Believe it or not, I did not have a rant topic in mind going into Saturday morning – my rant writing time. But the fog burned off quickly as a topic came into view – one that arose during the prior week. Incidentally, I once heard a “meteorologist” instructor say he always scolded his students for saying fog “burns” off. Instead, they should say the fog lifted. What? Fog is suspended water droplets, not vapor. Water vapor in air, or as steam, is invisible. When fog “burns off,” it changes from visible water droplets to invisible vapor, so while “burn off” isn’t exactly correct, it’s better than “lifted”.
As I understand it, certain regulatory agencies are getting bored with lighting. Hallelujah! Lighting is kind of like the Star Wars movie that nerds watched 26 times. At some point, it reaches saturation; it is no longer interesting, and it becomes boring. And even as a seven year old, I would be asking how can that garbage can on tiny wheels propel itself in sugary sand?
What comes after lighting? There are a number of packaged control products for mass markets including convenience stores and rooftop units. I’m actually excited about these widgets because they require sound HVAC design knowledge so certain things like the following do not occur: coils freeze into a block of ice, warm air stratifies into wide temperature variation from floor to ceiling, cold air dumps onto occupants making for cold spots in the occupied space, occupants die of asphyxiation (a slight exaggeration), and god forbid the beer isn’t cold.
After lighting, there is also of course, my favorite: the elimination of stupid and/or incomprehensible HVAC system design and the riddance of most energy hemorrhaging from systems and processes. This is virtually limitless in large buildings.
Moving onto the main topic of this rant: new construction. First, let me interject this hot tamale. Some program metrics for new construction success include post-construction energy consumption that matches energy model predictions. No. No. No. No. No. Say it with me. NO! Who cares if the answer is correct? This is the WROOONG metric. How much energy does the building use compared to similarly functioning ones? That is the metric. Customers shouldn’t give a rats if the answer is correct. They don’t get paid for that, and their energy bills aren’t lower as a result. This is an issue I came across TWICE last week in two different states! Regulators and program administrators – are you listening?
Now, understanding that the goal is low energy consumption, NOT right answers, although right answers are typically illusive, there are generally two categories in which to achieve low energy consumption. The first one is to select designs that are inherently simple and extremely difficult to screw up, and NOT extremely difficult to run with low energy cost. The second category includes innovative design, and I mean innovative design. There is nothing so common as “innovative design”.
What am I talking about? Innovative design? I can define this two ways, one for energy geeks and one for common people (not the song – BTW, the William Shatner adaptation is hilarious – good listening for a bad day). The energy geeks dividing line between standard fare and innovation is the common building simulation engine, DOE-2. If DOE-2 can handle the simulation in its entirety, there is no innovation; only incremental upgrades for a multitude of building and equipment characteristics.
The common person definition can be demonstrated with cars. The common automobile with four wheels, engine in the front, and sundry features such as a moon roof and rear camera dummy crash avoider is not innovative. Make em small. Put in tiny engines. Lower the drag coefficient (make them aerodynamic) and so on. Unfortunately, at this point there are few examples of innovative cars, but let’s just use the hybrid and the plug-in hybrid as examples of breaking the mould. The key breakthroughs include energy recovery from braking and an engine that operates in its sweet spot efficiency-wise whenever it needs to run. From an energy perspective, it smashes the model.
Similarly, there are building features that smash the model in ways that aren’t exactly like splitting the atom. Some include radiant heating and cooling, displacement ventilation, smart but easy demand controlled ventilation, and multiple types of energy recovery. The key is application of the technology to appropriate building types with specific needs, keeping it simple and making it difficult to screw up operationally, and keeping occupants comfortable. The DOE-2 engine doesn’t handle this stuff.
Since physical and absolute barriers for efficient equipment – lights, heating, cooling, controls for standard systems are nigh, I would guess the next moves would include the riddance of theoretically efficient but practically unworkable systems from energy codes.
 To use the old cliché, broken clocks are right twice a day, and so there is a difference between correct answers and correct calculations in many cases, especially when entering an error band.
Widgetitis: Obsessive compulsion to build canals with teaspoons – or meet program goals with showerheads.
A short story about economist Milton Friedman from The Wall Street Journal sort of sets the stage for effectively meeting program/portfolio goals in big chunks:
“Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”
Widgetitis is a term I “coined” this week for the title of my ACEEE paper to be presented in August at the Summer Study for Energy Efficiency in Buildings. The context is obsession with products and stuff which have evolved to the point of diminishing returns, total free ridership, and grasping for rather absurd widgets to get savings goals. Meanwhile, Rome burns with buildings hemorrhaging energy like a severed jugular in a Freddy Krueger movie. Some examples, Jeff?
