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.
I swear we were introduced to the food pyramid when I was in grade school but a little web searching gives me just a couple – the one from 1992 and the new and improved one in 2005.
The 1992 edition is shown below. If you can’t read it, good.
The 2005 vertical colorful edition with the stickman and skewers for hands and feet follows.
For 2011, the USDA has switched to this brilliant “plate” that looks like a pie chart developed by a group of kindergarteners employed by Microsoft, except I really don’t think anyone would want their brand tied to this thing.
The purpose of these things is supposed to improve the health of Americans. In 1992 the obesity rate in the US was nearly all below 14% for every state in the union. Only six states had higher rates, Wisconsin being one of them – fried cheese curds and bratwurst.
Due to its success in 2005, they rolled out an improved version. By this time only four states were as good as Wisconsin was bad thirteen years prior. Let me try a different angle on that. By 2005, all but four states had MORE than 20% obesity. We improved from only six states with more than 14% to all BUT four states ABOVE 20%.
By 2009, the last year for which data are available, only Colorado is below 20%. Thirty-four states are over 25% and nine of those are over 30%. It appears that since these brilliant tools rolled out that obesity rates increased from 10-15% to 25-30%. Progress. A picture is worth 742 words. Data are depicted in the nearby US Obesity Rates chart.
This is the brainchild of the USDA, the same organization that floods schools with subsidized fat-bomb food. Meanwhile, there wages a war against soda and salty snack foods companies but the real culprit is the USDA that peddles this crap. Surprise!
Despite being bombarded with data, having nutrition labeling on everything, including in some jurisdictions (NYC) on menu items served by mom and pop restaurants, the trend continues. Why? Americans on average don’t give a hoot or maybe they just don’t want to change; don’t want to give up anything. Give me pills, sugar free this and that, fat free this and that, none of which work. For most people, the solution is simple. Eat less and lower fat and sugar filled crap. And get more exercise. What good is a cartoon chart or for that matter, more nutrition information?
And so it will be with energy efficiency. The smart grid and smart meters are anticipated to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter for energy efficiency. There’s a problem with this mentality. People have to give a hoot. We can bombard people with information at every turn but one has to give a hoot to save energy.
Consumer behavior programs are important to the EE business, but as far as I know this primarily only includes turning stuff off or turning it down. Nearly every single EE technology, retrofit, replacement, upgrade, and modification requires a strong element of behavioral discipline. About the only thing I can think of that may lack behavior to avoid snapback (erosion of savings due to behavior change) is a refrigerator and freezer. I can’t imagine people standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open thinking, “I’m going to look at this stuff in the refrigerator a little while longer because I have an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator now.”
EVERYTHING else can have snapback and erosion of savings over time, if not immediately. Efficient lights use no energy so leave them on all the time. I have an efficient furnace now so I’m going to maintain a New Delhi climate in my house. I have trouble keeping it cool in this building so I’m going to turn the chiller down to 40F and not bother to change it back. Never mind that chilled water temperature may not even be the problem.
At Michaels’ La Crosse office, we have about three acres of west facing glass that unfortunately does not have good thermal characteristics. Anybody who knows anything about EE knows solar loads on cooling systems are huge. Yet our high quality three acre’s worth of roller blinds are only about 30% deployed on average as the solar energy pounds away. I’ll report back to see if this shaming worked. If not, I’ll list the names of everyone sitting closest to unprotected windows. I’ll see if threats work! No. I take it back. I want to isolate the shame effects from the threat effects. I’ll report on the shame effects in a month and if that doesn’t result in 100% compliance, I’ll do the threat test the following month.
Here is a really twisted perversion of energy efficiency: some technologies often result in more energy consumption, consistently. Consider occupancy sensors for automatic lighting controls. The first thing I did on my computer when we moved into our offices downtown was go to wattstopper.com to find information for the sensor on my wall to see how I could neuter it, and I did so immediately. I set it to be manually switched on and auto off. My overhead lights are used about 20 minutes per year – sometimes in the winter when I’m gathering up my stuff to go home, and sometimes for meetings with old bats who can’t see. Otherwise the high pressure sodium streetlight outside is plenty.
