope is also fun.
I won’t speak for other engineers, but it is safe to say, new grads don’t like writing and they don’t like talking, at least formally – in summation; communicating. And for some individuals, it changes little with the passing of years.
Getting back to the list of credentials for a great job, communication contributes to every single item, with the exception of transparency, which is 100% on the employer. Communication is critical, especially in services, including waiting on diners and taxi cab drivers. The good ones; the smart ones know that if they connect with their customers and possibly provide entertainment or psychiatric services, they are going to get bigger tips. Hermits get less, if anything. I can get my own bags, thanks.
I was reading an interesting article in a professional publication that described how successful panhandlers need to be good marketers and sales people. Successful panhandlers don’t stand at the stoplight with a crappy ragged piece of cardboard that says “Lost job kids have new moan ya – need money” written with a black sharpie. Good ones go above and beyond, tell a story, connect with customers and make a compelling case. For example, go to Goodwill, buy a decent looking suit with all the amenities for $25 from a federal grant, pick up a laptop bag, maybe even a computer somebody left at Best Buy to recycle. Then shower, shave, use some deodorant and get out there and look like an unfortunate business man who lost his wallet. I’m a terrible storyteller and worse bluffer (my grandfather and his brother were outstanding at this so I don’t know what happened) but you can imagine all kinds of desperate scenarios and Mr. Sharp Dressed Man is going to make a hell of a lot more sales than cardboard sharpie guy.
To make a difference; to be influential; to innovate; to achieve and thus draw positive attention; for autonomy to do what one wants; to get more rope; people need to be capable of telling a compelling story. In the Navy, we called it facts, discussion, action. Now I call it scenario backed by sound reasoning, and recommendation. The art comes in tugging at the right heart strings and pushing the right buttons.
In summary, what is more fun than manipulating people to get what you want?
Notice that according to what people say, salary ranks just above toilet tissue in the corporate head (that’s Navy talk for the restroom) in importance. Actually, it was #10. If you paid any attention, there were only nine listed above.
On another note, the Ben Bernanke announced recently the purchase of $40 billion (or maybe it was $80 billion) per month in some sort of securities with printed money again. This is the third massive round of juicing the economy. Message to Ben: it isn’t working. To succeed, you have to know what failure looks like.
In the meantime, enjoy filling your gas tank because dollar denominated barrels of oil will continue to rise in cost as a result of the cash flood on the world. Also, enjoy the non-return on cash savings accounts and the business loans people can’t get because it’s all risk and no reward for banks. Gasoline prices will hit $5 by next summer, unless the house of cards collapses before that. Write it down.
Last week Wisconsin’s Governor Walker pronounced drought emergencies for 40-plus counties in the land of cheese. I’m not sure what that means other than the obvious fact that it is dry and it’s been hotter than bejeezus for quite some time, with the peak being the week of Independence Day. A “blocking” high pressure system was parked in the middle of the country. High pressure systems result in sinking air, the opposite of low pressure systems where surface air rises to cold altitudes causing clouds and rain. Sinking air results in no clouds and heat of compression. Heat of compression may seem ludicrous until you consider that just a half inch Hg (mercury) increase in atmospheric pressure (about 1.6%) would increase the temperature by about 9 degrees F, all else equal.
But back to the drought emergency – this I read/heard allows farmers to take water from streams and lakes for irrigation, which like the President traveling to a natural disaster site, sounds like a good idea but is pretty much worthless. It is worthless because who has equipment lying about to suck water out of a stream/pond/lake and water their crops and pastures?
But let’s consider irrigation from city water or privately owned wells. Wasting resources, the basis of many rants, drives me nuts and I frequently see incredible waste in many irrigation operations from lawns to crops. I know little about irrigation “technology” but I am a mechanical engineer with some knowledge of fluid mechanics, heat and mass transfer. I view some systems and curse the waste.
There are generally two inefficiencies with certain irrigation systems. One costs nothing to implement and saves gobs of water and electricity and the other may cost something and saves gobs of water and electricity.