My favorite: the programmable thermostat. We have evaluated these things all over the country and the savings are abysmal for numerous reasons which I explained in a past brief. If the customer gives a damn and would program the thermostat, they would already be manually controlling their old fashioned thermostat precisely per their occupancy patterns. My mother, for example, turns the stat down when she goes to bed or leaves the house for whatever reason. She may leave the house for her grandson’s evening ballgame or a weekend away, or she may spend the night watching TV and the weekend hosting guests. Do ya think a programmable stat is going to save anything here? No! It will waste energy and make Mom angry. The person that doesn’t give a damn will put it in override all the time. The person that does give a damn will override it for manual control.
The occupancy sensor for lighting. For reasons similar to the programmable thermostats, savings for these things can run in the red. People who care turn the lights out when they leave the room. For these applications, occupancy sensors waste energy when they replace manual switches as the controller leaves the lights on for a while after the room is vacated. This delay is necessary. Otherwise, lights would turn off every time an occupant sits or stands still. Which brings me to the next point; the damn things turn the lights off while you work studiously. You have to move about four feet to trigger an infrared sensor. Blinking your eyelids will almost trigger an ultrasonic sensor. When I walk into our supply room controlled with an infrared occupancy sensor, I’m 5 paces into the room before the lights come on. Good thing I know where the X-Acto knives are stored or I may hemorrhage like that Freddy Krueger victim.
Computer control software. This is software that is installed on a network server and shuts down or puts corporate and school computers to sleep. The problem again is, many/most people shut down their computers normally at 5:00, but to be safe, these systems don’t shut them down till 7:00 resulting in longer run times. And who uses a desktop computer now days? People use laptops, tablets and iPads that burn an incredible 23 Watts max and they take them home at night!
Server farm virtualization. Technology moves so fast that those suffering widgetitis weren’t able to catch this virus. Whoa, that’s like a quadruple pun – like a double eagle, a 75 foot swish, a 109 yard kickoff return, back to back perfect games, or hitting for the cycle twice – in one game! I know as much about body embalming as I know about computer networks, but server virtualization includes loading up machines and making them work at full(er) capacity rather than have five times as many partly loaded machines. The objective is to reduce the number of servers required and energy savings come along for the free ride. Virtualization saves money by requiring less hardware and is therefore, an undisputed free rider – not to mention that it would crash benefit/cost tests.
Dishwasher pre-rinse heads. I know less about this technology than embalming. Obviously it reduces water (presumably hot water) consumption for commercial dishwashers. I don’t know about you, but to me cleaning dishes is like fighting fires. You can dribble water forever or blast it for a second. This may be a perfectly viable measure, but Rome continues to burn.
The most recent case of widgetitis came to our attention recently – a doozer: tight sealing damper blades for a skyscraper to reduce infiltration. Rome burns. I’m sure everything else in the building is running in tip top shape, milking every bit of value from every Btu consumed.
The crux of my ACEEE paper is to eradicate widgetitis in new construction programs. When I see new construction reports that only include occupancy sensors, daylighting controls, energy recovery, efficient this that and the other, more insulation and better windows, why bother? Ok. There, this provides some benefit cost information for decision making but does it bring innovation to the table?
All these criteria and specifications can be legislated – meaning they can all become part of the code and there is an end of the road for this across the board. Two examples that have reached the end of the road: motors and exit signs. Then what, Widgetman? There will still be plenty to do in new buildings and even more for existing ones.
Innovation: the creation of something in the mind. Widgets, while vast, are limited. Applying, assembling, and controlling them to minimize energy consumption is not.
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.
Before I get to this week’s rant, or I should say, this week’s primary rant, I need to share this with you. Just before the holidays in Strange Magic,I tore into hands-free energy audit software. All you need is an address and billing information and voila, there it is; an energy audit that tells you everything you need to know to cut your energy bills by a certain guesstimate.
This week I came across an apparent competitor to the one discussed in Strange Magic, so I viewed their online charting and graphics. They present analysis via bar chart for various end uses; lighting, cooling, heating, miscellaneous, and so on. They present current consumption and potential consumption for each of these, demonstrating a savings of course. It took about three seconds for my eyes to pick up the fact that the ratio of all the end uses looked very similar. Sure enough every single one of the seven end uses has a potential to save almost exactly 23%. That will never happen. It would be like every guy on a 12-player roster scoring exactly 10 points. That isn’t how it works. Ever.
Now dude, this is bordering on fraud if you ask me. What did I say in Strange Magic? The best you can do is guesstimate savings potential for the entire building with the information you can get from billing records and a street address. Do not be fooled by this crap!
You old gray hairs like me would remember the days when they had cartoons before the movie started. That was the cartoon, except for it is serious as a brain tumor. On with the main attraction.
Our beloved California is once again “leading” the nation in energy efficiency policy. This time the target is… drum rolllllll… the phone charger! More accurately, all chargers – so-called “vampire loads”. So this week’s rant features analysis and research conducted in my house.
I’ve seen a number of articles on this topic but this one from Energy Efficiency News seems like a good one.