I’m hard wired to shut stuff off when I’m not around or using stuff. However, I’ve been trained by our occupancy sensors in other rooms to leave stuff on. We even have a sticker on one switch that says Leave the Lights On! More progress! I would just as soon fix these with a 34 inch Louisville Slugger. Occupancy sensors are clearly meant for users who don’t give a hoot.
On top of all this, occupancy sensors punish hard work. I was told years ago that if you sit absolutely still for the delay period (adjustable from maybe a minute to a half hour), the lights may go out. Bull. You have to do a fourth quarter Bucky jump around to keep the lights on. It isn’t easy working while jumping around.
Jump around, jump around, jump around
Jump up, jump up and get down
Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!…. (thank me for seeding this inspiring tune in your head for the rest of the day)
In case you haven’t attended a Wisconsin Badger football game, be sure to check it out.
Programmable thermostats are probably the worst thing that ever happened for energy savings. We’ve inspected hundreds of these things for program evaluations. They don’t save energy because in order to save energy you have to give a hoot. If you give a hoot, a programmable thermostat is a nuisance. A classic example included a recent verification of an installed programmable stat in a church. Prior to the installation, they turned their manual stat back for all but a handful of hours needed for occupancy each week. Post implementation, the heat is on 8-5 every day of the week. The program implementer should be fined but even so, what was wrong with the manual stat in this case? And if you’re sitting there, thinking, “I have a programmable thermostat and it is programmed according to my actual schedule, saving energy.” Really? Obviously you give a hoot. Go home and replace it with a manual one and save more. BTW, people who don’t give a hoot just put these in manual override all the time. So unlike occupancy sensors, they provide no benefit whatsoever to anyone.
Our industry has an awful lot to do. This is another reason I am not in favor of in-your-face mandates. We’ve got to sell people on energy efficiency, or else their obstinance will undo the good deed. People have to give a hoot and behave!
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
Some things in life you have to fully commit yourself to or they will end in colossal failure, or immeasurably small success. When I was a kid I played Evel Knievel by setting up ramps of 2×12 planks and concrete blocks. I jumped my bike across maybe a five foot “canyon”. Note, this was before mountain bikes. Gary Fischer may have been developing his mountain bike in his garage but there was nothing available on the market. I used a purple girl’s bike, single speed, no shock absorbers, no foot clips, and certainly no helmet. Why the girl’s bike? The consequences of failure on a boy’s bike were brutal. Hitting the ramp at half speed would end in disaster. I’m sure similar consequences exist for crazy stuff like ski jumping, doing flips on/with anything. Even when you have an easy play in sports, you have to let it fly or you’re bound to choke. There are many things you can’t half do.
Fifteen years ago utility deregulation was the rage. Deregulation has been a boon to consumers in many industries including airlines, and telecommunications. It’s been brutal to product and service providers that weren’t prepared for the “free market”. Plenty of airlines went bust and are gone; Eastern, TWA, PanAm, and Braniff to name a few. It did allow innovative companies like Southwest to enter the market and develop new niches and business models.
Electric utility deregulation had varied results, mostly in different shades of failure. The darkest shade of failure, pitch black, was probably California where, you guessed it, they hit the ramp at half speed and crashed and burned badly. They deregulated wholesale prices but capped retail prices to end users. The fools who approved this are clueless with respect to how markets work. You have to have price response to the point of use or the system will collapse. Healthcare anyone? Consumers kept buying relatively cheap power, while companies like NRG Energy and Enron held all the aces and could charge what they wanted to the utilities. Result: bankruptcy across the board for the utilities, an Austrian immigrant body builder took over as the Governator in a recall election.
Deregulation didn’t work for electricity for a number of reasons in my opinion.
- First, the system was built over many decades on a monopolistic, captive consumer, model. The cost to enter the market as a provider is huge, at maybe a billion dollars for a 500 MW plant. Smaller plants would be more costly per unit output. …not exactly like starting a coffee joint.