As shown below, the center pivot irrigation system is common for many types of crops. The grotesque waste with this thing pictured is threefold. First, it is a high pressure system, which obviously wastes pumping energy. Secondly, since it is a high pressure system, it virtually atomizes the water. Hint: efficient humidifiers generate tiny water droplets to evaporate in air with no heat input other than from the air itself. That’s what this thing is – a giant humidifier. It’s supposed to be watering the crop and instead it’s spraying water in tiny droplets into the air and watering the atmosphere. Lastly, it runs during the middle of the hot, sunny day. With the tiny droplets in the hot sun, half the water evaporates before it lands on the crop below and another large percentage evaporates before it drops from the crop foliage to the soil, where it is needed.
I see the same thing happen on smaller scales in city gardens and lawns. Sprinklers and spray heads pumping out a mist during middle of the day, adding moisture to the air and not so much the soil as intended. One saving grace is golfers don’t like to get wet while playing so courses are irrigated at night and so are many corporate campuses and municipal parks and boulevards. This atomizer (sprinkler head) below is common and like for crops, if used during any part of the hot sunny day, is going to result in half the water evaporating, first in the air, then before it drips from the grass to the soil.
Think of it this way: fog isn’t water vapor. Water vapor is invisible at close range. At long range it causes haze but haze never results in driving risk due to poor vision. Fog is actually tiny water droplets aloft. Fog doesn’t work very well for adding moisture to soil, does it? The head pictured works like fog to get even distribution. The spray pattern is fixed so it relies on whatever wind current there is to spread it round. Good grief.
Without geeking into engineering babble, the driving force for evaporation is much greater in the heat of the day when the relative humidity is low. In only the freakiest situations, if ever, is relative humidity lower when the sun is hidden by clouds or the earth (night).
Summarizing, to save water and energy when irrigating:
- Irrigate at night or early morning when relative humidity is highest.
- Use low pressure sprinkler heads producing large water droplets that have low surface to volume ratio to minimize evaporation. This also reduces pumping energy for large pumping systems dedicated to irrigation only.
- The end.
A great option for homes is the tractor sprinkler shown below. It may look like a cute toy, but it is actually self-propelled machine that follows the garden hose as shown. This helps avoid overwatering if you forget to move the sprinkler while watching SpongeBob reruns. It also squirts relatively large water droplets for low evaporation waste.
Willie Widget Man goes sumpin ike iss:
They set my goals so high, I cried
Two percent, holy crap!
Why they gotta be high as a kite like that?
I miss the fruit so low, I miss old code
It’s not easy for me now
It’s such a mindless rite
And I think it’s gonna be a damn hard time
No light bulbs anywhere for me to mine
Like my showerheads, the flow’s so low
Oh no no no
I’m a Widget man
Widget man, throwin’ CFLs at every home
And I think it’s gonna be a damn hard time
No light bulbs anywhere for me to mine
Like my showerheads, the flow’s so low
Oh no no no
I’m a Widget man
Widget man, throwin’ CFLs at every home
This ain’t the racket that it used to be
I don’t know where to turn
Do I need an enginEEEEERring PhD?
No grasp physics, I can’t understand
Just a basket weaving Degree
Oh widget maaa-aaa-aaa-aan
And I think it’s gonna be a damn hard time
No light bulbs anywhere for me to mine
Like my showerheads, the flow’s so low
Oh no no no
I’m a Widget man
Widget man, throwin’ CFLs at every home
And I think it’s gonna be a damn hard time
And I think it’s gonna be a damn hard time
Yes I think it’s gonna be a damn hard time
It’s gonna be a freaking hopeless hard time
I think I’ll find a hole crawl in to die
Remember the old kooks who thought they knew better, gave you stupid rules, and warned you about things you would come to regret because you ignored them? They were your parents. If you are old enough, maybe a parent yourself, or maybe not, you should realize that OMG! I’ve turned into my parents! It’s wisdom through experience and in particular from making mistakes and failure.
As a supervisor, one thing I learned, and is unfortunately a fact of life, is that you have to let staff make their own mistakes because no matter how many times you tell people not to do certain things – like use an old letter or old report and turn it into a new one – they will do it anyway and it will have links to the wrong files and the previous clients’ name will show up in the most embarrassing spots. I recognize the signs when telling them things – their head bobbing up and down but their face and body language says, “Yeah, yeah old man, whatever.”
Other things include safety where there may be no learning from a mistake; there may be dying from a mistake. The message for this one is more graphic and edgy. They are past the immortal 17-18 year old age and maybe the consequence portion of the brain is finally starting to develop. If I remember correctly, this portion of the brain is fully developed by 25-30 years of age. Do you suppose car-rental companies have realized this????