This is California with 37 million people and so the numbers are incomprehensible until we start pealing back the onion. These charger devices are reported to consume 8 billion kWh, or 8,000 GWh. There are 12 million households in CA, averaging 11 chargers per household: 120 million chargers. Do the math and you get 17 kWh per charger saved annually. If they are saving energy 24/7/365; dividing 17 kWh per year by 8,760 hours/year results in 1.9 Watts saved every hour of every year for every charger in the state. The article states that this is 40% savings, so the average charger wastes almost 5 Watts all the time according to California. See nearby chart for clarification.
So is this reasonable? Here are my findings using a “Kill A Watt” 120 Volt power meter:
- My phone, Motorola Droid Pro smart phone: Consumes about 7 Watts while charging, and turned on. Once it’s fully charged, it cycles between 0 and 3 Watts, mostly on zero. When the screen is turned off, you have to wait a long time before it gets a micro shot of 3 Watts. So it uses almost nothing when plugged in, turned on, not in use and fully charged. When it tells me it’s fully charged, unplug it to save energy, it would take 16 years to save a (one) kWh. I’ll get right on that.
- iPod Touch: This thing is identical to the iPhone without the phone part. It guzzles a whopping 3-4 Watts while charging AND in use.
- Dell Mini Computer: Booted up with the lid closed and monitor off uses 7 Watts. With the monitor on, 11-12 Watts. In use while charging full blast: 30 Watts. Shut down with a full battery: 0 Watts.
- Dell 4200, 12 inch laptop (my real computer): Booted up, running a bunch of apps, monitor on and charging full blast: 40 Watts. All else equal with the battery fully charged: 16 Watts. Shut down on a full battery: 0 Watts.
- Rayovac battery charger with 4 AAA batteries: 3 Watts. I don’t know how these things work exactly but they seem to consume consistent power. The batteries are always warm – 3 Watts warm.
So first off, as one blogger pointed out, saving energy by eliminating “vampire” loads is crap. Vampire loads don’t amount to squat. I’ll tell you want does amount to 10% of squat: not shutting down equipment like computers, stereos, DVRs, and stuff like that. But these aren’t vampire loads. They are load loads for crying out loud.
The vampire loads with my electronic stuff, which has to be pretty typical of battery chargers, is virtually zero.
Back to the battery charging. The power factor on these battery chargers is poor, at only 0.5 or so. Could it be this is what the once-golden state is targeting? Not so much. Poor power factor simply requires more current on the wires from the generator to the device. More current means more line losses. Line losses from generator to point of use are roughly 10%. So if we take 10% of 15 Watts (the remaining 0.5), ooh, ooh, 1.5 Watts. Well I’ll be darned.
This is within the realm of possibility but probably not likely. All of these 11 devices per household would have to be in use 24/7, at least (?). The savings is probably closer to one third of that claimed, or perhaps a quarter. The devices most likely use substantially less than 15 Watts on average – see the phone Wattages above.
But who gets the savings from power factor correction? Not the consumer; at least directly. Residential customers in every precinct I know of pay nothing for crappy power factor. It all boils down to reducing losses by my guesstimate of 7 Watts per household, or a whopping 6 kWh per year per household. You’d “save” more by reusing your towels a couple times per wash, in a couple weeks.
But remember, consumers don’t save. It’s actually the utility that saves. In a regulated market, some of that would flow to the consumer in the form of lower rates because the utility recovers more revenue for given assets: generation, poles, wires and fuel. However, the amount is so tiny, it’s within the margin of error I’m sure most likely upgrading chargers is a waste of money for consumers.
Rambling on just a little more, The Washington Post report on this, calling it “vampire battery chargers,” says “Chargers waste electricity by continuing to draw electricity even when a battery is full and suck energy when laptops, cellphones, digital cameras and other devices aren’t plugged in.”
Chargers continue to draw power even when the battery is full? Well duh! The device is still running. As I found in my tests, shutting down the device with a full charge and the thing plugged in results in ZERO energy consumption. Maybe I should call Kill A Watt because their meters don’t work, apparently. Chargers still draw power when nothing is plugged in? None of mine do at least to the threshold of a tiny 1 Watt.
Lastly, the Times article says chargers waste up to 60% of what they consume. What happens with this 60%? Energy waste is almost always if not ALWAYS given off as heat. We’ve established that laptops consume about 15 Watts provided by a “charger” – an electronic doohickey (rectifier or something like that) that converts 120 Volts of alternating current into a few volts of direct current for computer consumption. This is the only place this ~50% waste can occur because my power cords aren’t melting. A 15 Watt CFL from my laboratory heats up to about 160 degrees. My charger: 85 degrees, while delivering 16 Watts.