- It’s instantaneous production and sale, which means producers can charge the same price – so who would build peaking plants, when base load plants can charge the same as plants that are used much less often?
- The entire economy was built on consistently low-cost power and therefore the “strike price” (say uncle) would be much higher because power is THAT important to doing business.
- Finally, generators can’t just pick up and move to where demand is highest. If generators could package their kWh in six packs, cases, or in bulk quantities to distribute to retailers, grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, and Amazon.com for consumers to take home and use as needed, deregulation of electricity would work.
Like all these half baked efforts from child stuntmen to electricity deregulation, end users can’t half do an energy efficiency project and expect decent results. You can’t replace an HVAC system and put in crap for controls or not commission the system and expect results. You can’t put in a completely different but proven refrigeration system, skip design review by the EE consultant, skip VFDs, skip heat recovery, and skip functional testing of the system and expect more than barely perceptible impacts. End users may spend 20% extra to implement a new concept but skip the 1-2% needed to make sure it really works and another couple percent on enhancements to capture much of the savings.
This presents a major untapped opportunity with EE programs. The above refrigeration case was for new construction. Based on experience in several new construction programs providing services, evaluating programs, and doing retro-commissioning after the fact, I conclude new construction programs generate very little return on program dollar. The “savings” are relative to essentially an arbitrary baseline. But what is the market doing all by itself? Actual attributable savings are relative to what the market, not a consensus reference point developed for something else (energy codes, which aren’t enforced anyway).
We will be doing a new construction market baseline study as part of a major utility program evaluation this summer. I’ve been in this business long enough to bet a lot of money that most “savings” associated with new construction programs are happening anyway in absence of any program.
So what should programs be doing? Burn down the house and start over. Erase 70 years of one bad idea piled on another and start from scratch with a clean slate. Rather than nibbling around the edges with some stupid occupancy sensors, daylighting sensors, extra insulation, and an efficient chiller (all of which are good but very limited ideas), develop means to completely raze and rebuild (pun intended) building and system designs.
Look, A&E firms are reticent to incorporate changes that make a difference. Once an A&E team has been selected, they will want to charge exorbitant prices to make significant changes. To some degree, I don’t blame them. They charge double in part because of fear of the unknown and in part because they don’t want to do it. It’s also due to the cheap and crappy market that consumers have been demanding for decades. They don’t get paid enough to change and programs can’t afford meaningful change either.
Buildings need to be built with systems that are much simpler, low cost, and inherently difficult to dork up. I have little to no doubt that we can develop a refrigeration and HVAC systems for grocery stores that will reduce energy consumption by about 40% compared to today’s status quo, for both gas and electricity. The systems would be simpler, with fewer compressors, fewer condensers, fewer fans, less piping and less refrigerant loss. It would be rugged and difficult to screw up. If stores were built with this design en masse they would cost no more than the crap that goes in them now. How? Because of the simplicity. Think of it this way. Look at the power transmission systems built in the 1960s and earlier. The towers are built as trusses with a bazillion small pieces of iron all bolted or riveted together with a bazillion times 100 fasteners. What are they made of now? One giant hunk of steel containing probably no more steel than the old ones. They are cheaper to build, transport, install, and maintain, and they are probably stronger than the over-designed kludges of the past. I’m saying something very similar can be done with building design.
And you can’t develop the concept, hand it over to a contractor and not look at it again until the non-performing results start to come in. It has to be shepherded through the design/development and commissioned. THIS is what new construction programs ought to be doing. But it takes a customer that wants to hit the ramp at full speed, and quit nibbling a little here and a little there with some LED lights and super duper low-e windows and a white roof.
Soon, we will be releasing a white paper that discusses the evolution, or I should say devolution of building design over the past 100 years, and what I am promoting going forward. Get ready for that.
In an update on A Frivolous Novelty, the all-electric Nissan Leafs are flying off lots at the brisk pace of about 70 per month. No need to check the decimal point. That is correct. About two or three per day, worldwide. The average Nissan dealer probably sells two Altimas per day, by noon. Save yours today!