Being old and having learned from many mistakes and failures in my experience generated my interest in history. Success and failure will repeat themselves if you try xyz again and again. It is important, for the love of Pete, that you recognize what failure and success look like. For example, “we could have lost all 16 games rather than beating the only 0-16 team in the league” is not success. What is versus what could be is not a metric for success either.
Two and half years ago while attending the ACEEE Summer Study for Industry in Niagara Falls, we had a group outing at the Robert Moses Hydro Power Station a few miles down the river from the falls. Having occupied the planet as an adult (as determined by age, not necessarily behavior) for 20 years, I found the story of this engineering marvel to be incredible; and the engineering provided only perhaps 40% of my amazement.
In 1956, the former power generating station essentially collapsed. At the time, Western New York was a booming manufacturing hub. Today it gives new meaning to the term rust belt, unfortunately. In 1957, congress approved construction of a replacement and the Moses station was built in 3 years. But that isn’t 10% of the story.
Having visited the falls in 1991 but not the power plant, I seemed to remember a tour guide telling us river water was diverted around the falls at night to a humongous man-made reservoir to generate power during the day. Twenty years later I thought, that must have been a Smokey and the Bandit moment – a tall tail heard in my naive years that would never happen. But it did! Two underground conduits each roughly 60 feet deep and 50 feet wide carved out of rock with TNT and earth moving equipment divert the water around the falls to the man-made reservoir. Not only that, the conduits went right through town! Homes were moved out of the way temporarily to dig the hole, pour the concrete, etc., and then the homes put back. Temporary bridges over the cuts were there one day and gone the next!
The rush was to get this thing built so manufacturing wouldn’t leave. Few questions were asked other than, “What can I do?” It reminds me of life on the farm to this day. When a disaster hits, neighbors say, what can I do? Lawyers starve. Today, three years wouldn’t even get the Moses project out of congressional committee. There would be 10,000 protesters camped out in a makeshift city. There is opposition to doing anything in this country. Just check on statements from the late Steve Jobs who said it is impossible to build a manufacturing facility in this country. While Apple became the most valuable company in the world ahead of Exxon, Microsoft, and Wal Mart, perhaps the most hated companies in the country, all of its stuff is manufactured overseas.
Lately, as anyone not cryogenically frozen over the past six months knows, the Keystone pipeline has been held up out of environmental safety uncertainty. C’mon. As shown in Monty and Me there are pipelines crisscrossing all over the country. Moreover, the trans-Alaska pipeline was completed about 35 years ago (similarly in an unbelievable two years). Are we that much dumber now? No. We just don’t want added supply of petrol into the country. At least make an honest statement for the opposition. This is like planting a row of Colorado spruce to stop the wind from blowing on the western plains. The petrol will get here and be consumed one way or another, from our friends or enemies.
Americans whine about the trade deficit and lack of manufacturing in the country. Meanwhile, a glut of natural gas has developed from shale and Europe with a brutally cold winter can’t get enough and they are to some degree hostage to Vlady and the Russians for natural gas. What do you say we ship LNG to the Europeans with long term contracts? Let’s sell stuff to other countries!
Similarly, energy companies want to refit defunct lumber ports in Oregon to export coal to the Chinese. Can’t do that. Again, like using a newspaper to keep dry in a hurricane the aim is really to reduce supply of hydrocarbon fuel onto the market. But the Chinese will simply buy elsewhere – Australia for one. Canada will ship their tar sands sludge to the far east if we don’t take it.
Every time I look at major engineering feats I think, “that would never happen today”. Interstate highway system, hydro power dams, cargo transportation on the Mississippi (locks and dams, wing dams etc.), railways along the Mississippi, ports, canals and aqueducts, and the most ironic of all – diversion of nearly every drop of the Colorado River. California, Phoenix, Tucson, and Vegas wouldn’t exist today.
We can’t have the economy we want, the energy independence we want, the manufacturing we want, the jobs we want, and the prosperity we want without building stuff that results in profit. And one thing is for sure, leading by example only works within the family, workplace, team, and with allies. Leading by example with the competition? They will eat us alive.
You may be interested in watching stories from the tough guys that built the Moses Hydro Plant. It’s quite long, but amazing. They really were tough guys, and women!
True or false: It’s easier to teach Pablo Picasso how to paint a house than it is to make a house painter into a Picasso-grade painter/artist. For the answer, keep reading.
I was sitting in a session at last week’s AESP conference sipping my weak overpriced Starbucks when I almost sprayed a mouthful on the bystanders sitting in front of me. Not one, but two guys opined that it is easier to teach, for example, a refrigeration expert retrocommissioning than it is to teach a retrocommissioning/energy expert efficient refrigeration. Allow me to demonstrate with an example, a true story.
A while back we were hired to assist with the design of an ammonia refrigeration system for a new distribution center. Our charter was energy efficiency and allow the contractor to make it happen. They had already hired a competent refrigeration expert. We reviewed his conceptual design which was already very good. We made a few improvements and completed our report with impacts for the program. Months pass and the project comes in for a custom efficiency incentive. I was appalled at what had happened. The contractor went ahead with what they always do. Instead of installing four compressors, two small, and two large, sized appropriately for both optimum summer and winter efficiency, they used three compressors that really worked well for neither. All in favor of doing things the way we’ve always done them, raise your hand. Needles and camels come to mind when pondering the conversion of these chumps to RCx “experts”. Good luck with that.
There are only a handful of system-specific EE experts for things like compressed air, refrigeration, and steam in the country. How do you know Jeff? Because utilities have money available for energy efficiency upgrades and that will draw customers and system experts out like a hot apple pie draws in black bears at a state park. Only the most ignorant or stubborn customers would bypass a program’s money to pay for services, unless the program is awful and worth less than the time investment. We have been told by some providers that indeed they are a waste of time in their opinions.
With all the custom efficiency implementation and evaluation work we have done over many years, I’m sure we know most of them in the markets we serve. These are not the guys they are talking about.
Why? Because people focus on their deliverables.
- Refrigeration experts: cold
- Compressed air experts: pressure
- Architects: functional sexy buildings
- HVAC designers: comfort
Refrigeration, compressed air, and steam guys are focused on selling stuff, almost always. They are not consultants. We know this all too well as contractors have approached us by the dozens over the years to help make the business case for their prospective customers. But soon they find that we are focused on doing the right thing, which may include messy system modifications and controls adjustments with little capital investment – and getting the analyses right. To my knowledge, none of these has gone anywhere.
As far as architects and engineers are concerned, they cannot afford to pound the streets for energy efficiency studies. It may take as much time to land a $8,000 energy or RCx study as it does to land a $200,000 design project. Gee, which way would you prefer? However, they may use the $8,000 to land the eventual $200,000 design project. This happens quite a bit and it chaps our butts because the business model includes a cheap shabby study with a solution being something they like to design. Surprise! Meanwhile, we price the study based on what we think it should take to give the customer what they need – the best value.
Motives: Knowing them is absolutely critical.
To others’ potential surprise, commissioning is FAR different than retrocommissioning for energy efficiency. Commissioning includes ensuring the owner gets what he’s supposed to get, helping to reduce cost by reducing costly change orders and then making sure control systems work as designed. It does not include design assistance or revising control sequences that “work”. A Cx agent knowledgeable in energy efficiency may suggest tweaking something that is really, really dumb, like having a large variable air volume system also serve a small equipment room with equipment pumping out lots of heat 24/7/365.A Cx agent that recognizes this is likely the exception and not the rule. It’s just not what they do.
Retrocommissioning for efficiency is helping to quell problems, typically comfort or equipment maintenance issues but mainly to save energy. It includes reviewing the control sequences but almost always modifies them because the designer, or installer, somebody, anybody, everybody (?) was not an EE expert.
Is it easier for a Cx to become an RCx or an RCx to become a good Cx? Good question.
Back to the topic of easier to train a controls, refrigeration, or compressed air guy (not the diamonds in the rough types discussed above). Yes, you can train them to look for and fix certain things, like painting by numbers. But as I always say, one can plan for and teach in two semesters of engineering graduate school about half the measures that save energy in HVAC. The other half? You can’t imagine what the other crazy half would be. These would include someone not doing what they should be doing, a design mistake or an ignorant design. There is no limit to the seven deadly sins plus ignorance and it is impossible to predict the implications from them. And then again, what is their real motive?