It’s been a while since my heat transfer courses but I can promise the heat loss from the CFL is a complicated model because of the geometry. However, it is safe to say it has a lot more surface and better orientation to enhance heat transfer. That being the case, if both the CFL and the charger are wasting 15 Watts, the charger should be much hotter due to its small size (next to Bailey’s paw for scale) and lousy heat transfer characteristics. So I conclude there is very little real energy loss from these devices. To cover the phones, their charger physical size and profiles are much smaller and not warm at all.
I declare these vampire losses to be more of a flying rodent loss and somebody, preferably a team of engineers should spend a day or two, determining the real savings because it isn’t 2 Watts per charger as claimed.
And BTW, the power factor of that CFL 0.59. Uh oh.
The race is on to develop and deliver next generation successful energy efficiency programs. There is indeed innovation in the marketplace. The days of what I call “hamburger selling” will end, probably in the next decade. Selling EE in these cases is like selling hamburgers – who can sell the most and the cheapest hamburgers that people will eat. The product is unsophisticated – lighting, primarily. The market is huge and opportunities ubiquitous. Marketing and selling the burger is the name of the game and will be for a few more years.
In the past five years, energy efficiency has spread like wildfire across the country and although it’s a little twisted, if you consider all the vegetation, grass, trees, shrubs, and scrub as EE potential, the wildfire has consumed only the grass. The grass will soon be gone. How will the shrubs, scrub, and trees be reeled in? It will require a combination of technology, but more so intellect and selling things (programs) people want.
What will this look like? I’m not telling because it’s intellectual property, but I will say I can see it beginning to happen in the residential sector. Last week we attended the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference hosted by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, in Chicago. As I mentioned in The Super Genius Grid, somebody will develop an app to make EE into a game or social media thing of some sort. Sure enough, this is beginning to happen via residential behavior-based programs. One such program is delivered by Efficiency 2.0.
Part of the next swath of EE will be developing programs that people want to buy or participate in. That’s what E 2.0 is about. It amazes me how consumers respond – irrationally all the time – which helps explain the iPhone, iPad, iThis, iThat, iOther and the i-got-to-have-it. The E 2.0 program offers points and awards to “empower” customers to reduce their energy consumption. They partner with communities to compete with one another and to offer free money for spending at local businesses. Like mom and apple pie – who wouldn’t want that? The winning community gets a free solar panel for one of their schools – woohoo!
The E 2.0 program is a psychological program (my term) where communities are profiled as to where they shop, what they buy and all this stuff, like grocery club cards do. They see what you buy and they provide coupons and discounts for that stuff or related stuff.
If I got the message correctly, consumers don’t want useful real information, which as I understand it is what OPOWER delivers. OPOWER, again per my understanding provides data on how your bills compare against those in your community and how you compare against yourself in past years. They tell you if you turn your thermostat down 2 degrees no one will notice and you’ll save $50 per year (asterisk, asterisk). This seems like useful information to me but the message I got from E 2.0 and a somewhat similar provider, Simple Energy, is that customers want gimmicks, games, prizes, lotteries, and free stuff, NOT information.
Apparently consumers like lotteries and this is obviously true when it comes to state lotteries and the gaming industry. I officially gambled once, in Vegas. It was a stop on a road trip to California and when in Vegas… I played the quarter slot machines starting with $10. I think I plunked 40 quarters into the machine consecutively with no wasting time winning anything, at all. I was done in 5.75 minutes and hooked like a crack addict. No really – I said, “Boy that was fun. Let’s get moving.” I don’t even like “illegal” office pools, like Super Bowl, er I mean, “The Big Game” or the NCAA tournament where there is a 100% payout and no taxes. I have no interest in dumb luck.
I avoid as much as possible anything with unfavorable odds including insurance, gambling, and investing. “Investing” in an insurance policy because the premium seems cheap relative to the policy amount is stupid and a loser all day. I already told this story a while back. Gambling – ever seen a millionaire gambler? Not for long. If you believe in the possibility of wealth creation via gambling you probably believe in water running uphill. Investing – fund managers claim they can beat the market. Bull.
Ran in the ditch there a little but needless to say, to me information is useful. Games: don’t have time and who cares? However, this is very similar to old-school marketing versus “stupid” social media. I get it and I’ll get with the program.
The E 2.0 guy said people don’t care so much about what their neighbors are using for energy. Whoa! This flies in the face of the OPOWER message to compete against your anonymous neighbors. Why do people not care what their neighbors use? Because everybody thinks they are different – just like you did in high school, when you wore the exact same kind of stupid stuff everyone else wore; listened to the same music; had the same sneakers; watched the same TV shows and on and on.
I can vouch for everyone thinking they are unique. Large energy users included, think they are different than everyone else when, in fact, the first and second laws of thermodynamics are universal. Sure facilities are different. That’s why we need to look at stuff and analyze stuff specific to them but we don’t have to have been born in the building and spent our entire living breathing lives there to know what’s going on.
This is the challenge, however – savings from these programs run a few percent of consumption, maybe 2%-5%. This may not sound like much but it is I believe including all customers and that would be huge. The challenge is how to measure and verify savings on such a tiny scale. These numbers are far down in the weeds. If a kid leaves home for college it will have more impact – my unscientific guess that I would pretty well guarantee.
The other problem that the E 2.0 guy nonchalantly said is that when the program is pulled, all that remains is the measures implemented – the ENERGY STAR stuff, CFLs and whatnot. Like leaving Weight Watchers, people go back to Twinkies, Ding Dongs and diet soda.
In the end, it comes down to prizes, dumb luck, games and gimmicks (which most people prefer apparently) versus benchmarking, competition, action and generating wealth for the sake of generating wealth. That is, the E 2.0 versus the OPOWER way of thinking.
The race is on!
One other thing I noted in a separate session at the conferences was that in 2007, James Inhofe and Hillary Clinton slipped a provision into a law to require ground source heat pumps be evaluated against alternatives for HVAC system replacements on a 20 year life-cycle cost basis – for every new federal facility / system replacement. Senator Inhofe is Mr. “climate change is the biggest fraud of our time”, but he supports efficient heat pump systems. Why? Could it be the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association is headquartered in Stillwater, home of Oklahoma State with board members including from big companies?
In the DUH column this week, suburbanites with efficient McMansions and a 40 mile commute use more energy than inner-city dwellers.
There’s only one thing worse than listening to the Beach Boys. Give up? Listening to the Beach Boys doing Christmas songs. Scarface, which I just watched recently, better puts me in the holiday spirit than listing to a Beach Boys ditty.
“Greedy little cockroaches. Goodbye. You wanna play games? Ok. I play with you. You wanna play rough? Ok. Say hello to my LITTLE FRIEND!” – Tony Montana. [that’s right – several sentences and 20-30 words without the F-bomb]
Deck the halls with boughs of holly falalalalala la la la la. Ratatatatatat.
If you hate year in review reports just quit right here because that’s what this is. Our industry is growing in leaps and bounds and none of us realizes very much how lousy the rest of the economy is doing, with few exceptions. Food processors seem to be doing quite well. Agriculture is riding a huge wave, and if I were a producer, I’d be burying my loot in the back yard or paying down debt big time. Energy producers, particularly natural gas and unconventional oil producers are booming. I’ll rant on this topic separately in one of the coming weeks.
While our industry is booming, competition, at least measured by the number of bidders for requests for proposals, is brutal. We are finding 8-10 proposals for many of the RFPs we respond to and you only need a third grade education to do the odds on this. Fortunately, we have taken more than our share relative to dumb odds.
The EE business right now is like the Wild West gold rush or something. It’s a race to grab all the market share you can as EE spreads to every state in the union, except North Dakota and West Virginia – net energy exporters. Over the long term however, the best performers will have the most toys with a few exceptions.
As I’ve ranted on this blog numerous times before, innovation is pretty lame in this gold rush phase of the industry’s cycle. Track records won’t be enough down the road. While I’ve also lambasted lawmakers and others for seemingly believing there will be iPhone-like breakthroughs in renewable energy supplies and energy efficiency, I do believe the future will belong to innovators and the innovation will be more subdued as in the automotive industry. It won’t be like the evolution of Dan Akroyd’s 12 pound cell phone in 1984 (or so) to the tiny forerunners of smart phones.
Highlights of 2011 for Michaels include substantial projects in new states including Maine, Connecticut, Arkansas, and Wyoming and some smaller projects in New York and Indiana. New regulatory / utility clients include Efficiency Maine, Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board, Arkansas Public Service Commission, Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power, MidAmerican Energy, Minnesota Division of Energy Resources, and Central Iowa Power Cooperative. New consultant clients include Johnson Consulting Group and Spyrel.
What to look for in the year ahead? I make predictions all the time but I won’t on this one, but let me just say I’m a big believer in preparation meeting opportunity making for “good luck”. It will be interesting to see how the next decade or so turns out. In these Wild West gold rush days, what I call commodity providers delivering energy efficiency like hamburgers and cereal are growing at staggering rates. The easy stuff [lighting] is falling fast. One business strategy, and this doesn’t interest me in the least, is to aggressively price program delivery and sell the hell out of lighting – kind of like the raccoons used to do in the sweet corn patch – knock down the stalks just as the ears are coming to maturity, take a few chomps and leave the rest behind. Cherry picking.
At some point hamburgers and cereal will transition to expertise-driven energy efficiency with enormous potential for savings. Clearly, states that have had programs for decades are and have been in this transition for a while.
This winter has been pathetic in Wisconsin. For the past three or four years, by Christmas, we have had a couple feet of snow as of the holiday breaks. This year, we’ve had three inches, one at a time, melting the next day each time. The average low is about 10F and I don’t think it’s been that cold once yet. The poor ski-slope operators can’t even make snow. There is nothing on the horizon for snow through the middle of January. Good grief – I could go to OK or TX for snowshoeing. Prediction: we will get one big dump on March 8th, a Thursday. Better take Friday off because it will be 45F and melting fast on Saturday.
In the Surprise! column, Johnson Controls nails first giant project of the $4 billion EE funding announced by the white house a few weeks back. You don’t suppose… no. No coincidence there. Looks completely legit. And my dogs refused to eat any Christmas turkey.
A few weeks back I came across an energy blogger that referenced a software developer who would do an energy audit via address and energy bills. Period. Really?
As my roommate and I used to say, “C’mon dude,” as in give me a big fat (or favorite expletive here) break. We have done the address / energy consumption analysis many times but at MOST, we can do a decent job of benchmarking the facility against comparable ones but even this is difficult. We can measure the building footprint with satellite images. Easy. The challenge is multi-story facilities, and I mean facilities with two hundred thousand to a million square feet – large schools and medium size hospitals. To determine the square footage you need the number of floors and footprint. This is difficult with street views because there are pesky trees and the fish-eye lens meant to give viewers a feel for the area, not see how many stories there are in a hospital. Sometimes if the building is new and big, square footage will be available online, but this is rare.
So the first claim that all you need is an address will work for about 30-40% of facilities. Been there. Done it. And all you have with that is benchmarking, which is valuable but it can’t tell you the condensing boiler is running too hot to be at optimal efficiency – or even what type of lighting is in the place, without conversing with the owner.
The next step in the satellite and billing analysis is determining the types of heating and cooling systems the building has. This is even more difficult without a conversation with the customer. So what do we look for? Signs of system types – cooling towers, boiler stacks, with as much street view as one can get. Can’t find these things from satellite images or street views? It could be a ground source heat pump building or if it is in an urban setting it may be on district steam and or chilled water. Building energy use varies so widely between the pigs and the misers that a building on expensive district chilled water may use as much electricity as a building that makes its own chilled water – with electricity from the meter. One time we benchmarked a corporate HQ building in Minneapolis and it had electric RESISTANCE for heat and it still barely used as much electricity as some gas/electric buildings. In summary: you can typically learn very little without at least talking with the building owner or maintenance company.
The idea of bill-and-satellite-only audit is a farce. If you want one of those, step this way. I have a better deal for you. I have a relative in Libya with a million dollars she has to get rid of before the rebels snatch it. She just needs your bank account number, SSN and birth date – and a couple credit card numbers just in case. The money will be in your bank account tonight, that is, if your bank can hold that much.
Commercial buildings have fixed loads and seasonal loads, the latter of which are a strong function of weather but also sometimes due to seasonal use, such as schools where the occupancy drops to almost nothing or half in summers. Without doing a fairly detailed inventory and analysis of fixed loads, it is impossible to break these loads into useful, telling bins for a specific facility. These fixed loads (non-HVAC) combined probably total 60% of the building’s electric use. Without building specific inventory, one is stuck with using typical building end-use analysis (i.e., averages), and what good is that to a customer?
Numerous times this blog has blasted generic and specific federal government officials for their ignorance about energy efficiency and alternative energy. They seem to think the answer to perpetual zero emission electricity, and did I mention free energy, is sitting right there on the shelf like a can of chick peas but we chowderheads in the engineering world are too dense to see it. Similarly, although it is a much more obscure need, I’ll bet they would bite on a magic app for doing audits, hands free and blind. The iPhone or Android device will take care of it all.
Beware. Somebody will develop such a sham and it will be introduced like the second coming of Macintosh riding a white horse. And it will be crap.
It isn’t all fluff, however. But don’t tell me what you are selling is a five star hotel when really it’s a pup tent.
The amount of monthly energy bill increase that will trigger homeowners to do something. Homeowners with higher incomes and more advanced academic degrees will act with lower increases than average. Lower income households actually wait for even higher increases in their bills before doing something about it.
Death Sentence for 100W Light Bulb Suspended
In typical petty Washington gamesmanship, Republicans added an overturning of the incandescent ban for another few months, along with the two month payroll tax cut, which as a demand side gimmick does nothing to promote economic growth. Don’t spend it all in one place. Incandescent hoarders – you have a few more months to top off your basement full of light bulbs.
General Motors Meets Energy Reduction Challenge
GM, a subsidiary of the US treasury department, has cut energy intensity in 30 plants on a per-vehicle basis. Congratulations for turning out the lights in ¾ of these plants that are no longer used.