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
I stay in hotels/motels probably 40-50 nights per year, at least it seems so. If lodging facilities were in a league of teams competing to be the greenest facilities, these guys would be the Detroit Lions.
Most franchise motels, those not located in downtown high rise buildings, are built with the cheapest, crappiest stuff possible. The only thing that is decent in them is the TV but sometimes even that is a junky 19 inch CRT clunker. Who has spent a night in room with through-wall air conditioner/heater with a temperature control knob that spins round and round like the fake knobs on a Fisher Price toy for a 2 year old? They fit as tight as clown pants and leak like a small fishing boat with a cannon ball hole in the hull.
At least they’ve gotten rid of the “Styrofoam” comforters that were once ubiquitous lodging fixtures. I believe Styrofoam comforters were made of some sort of synthetic material and I think they may have been fireproof, like children’s fireproof pajamas. (do they still make those things?) Anyway, they could probably survive in a steel melting furnace. They were scratchy and stiff like snuggling up under a cozy hunk of cardboard or yesterday’s newspaper at best.
Ventilation and exhaust in most lodging facilities are terrible. A year ago I stayed in an older hotel in suburban Chicago. They had the room temperature set way back to 55F and this was mid-January, about 15F outside. Good thing? NO! I turned it up to around 70F. I worked on my computer in the room for a couple hours before our client/colleague arrived from O’Hare for dinner. In two hours the room struggled to get to 65F. I never took my coat off in that time. Why was this happening? Exhaust fans somewhere, kitchen or swimming pool were sucking the building negative, big time, as I noticed with the blast of incoming wind when I entered the building. So these guys probably thought they were saving energy by setting back room temperatures but instead, they were heating their makeup air coming in through the cheesecloth walls with crappy guest room electric resistance heaters, rather than much less expensive natural gas that they probably had somewhere on the rooftops. At the same time they were freezing their guests. This is the polar opposite of the Iowa State University removal of kitchen trays. They are wasting energy like crazy and shooting their feet with terribly uncomfortable guest rooms.
Later last winter I stayed in a motel in Phoenix. Ironically, this place was suffering from moisture problems. The bathrooms had no exhaust whatsoever. After a reasonable shower there is a stagnant fog bank until the door is opened. The fog condenses on the cooler room surfaces. The metal stuff around the ceiling was discolored by rust and the wallpaper was sagging and also discolored. So let’s take a space that has plenty of cooling load, in Phoenix, and add a bunch of latent (moisture) dehumidification on top of that, and rot the bathroom to rubble at the same time.
In a motel in near the Minneapolis airport, they lacked ventilation/exhaust. Entering the building, it smelled like a high school football locker room in August. Again, I’m sure somebody thinks their saving energy while they are driving customers away with their raunchy environment.
Some lodging facilities still use incandescent light bulbs and there doesn’t seem to be a correlation with lighting type and facility age, nightly rates, or facility size. Needless to say, these places deserve to go out of business because if there is one easy thing to do to save energy in a lodging facility with no adverse effects…
Another thing that always cracks me up is the location of ice and vending machines – typically in a small almost enclosed space. The ice machine is hammering away as it bathes in its own waste heat at about 100F that hangs around like a cloud. The soda machine and ice maker are working overtime to keep their contents cold with excessive heat gain in 100F heat while their compressors are working harder with higher condensing pressure. Then there are those stupid ice machines that dump a pound of ice into an acrylic hopper thingy that dumps into your ice bucket. The ice sits there and mostly melts before the next guest comes by. They empty what’s left and need more. Push the button for more ice and it dumps about 3 pounds into the hopper again. They only need a handful so they either take 3 pounds or leave it there to melt – melt in the room or melt in the 100F cloud – take your pick.
With the bucket of ice in hand, go back to the room and take a crappy tiny plastic glass out of the crappy plastic liner. It holds about a thimble’s worth of fluid. You almost have to bite the ice cubes in half to fit them in the glass. Nothing shouts cheap and crappy louder than these plastic thimbles. A nice glass tumbler is probably worth paying at least $5 more per night.