Answering the quiz: False. Picasso is dead. Presumably, the house painter is not.
Midwest Energy, a Kansas cooperative, has what appears to be a great program to finance energy efficiency on the utility bill. Payments for the upgrades are less than the savings on the energy portion of the bill. What a concept! It’s only been around for 30 years but is rare typically because utilities either have a hang-up with key elements or regulators won’t allow key elements. Topics for another day.
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.
Although it’s a bit like the chicken and egg, my most important task is recruiting and retaining top talent. We have a machine in place to land top talent from college campuses. I’m quite convinced of that. But with the sort of growth we are undergoing, we also need to recruit staff, primarily engineers at this point, with substantial experience and expertise in energy-using systems. This would be easy if there were engineers in the market with 5-10 years experience like guys we have in that range. It isn’t the case.
I work extensively with a recruiter and I provide constant feedback on candidates she forwards to help her better understand what we are looking for. I’ve also written rambling explanations of what we are looking for. Sometimes I get concerned that she thinks we are impossible to satisfy. Well, we are almost impossible to satisfy.
First, a mini rant on recruiters. I’ve been told by probably three recruiters that they, unlike their competition, will thoroughly vet candidates, ensure they meet our every qualification and then after a few weeks they will present a miracle list of 4-5 candidates all of whom we would just love to have on staff. They would be so good, we might take two – even if we only need one and then we would be crying because we’d have to turn the other three down. Fuggedabahdit! The recruiter’s selling point is that they are supposed to save me time by not having to wade through a few dozen candidates. Bull. All this miracle recruiting service does is delay the process because the dream team they present to me has no more usable talent on average than 50 people a neophyte recruiter fresh out of college could find for us. Give me the 50.
Back to my recruiting exploits; last week I was writing up a two column table for our recruiter, with one column describing what we want and the other what we want to avoid. In the “don’t bother” column I essentially concluded we don’t want anyone from the competition, which generally speaking is where one should first look. I’m talking about competition in the energy efficiency program business.
Why is this? Quite frankly, because the engineering on average in this industry is poor, but it is also poor to a large extent in the systems design industry. On the other hand, at least in the design industry, things have to be made to somehow work. They may work like crap and waste energy up the wazoo but at least there is a required problem “solving” element. In the EE sector, engineers can operate in a parallel universe their entire career – which brings to mind the myth of experience, a topic of another rant.
How do I know the engineering in the EE industry is poor? Because we do a lot of program evaluation across the country, from east coast to great lakes to the west coast and beyond – close to 20 utilities in about a dozen states. Even stuff that a sociologist should be able to pull off is screwed up – like verifying a variable freq drive has auto controls installed, or knowing the difference between a heat recovery wheel for fresh air and a heat recovery wheel for dehumidification unit installed (unit is a god-awful pick for a northern climate anyway – design engineer should be fined, maybe spend a couple nights in jail too). The latter resulted in a massive incentive for gas savings in a new construction program. Uh, ouch!
So what sort of experienced people are we looking for? Smart engineers with high GPAs but not too much experience; generally engineers who understand how systems work, how they use energy, and how they should be controlled – really understand it. In general, best candidates come from smaller firms where they have interaction with the guy at the top and mentoring by people who know what they are doing. On the flip side, competition sets up offices in states where they start running programs and they hire “experienced” engineers to work in those branch offices. All I’ll say is it’s not worth looking at these candidates. It’s probably as hard as finding a porcupine in my woods – I did experience a real live (and real big!) porcupine in the wild here in cheesehead land so although not impossible I’m not sure whether I’ll see another one or see the ViQueenies win a super bowl in my lifetime.
Why not too experienced? Because engineers are either good or crappy and if they are good, they care about what their clients think and after being taken to the woodshed a few times for things the client doesn’t like they become calloused cynical curmudgeons unwilling to bend or change. They play it safe. This is typically not conducive to saving energy. Let me know if you need an explanation as to why experienced but crappy engineers are no good.
To be sure, there are definitely excellent engineers in the industry. We work for some of them as subs. Others have reviewed our work for program QC and they are very good. After throwing stones in my glass house I must break a few windows. Admittedly, we’ve gotten comments back from outside engineering firms that make me think the guy on the other end must think we’re idiots. However, rather than whining, crying, and denying, we get the things resolved and take long term corrective action.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP← Older posts