Recently, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy issued a report, “The State of the Utility Bill” and I thought, “now there is a topic for plenty of discussion.” No, that was no joke, although there was an interesting finding that I found to be very hilarious: All of the ~100 bills analyzed in the study (100%) included the amount due to the utility from the customer. I would say not having the amount due would have its disadvantages. (that WAS a joke)
I’ve witnessed and studied many issues regarding end user understanding of energy, energy consumption, and end uses – e.g., lighting. Our industry reminds me a bit of the political talking heads on TV. They hyper analyze things for which only they or a political news addict, and not the common voter is going to notice or care about. An example might be a response to a question on a hypothetical crisis in the Middle East. The pundits will quibble over the order of responses or their indicated aggressiveness as suggested by the candidate or even the question. Meanwhile, the average viewer is looking only for whether the recommendation would include blowing the enemy to kingdom come, finger-wagging sanctions, nothing, or withdrawing from the region altogether.
Likewise, there is a disconnect between what we think end users think or know and how they actually think and what they know. The utility bill is damn complicated to the average end user and even more so than the average energy professional realizes. The bill might include different seasonal rates, tiers, time of use, demand charges, ratchet clauses, and even more complex algorithms.
I learned long ago that when we need energy records for a customer, the best form is to get copies of actual bills and a close second is the utility’s CIS (customer information system) data. When the customer says, “Oh, I have all that in a spreadsheet. I can just give that to you.” I cringe because they won’t have what we need or it will be wrong because they can’t pick the right numbers off the bill – like finding Waldo. I don’t want it. It’s virtually guaranteed to be wrong.
The ACEEE report indicates just over 90% of the bills include comparison to the previous month’s consumption. I can’t find that Waldo on my bill. I do have comparison to year-ago consumption, the next most common element found in the study.
Average daily usage. Now what does that tell anyone? Anyone? It doesn’t even tell me anything, except that’s the form in which I am provided for the comparison to last year. I did buy a $9 retractable clothesline from Menards a few months back and it looks like our bills are very roughly 4 kWh lower per day versus the same year-ago period. Of course air conditioning is mixed in and that’s a monkey wrench. However, they provide average temperature, which is reported to be provided on only 38% of bills per ACEEE. I could do a weather calibration for that. However, I know that is a waste of time because there are other substantial factors – weather independent end uses – that will result in any weather adjustments being far down in the grass of normal usage variation. How about that? There is enough information to do a weather adjustment, which only 1% of customers MAX, could mathematically do, and of that 1% probably only 10% know weather normalization is a waste of time for a single energy bill. (single, not aggregate for a representative sample of a bunch of customers)
What would be useful is a monthly bar chart including the trailing 24 months with overlapping years for monthly comparison. Neither my gas or electric bill has this but my water bill does! Good grief, I buy electricity from a huge utility, natural gas from a dinky regional supplier and I get water from my village – population of the metro area is about 800 (this includes all the zeros – no typos or omissions).
Benchmarking provides incredibly useful information. Yeah. Let’s do that. The state of Iowa is wanting to do this for (I’m not sure exactly) government facilities including schools. There was an RFP and one (1) proposal was received. Why exactly, I’m not sure but I would say this – I would guess the buyer does not understand how difficult it is to do benchmarking right. It’s like recent rants where I said even measuring ambient outdoor temperature is difficult and the person doing it has to know what they are doing and literally understand heat transfer, including primarily radiation from surrounding objects and convection off the same objects.
Benchmarking requires knowing the type of heating and cooling systems and more specifically, the heating and cooling fuels, square footage, and of course utility consumption. The guy doing the benchmarking has to know whether the results look reasonable. The following are my unscientific estimates for how many benchmarking analyses would be correct for the following methods and skills of the benchmarking guy.
- Blindly collecting square footage data and energy consumption with no ability to do even a laugh test: 35% correct
- Number 1 but throwing out anything that looks really weird, like 50 kWh per square foot for a school or 0.15 therm per square foot for a hospital: 45% correct, not to mention a great many will be discarded
- Number 2 plus contacting the utility to make sure you have all the data for the facility. Many times benchmarking is wrong because there are data missing because not all meters serving the building are included: 55% correct
- Number 3 plus calling the customer to ask them about their heating and cooling systems and fuels used for these systems: 75% correct
- Number 4 but rather than doing a phone call, going on site and looking for meters and systems yourself ensuring you have all the meters serving the building and only the meters serving the building: 92% correct
There you have it. If an experienced expert can do everything in his/her power, there are still things that may not be able to be benchmarked with confidence due to:
- “Campus” meters – here campus being any meter serving multiple buildings (k-12, college/university, health care, military, and even corporate) without submetering on each building.
- Storable fuels like propane, fuel oil, and chicken manure. Tank levels and piles vary from month to month and so determining consumption requires accurate levels plus deliveries.
- No meters – what are you talking about, Jeff? Steam coming from a campus plant with no submetering. You can know how much natural gas the central plant uses or you can guesstimate the consumption eying the pile of chicken manure (or coal) and tracking deliveries. Old central steam plants for example can have rather enormous heat losses to pipe tunnels, making for melted snow and green grass in winter. A good bit of analysis is required to weed this out.
I avoid requests for proposals where I don’t think the buyer understands how difficult it is to do a job I can live with and for those RFPs there is always an ignorant bidder who doesn’t know the difference. Unfortunately, there is no money in telling the buyer what they are asking for is very difficult and that they are going to get crap for results from Cliff Clavin and Associates.
One more thing on benchmarking, total Btu per square foot, mixing all fuels together is a little better than nothing. Electric should always be separated from fossil fuel consumption.
- The incandescent ban advocates are proposing a switch to using lumens as the metric for selecting light bulbs for purchase at your favorite home improvement store. Uh huh. Around 1980 the US was going to be the last country on the globe to convert to metric units. You know base 10 everything with common sense conversions like a milliliter equals a cubic centimeter. Fuggeddboutit! Not gonna happen. There is plenty of fodder for a stand alone rant on this one.
- ACEEE in their Utility Bill study noted above calls utilities “regulated monopolies”. Cool. This is what I’ve called them for years and didn’t know whether this was offensive to them.
- Lastly – another mind blower – the US is set to become a net exporter of refined petrol products. This is good news if you ask me –a strong manufacturing sector. To clarify just in case – yes, this is refined petroleum products and not crude oil. Many readers were ranting this is misleading – only to a dolt. Plot and data courtesy, The Wall Street Journal.
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
We, as an industry, have our work cut out for us in coming years.
Months ago an industrial energy efficiency consortium that puts on training events held a two-day workshop on motors. Motors! Talking about the common Swingline stapler for two days would be more interesting. The efficient motor uses less energy in the amount of the difference in the reciprocals of old minus new. I.e., (1/eff – 1/eff). Multiply by nameplate horsepower then by 0.5 (don’t ask, just do it) then by annual hours of use. Bingo! There are your savings. Two days!
There are more complex issues that may not be addressed. One of these issues is, what is it that makes a motor more efficient? Tighter windings and closer tolerances – I think. I don’t care because the impacts are infinitesimally small compared to what end users ought to be doing. This results in less slip, which means the efficient motor actually runs faster. Here is the dirty secret: An efficient motor may be three percent more efficient but as it runs faster on a constant speed fan or pump it would increase shaft power – power transferred to the impeller / fan wheel by 9%. Increasing the load by 9% but doing it more efficiently by 3% does not save energy. Quite the opposite, actually. If one changed sheaves, which isn’t going to happen, or if the equipment is properly controlled by a variable speed drive, it may actually save energy.
On the whole, it is highly possible that efficient motors result in greater energy consumption.
Recently, we were meeting with regulatory staff and the topics of lighting and motors surfaced. Apparently, the investor owned utilities are clinging to, and concocting ways to hold onto savings for efficient motors and lighting; minimum efficiencies for which thanks to the benevolent federal government are being ratcheted up by fiat. Clinging like Milton and his beloved stapler.
Give me a break. If programs are still relying on savings from motors, there is a major problem in Denmark. How about considering what the motor is turning? The load on the motor could probably be reduced by 50%, while they are going to “save” 3% with a stupid new motor that runs faster and uses more energy.
I can see what is going to happen. Some utilities are going to whine to the regulators that all their savings opportunities are going away because the feds have ratcheted up standards. Regulators should respond with the equivalent of “Gee, that’s really unfortunate. Since you’ve installed all these motors that use more energy over the years, I think we will raise your savings target by one additional percentage point.” Ironically, I learned that negotiating tactic from a utility. “You think the penalty is too harsh? I’ll add 50%. Would you like to counter that again?”
Ironically, on the same day as the meeting with the regulatory staffer, I received information I had asked for purposes of evaluating the potential for retro-commissioning of a mid-size high school just over 250,000 square feet. I had asked for the energy records. The facility is using at least 50% more electricity than it should and 50% more natural gas than it should – easy. It is using as much energy off peak as on peak. The power factor is lousy. With these symptoms, I bet I can call three top, major energy saving opportunities given the types of systems they have. I’ll just leave it at that because it’s intellectual property available for a price.
I’ll bet my house that we can reduce their energy consumption by at least 30% with well under a five year payback. It could be one year or three years, depending on what needs to happen to fix the causes of the waste.
Trust me when I tell you, efficient motors and new lighting will not be part of the 30% solution.
On the nearly useless EE front, see which internet browsers are most efficient. However, the impact on battery life is worth noting. If you don’t use the overpriced internet during air travel, kill the browser.
The president says federal vehicles will all use “clean” fuel by 2015. What does that mean? One percent of the fuel will come from reconstituted plastic grocery bags recovered from a landfill? Meanwhile, the federal vehicles excluding military, guzzled 7% more gasoline than the previous year, using 322 million gallons of gasoline. Congratulations. I’m always pleased to be told how to live by hypocrites to whom no rules apply.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP← Older posts