And then there is breakfast which runs from reasonably sustainable to pornographically wasteful. I’m very easy to please for breakfast, like Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times and Ridgemont High, “All I need are some tasty waves, cool buzz, and I’m fine.” All I need is some cool milk, raisin bran and I’m fine. Last week’s raisin bran feast featured two of those tiny jokes for boxes of cereal, a half pint carton of milk, plastic bowl and spoon. I eat a tiny simple meal and have more garbage than I can carry in two hands to the waste bin. What’s wrong with a big dispenser of bulk cereal, some porcelain bowls, metal silverware, and bulk milk? What would that be, like 95% less landfill waste? Bulk cereal and milk must cost about ¼ of the hokey kiddy boxes and cartons. Somebody is short a few cards of a full deck.
Towels. I think every motel/hotel features reuse of towels with a cheesy door hanger thingy with a white owl on it. Help us save the planet (while we commit every environmental sin in the green bible). It says simply hang your towel up rather than throwing it on the floor in heap if you want to reuse it. I have found this to be more challenging than changing a tire with my bare hands. The housecleaners take it no matter where I put it. You almost have to hide it between the mattress and box spring but you would have to remove the mattress and lay it perfectly flat or they would notice the lump and take it.
I think the most sustainable motel I’ve stayed in was in Monterey (CA) last summer. My room had no air conditioning. Actually, I didn’t need cooling all week in mid-August so this was actually a pretty smart thing. The room also had all CFL lighting of course and the bathroom had wall-mounted occupancy sensors – impressive! Breakfast featured bulk everything, and no disposable dishes or utensils. But no raisin bran!
And by the way, not only is this gamble risky and won’t work, it already isn’t working. Interest rates have gone up since this was announced – the opposite of what was supposed to happen. Could it be that people aren’t rats after all? Supply and demand – when markets move in the opposite direction the puppet master would like, you know which is going to be right.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
Last week these columns featured Wal-Mart and its silencing of critics via green and sustainable business practices. Are they really saving energy compared to their peers? Skylights, dimming fluorescent lights, and LED refrigerated case lights triggered by occupancy sensors – but what’s the totality?
Lexus makes hybrid vehicles. One is a $110,000 sedan with a 5 liter V8 with fighter-jet horsepower weighing in at 20 miles per gallon. A Caterpillar earth mover may get that kind of highway mileage. The point is, a facility / organization can be green in name only. Note that in no way am I inferring Wal-Mart stores are Caterpillar earth movers.
I think to a large extent the sustainability of many facilities and organizations are like those presents under the tree in the food court at the mall that I used to go to in the 1980s. It looks good, but you know there’s nothing in there. Conversely, a wrapped present under our office tree that looks like a 12 pack of beer is a 12 pack of beer! Believe me when I tell you that when a guy whose name is drawn has a choice between a concealed package that looks like beer and one that could contain clothing or worse, like some knickknack, the beer-looking one will be snapped up like my dogs on cheese.
This one always cracks me up: “We are going to follow the LEED® method, but we’re not going to pay for the certification”. This is foolish. If an organization is honestly going to follow LEED, the price of registration, documentation, and certification is minimal – like less than buying the custom mats for the new car. The LEED wannabe process is toothless. Anything that is worthwhile has a high risk of getting dropped: energy modeling, efficient design, and components that achieve efficiency, and commissioning. Decent commissioning costs 75 cents per square foot depending on the type of facility. You’re going to spend $75,000 on commissioning and jump through all kinds of other hoops but skip the few thousand dollars for certification? This is like getting enough credits to graduate but skipping the degree. Try explaining that one to the state examining board when you try to get your professional engineering license.
LEED isn’t flawless or bullet proof, but it does serve as a hammer to get people to move and it forces the owner and other stakeholders to make difficult decisions rather than just throwing things out if they are too expensive or difficult.
For energy efficiency, a good rating system similar to the EPA gas mileage ratings is the ENERGY STAR® Label for Commercial Buildings. Why? Because it is based on actual energy consumption comparing to peer facilities (on a square foot basis) in the same climate zone. Earning the ENERGY STAR means the building uses less energy per square foot than 75% of peer buildings. In addition, ENERGY STAR requires a building inspection by a licensed engineer to ensure the owner isn’t cheating by not providing sufficient ventilation or enough light for required tasks or by letting air conditions drift out of the comfort zone, which believe it or not is well defined. Registration is free. The only cost is for the engineering services. If energy efficiency improvements are needed, there are extra costs for that of course, but there is a return on that investment.
Finally, we at Michaels have developed a custom energy efficiency program that uses actual savings demonstrated by energy bills before and after implementation. Rather than just doing studies, assisting clients with implementation and moving on to the next project, we monitor savings once after a few months and again after a full year of post-implementation operation. We don’t run away from results, sweep it under the rug (watch the hand), or just hope for the best. We embrace real results because we want to know things are working right, and demonstrated success sells more success. If I’m buying, I want facts and references, not a dog and pony show where promises are made with no follow through on comprehensive savings.
Salesman, get away from me, and no, I don’t want your dopey maintenance plan.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
Unless you were living in a cave four or five years ago, you know Wal-Mart was under relentless assault by, I’ll just call them activists. Complaints included: They weren’t providing health care to enough people. They weren’t paying overtime. Their goods were manufactured in sweat shops overseas. When unions tried to organize their meat cutting operations, Wal-Mart exited the meat cutting business. Their executives were making too much money. The company was making too much money. Part of the real gripe was that Wal-Mart had saturated the rural and small town markets and they had started to impinge into larger markets. Social elites in university towns did NOT want to sip cappuccinos across the street from Wal-Mart, or see Wal-Mart flyers in the Sunday paper, or perhaps worst of all, they did not want to attract the kind of people who shop at Wal-Mart to their enclave.
It seemed all of a sudden, the whining stopped, overnight. Why? I would say their green construction, energy efficiency, and purchasing muscle to get suppliers to become more efficient and green probably shot the knees out of this protest movement. Suddenly it seems, Wal-Mart had become one of the greatest corporate forces for green business practices in the country. This was like one of the Hatfields marrying into the McCoys – a reluctant truce between the activist crowd and Wal-Mart. This was a Joan Rivers kind of a makeover (have you seen her lately?).
I attend a half dozen or so mid-size to major energy efficiency conferences a year. Wal-Mart’s energy efficiency and green purchasing requirements are showcased at many of these events by keynote speakers. Ironically, Wal-Mart was lambasted for its hardball thuggery in negotiating pricing deals with its suppliers. I don’t hear the same for these green requirements. Playing the green card has gotten Wal-Mart out of protester jail.
Not only has the green card gotten Wal-Mart out of jail, it has new competitors scrambling. As one case in particular, a grocery spokesperson stated a few years ago that [paraphrasing], “We do not want to become Wal-Mart. We do not want to compete with Wal-Mart.” To one extent this was smart. If you compete with Wal-Mart on price, they would crush you. However, Wal-Mart’s green initiatives have positioned them to gain market share at the expense of these former non-competitors. When another company is stealing your customers, it’s competition whether you want to compete with them or not. Not only is Wal-Mart greening its business and its supply chain, it is greening its competitors.
As the skeptical engineer, I ask myself, are they really saving energy in their stores? You can see it when you walk into their stores. As their skylights stream copious daylight, their lighting fixtures are dimmed down to a tiny percentage of full power. I am told that in some stores as you walk the refrigerated case isles, occupancy sensors flip on their low-power LED case lighting. Now that is demonstrable energy savings. Even energy neophytes can see what’s happening there. Ok. This is all dandy. What’s the bottom line? It appears these stores are not the Toyota Priuses of the grocery and retail world if you look at their “gas mileage”, or energy use per square foot. There is plenty of room for improvement.
On a completely unrelated note, it seems the State of California is following my advice to see that stimulus money spent on energy efficiency is actually resulting in energy savings (November 17 rant). The California Energy Commission has issued a $4 million request for proposals to verify savings occur. I’m sure I influenced that – heyaaah, right. Hahahaha.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP