Last week I was reading a couple regulatory dockets; one by a citizen and another by an intervener. They made some good points, including a situation of being locked out of the market in one’s own state, to which I replied, “Welcome to the party.” Both dockets had a ring of “market transformation”.
Our friends at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) define market transformation as, “The strategic process of intervening in a market to create lasting change in market behavior by removing identified barriers or exploiting opportunities to accelerate the adoption of all cost-effective energy efficiency as a matter of standard practice.” I think I am correct in saying that behavior in this sentence includes consumers choosing CFLs over incandescent as one example, and in a broad sense, consumer choices.
Some market transformation, per my definition, has been very successful, including the CFL example mentioned previously. ENERGY STAR® appliances, including refrigerators, have been another one, to the point that some programs are dropping refrigerators from their portfolios. Another odd one is ground source heat pumps. In certain spheres, ground source heat pumps have taken on a cult-like following, and to say ground source heat pumps don’t make the meter spin backwards in every application is blasphemy. After beatings from “trade allies” for a heat pump study Michaels completed a few years back, I found last winter that MidAmerican Energy is dropping them from their energy efficiency plan going forward due to lack of cost effectiveness. Touché.
Aside from equipment choice, market transformation to its advocates includes training the masses to be energy experts – contractors, controls companies, architect and engineering (design) firms, and so on. This sort of market transformation is never going to happen. Why? It is easy to teach people to care for their lawn. It isn’t easy or cheap to teach people how to successfully replace four knee joints per day. Have you ever seen a knee surgery performed? To an ignoramus it looks easy – like carpentry, cobbling, and seamster rolled into one.
Barrier number one, therefore, is time and money. It reminds me of a manufacturer one time that wanted us to show them in a day or two how to be do-it-yourselfer energy efficiency experts. That would be like satiating a couple thousand ravenous souls with two croissants and a few mackerel. That is, give “us” the equivalent of an engineering degree and 10-20 years’ experience in a couple days. If only it could be reproduced and stored on a micro SD chip placed under the tongue, dissolved into the bloodstream, and stored permanently in the brain.
Barrier number two: Few capable of sawing lumber and wielding a hammer and chisel are interested in becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Nor does the orthopedic surgeon really want to become a neurosurgeon or dermatologist. The core building blocks of the MD profession, as they are with engineering, are similar. Energy efficiency, particularly for large commercial and industrial systems and process optimization, requires highly trained and experienced talent. Even converting a commissioning agent to retrocommissioning (RCx) agent is no small feat because they are substantially different services. In the former, the professional is ensuring the systems are built and operating as intended, while the latter only cares about the design intent for purposes of understanding how it is supposed to work. Any RCx agent worth paying is going to go far beyond the design intent to capture savings in addition to recognizing design flaws or mistakes that result in waste – and how to fix it.
Like consumer choice, markets can be transformed and are transformed on the demand side of the equation. While buyers obviously don’t understand the details of RCx, or they would do it themselves, they love the benefits and the word spreads to propagate the service/program – transforming the market.
Lastly, when it comes to market transformation, supply cannot be dictated. The market, like every other, gravitates to the best products and services. A layperson example of this is farming. Many today would like the family farm of the 1950s – the ones that include 25 head of swine, a dozen dairy cows, a few beef cattle, seven egg-laying chickens, a collie, and three cats to take care of the mice. That doesn’t work anymore. Why? Because the market calls for cheap food, and that’s why prices for many items have remained the same or even fallen in the past 25 years – for sure when adjusted for inflation.
A prosperous market serving these advanced programs consists of few firms that really know what they are doing. Spreading it around isn’t cost effective, nor will it last; i.e., transform the market. Market transformation agents want the 1950s farm with today’s cheap food. They cannot both be had.
 Locked out of the market means other firms provide program funded services to end users, free or massively subsidized by the program.
 Ground source heat pump systems work great for many applications and have many strong attributes, but like everything else, they are not the best in all applications, particularly for residential when competing against natural gas. Refer to the referenced report.
Our friends at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) have published another source report worthy of a post on this blog. The title of this report is Frontiers of Energy Efficiency: Next Generation Programs Reach for High Energy Savings, which can be found here.
The report is quite a detailed whomper, but I gravitated to the commercial and industrial sections of the Executive Summary to see what they have to say. They are singing our (Michaels) song all the way baby, and we can hum to that tune. Only my dogs will listen to my lyrics in some sort of multi-tone delivery. The only song I can sing really well is Pink Floyd’s “One of these Days”.
For commercial, ACEEE’s tune is completely in line with recent post “End of Lighting”. Cost effective LED lighting is not there yet in terms of cost effectiveness as an alternative to linear fluorescent sources. Wonderful. Instead, pay dirt is in systemic designs that a simpleton could not mess up. These include single zone systems such as ground source heat pumps, variable refrigerant flow, and “efficient” rooftop units. Papers presented on our website and one presented at the ACEEE Summer Study, as luck would have it, are available for more detail.
They go on to say that for new construction “design tools and standardized designs of common building types have been developed to achieve higher performance for a greater number of new buildings.” Well, by golly! This too sounds familiar. However, I would add that programs need to foster and guide market players through these cookbooks as normal people, including contractors, don’t live and breathe energy efficiency on a daily basis. The options need to be boiled down into distinct recipes for design builders for construction. There are also, as outlined in the above linked ACEEE paper, systems that should be avoided because they are easy to dork up operationally, and there are others for which efficient heating and cooling sources are just not available in the market. These include packaged rooftop units, which serve something like 70% of commercial building space in the country.
Continuing on with existing facilities, ACEEE promotes systems commissioning, retrocommissioning, and “strategic energy management”, the definition for which can be boiled down to setting targets, working toward them, and keeping an eye on things. Yes, indeed, these are no brainers, but not normal.
Commercial buildings can be split into two groups: those for which there are great energy-saving opportunities and those that have little opportunity. The latter group is cheating. They don’t provide ventilation. They may not have air conditioning (lots of schools in the Midwest). They simply don’t maintain facility spaces meeting ASHRAE standard 62 ventilation and ASHRAE standard 55 comfort conditions at all times.
Similarly, ACEEE says the big money for energy savings for industrial end users is with process optimization. I would add to this supporting system optimization. Industrial customers are extremely reluctant to mess with their direct process, as this could affect their product quality. Instead, typically a huge amount of energy is consumed and wasted by supporting systems: cooling water systems, fans, pumps, blowers, refrigeration, compressed air, as a few examples, and especially the control systems that serve these systems. They say the next generation of programs must move beyond equipment replacement – well, hallelujah!
Lastly, just as I mentioned in November, utilities, but especially regulators, need to get off their fuel-switching-fixation horse and promote programs like combined heat and power (CHP). As ACEEE states, backing my post, CHP reduces costs for all customers. Possibly, they explain why in the rest of their tome, I explained why in Bait and Switch. Nearly all new power generation plants are fueled by natural gas. They generate electricity and dump huge amounts of heat to the surroundings (rivers, lakes, air, whichever the case may be). The conventional wisdom is that CHP incentives for electric customers would benefit gas utilities by driving up gas demand. Oh really? Where does the electricity otherwise come from anyway? Natural gas! Get over it.
For this week’s “I told you so” finale, The Wall Street Journal reports that the budget deficit for the first quarter (October-January) shrunk compared to a year ago, “partly as a result of a surge in individual income-tax revenue in December.” And, “The revenue boost might have been a one-time event. The Congressional Budget Office earlier this week said an increase in withholding taxes in December might reflect early payment of some compensation, because people were anticipating higher tax rates in 2013.”
Just following through on a promise from a mere three weeks ago, taxes matter.
 On the margin that is, and on the margin is where utility programs operate. It’s all about the last kWh or kW to be provided.
It has been a while since I’ve written anything about programs, so here it goes. Program evaluation provides about half our business, and much of that is verifying gross savings estimates, which are simply the original program-claimed savings. Verifying custom projects, those that don’t fall into mass categories like light bulbs and air conditioners, are generally more interesting, at least from an energy analysis perspective. Findings from the field can be follical (new word derived from folly) for any type of measure.
Implementers of custom efficiency programs, especially implementers not accustomed to the evaluation process, can be especially entertaining. In this context, I am including new construction, retrocommissioning, controls, and anything that requires unique and not one-size-fits-all energy analyses.
Being on the implementation side ourselves (the other half of our work), we are uncomfortable turning over the family jewels, so to speak, to other companies, which may or may not be competitors. Some evaluators, like Michaels, provide both implementation and evaluation services, so you can see an obvious sensitivity here. Nevertheless, Jeff Ihnen developed our confidentiality agreement which includes the severing of hands for breech of the agreement – if we find our family jewels are being used by anyone else and we can trace it back to the signing party of the agreement. Everything is traceable with computers now days because everything travels over the internet at some point and is touched by dozens of servers somewhere in the world.
Think hand-severing is harsh, do you? Most corporate agreements have penalties that include confiscating all assets, child enslavement for all stockholders, and deportation to a third world ghetto after serving two life sentences in a maximum security prison.
So, we have confidentiality agreements for all evaluation projects to protect implementer intellectual property as well as customer information, which is considered to be extremely sensitive. I can see why energy use is sensitive for large energy-intensive manufacturers, like food processors, but for hair salons, not so much. Pretty much all hair dryers I look at in a hotel room are 1500 Watts. Quite possibly this could have something to do with the circuit limit – just guessing (I know nothing about electrical crap, except this to be true). You won’t find anything UL listed and legal that will plug into a 120V wall outlet and burn more than 1500 Watts.
Back to the implementer evaluation virgins – we have a job to do, which includes evaluating the accuracy of energy simulation and then doing site visits to ensure equipment is installed and building characteristics are as modeled in the simulation. We also need to verify the baselines, which are typically energy codes – state or federal minimum requirements. The evaluation virgins want to know our detailed method of assessing their work in painstaking detail. Have you ever gone to a doctor and grilled him/her on their credentials and thought process? This happens frequently too, especially coming from family members of patients with ailments that require hospitalization. They don’t know how to parallel park their car but they damn well know that herniated disk in Billy Bob’s back doesn’t require a spinal fusion. That is for sure.
The same thing has happened to us as evaluators. We provide our engineering evaluation process in gory detail, and the evaluation virgin responds, “that is not an acceptable method”. Period. No reason. Billy Bob knows best. What Billy Bob doesn’t understand is he works for the same client we do – the utility. And the utility needs to have this evaluation completed because the regulators say so; just like they need to do the programs in the first place, because the regulators say so.
Billy Bob may be a competitor, so go ahead, make my day. Make a big stink and be a pain in the keister. Madden the utility program manager and the program manager’s manager. In fact, run it all the way up to the pole to the senior vice president, Billy Bob. In the process, enroll senior people from the evaluation prime contractor, sub-consultants, and the utility with a combined billing rate equivalent of $3000 per hour to participate in your circus only to be inevitably steam rolled in the end. Scorched earth – good corporate practice.
True or false: It’s easier to teach Pablo Picasso how to paint a house than it is to make a house painter into a Picasso-grade painter/artist. For the answer, keep reading.
I was sitting in a session at last week’s AESP conference sipping my weak overpriced Starbucks when I almost sprayed a mouthful on the bystanders sitting in front of me. Not one, but two guys opined that it is easier to teach, for example, a refrigeration expert retrocommissioning than it is to teach a retrocommissioning/energy expert efficient refrigeration. Allow me to demonstrate with an example, a true story.
A while back we were hired to assist with the design of an ammonia refrigeration system for a new distribution center. Our charter was energy efficiency and allow the contractor to make it happen. They had already hired a competent refrigeration expert. We reviewed his conceptual design which was already very good. We made a few improvements and completed our report with impacts for the program. Months pass and the project comes in for a custom efficiency incentive. I was appalled at what had happened. The contractor went ahead with what they always do. Instead of installing four compressors, two small, and two large, sized appropriately for both optimum summer and winter efficiency, they used three compressors that really worked well for neither. All in favor of doing things the way we’ve always done them, raise your hand. Needles and camels come to mind when pondering the conversion of these chumps to RCx “experts”. Good luck with that.
There are only a handful of system-specific EE experts for things like compressed air, refrigeration, and steam in the country. How do you know Jeff? Because utilities have money available for energy efficiency upgrades and that will draw customers and system experts out like a hot apple pie draws in black bears at a state park. Only the most ignorant or stubborn customers would bypass a program’s money to pay for services, unless the program is awful and worth less than the time investment. We have been told by some providers that indeed they are a waste of time in their opinions.
With all the custom efficiency implementation and evaluation work we have done over many years, I’m sure we know most of them in the markets we serve. These are not the guys they are talking about.
Why? Because people focus on their deliverables.
- Refrigeration experts: cold
- Compressed air experts: pressure
- Architects: functional sexy buildings
- HVAC designers: comfort
Refrigeration, compressed air, and steam guys are focused on selling stuff, almost always. They are not consultants. We know this all too well as contractors have approached us by the dozens over the years to help make the business case for their prospective customers. But soon they find that we are focused on doing the right thing, which may include messy system modifications and controls adjustments with little capital investment – and getting the analyses right. To my knowledge, none of these has gone anywhere.
As far as architects and engineers are concerned, they cannot afford to pound the streets for energy efficiency studies. It may take as much time to land a $8,000 energy or RCx study as it does to land a $200,000 design project. Gee, which way would you prefer? However, they may use the $8,000 to land the eventual $200,000 design project. This happens quite a bit and it chaps our butts because the business model includes a cheap shabby study with a solution being something they like to design. Surprise! Meanwhile, we price the study based on what we think it should take to give the customer what they need – the best value.
Motives: Knowing them is absolutely critical.
To others’ potential surprise, commissioning is FAR different than retrocommissioning for energy efficiency. Commissioning includes ensuring the owner gets what he’s supposed to get, helping to reduce cost by reducing costly change orders and then making sure control systems work as designed. It does not include design assistance or revising control sequences that “work”. A Cx agent knowledgeable in energy efficiency may suggest tweaking something that is really, really dumb, like having a large variable air volume system also serve a small equipment room with equipment pumping out lots of heat 24/7/365.A Cx agent that recognizes this is likely the exception and not the rule. It’s just not what they do.
Retrocommissioning for efficiency is helping to quell problems, typically comfort or equipment maintenance issues but mainly to save energy. It includes reviewing the control sequences but almost always modifies them because the designer, or installer, somebody, anybody, everybody (?) was not an EE expert.
Is it easier for a Cx to become an RCx or an RCx to become a good Cx? Good question.
Back to the topic of easier to train a controls, refrigeration, or compressed air guy (not the diamonds in the rough types discussed above). Yes, you can train them to look for and fix certain things, like painting by numbers. But as I always say, one can plan for and teach in two semesters of engineering graduate school about half the measures that save energy in HVAC. The other half? You can’t imagine what the other crazy half would be. These would include someone not doing what they should be doing, a design mistake or an ignorant design. There is no limit to the seven deadly sins plus ignorance and it is impossible to predict the implications from them. And then again, what is their real motive?
Answering the quiz: False. Picasso is dead. Presumably, the house painter is not.
Midwest Energy, a Kansas cooperative, has what appears to be a great program to finance energy efficiency on the utility bill. Payments for the upgrades are less than the savings on the energy portion of the bill. What a concept! It’s only been around for 30 years but is rare typically because utilities either have a hang-up with key elements or regulators won’t allow key elements. Topics for another day.
This will blow your mind. How many large power plants (500 MW) does it take to cook the thanksgiving turkey across the nation – just the ones cooked with electricity? Answer is provided below. Guess. Don’t be a loser. Guess.
I’ve seen perhaps 100 ads for dust collecting contraptions that everyone including the buyers know will end up under the bed, in the closet, or basement, and finally onto the garage sale to somebody else who will decycle it. These include the things like the Ab Buster 5000 (just made it up), junk you sit on, junk you rock on, junk you push/pull, slip/slide, squeeze or shake. They get body builders that spend 5 hours a day in the gym pumping real iron, doing real body building, to demonstrate the use of this crap with a voiceover of something like, “You will notice results in 5 days with just 15 minutes a day”, which is technically true. In 5 days the sedentary person’s gut, arms, or legs will be burning of lactic acid. The reality of course is, the schmo that buys this stuff is thinking they may look like the dudes and babes on TV if they buy the dust collector. I suppose that every once in a blue moon the stuff is actually used.
I’m more in favor of Rocky Balboa type training – simple stuff, like pulling a log through waste deep snow in Siberia. I run and the only weather or conditions not fit for running are those that might kill me or give me permanent brain damage. That would be limited to excessive heat. Everything else varies from great (minus -30F or 35F wind and rain in the dark or above 85F) to perfect (everything between 0F and 85F). There’s very rarely a legitimate excuse for not running. Real influenza, 103F body temperature, and barely being able to sit up in bed qualifies. I was there four years ago. There are practically no equipment requirements. Most requirements are provided by the state: that is roads, sidewalks, and when necessary bike trails (BORING). The roads are always open.
You really only need one pair but a couple of these are for ice and snow and the rest have varying degrees of mileage so I can bleed a thousand miles per pair by rotating new, old, new, old.
Compare this to the gym. And speaking of BORING, OMG, I was in Scottsdale at the Hotel Valley Ho a couple weeks ago; a fantastic 1950s retro hotel with a beautiful pool, patio area with immaculate greenery. As I was on my way out the door at O’Darkthirty to run, I noticed a row of treadmills on the second floor indoors overlooking the outdoor pool area. They were in use at least, but I was thinking what is wrong with those people? Why would you run in place staring at CNN with an iPod ruining your eardrums next to a stinky guy, in stale, stagnant air? I’d rather run laps in a Wal-Mart parking lot – or the Hotel parking lot, Interstate 5 in Southern California, or the tarmac at JFK in the rain. In this particular case, it was just above 50F and perfect outside, plenty of sidewalks and not much traffic.
Maybe people need an excuse (gym) to “work out”. I don’t get this. Treadmills are stupid (see above). Free weights cost not much compared to a few months of gym membership. Stationary biking can be had for a decent $100 doohickey attachment and a $50 tire for the bike you already have (no one does stationary biking unless they bike for real). There is nothing more brain damaging than riding a stationary bike. If you want to live forever, ride a stationary bike because an hour seems like 8 hours, like reverse dog years. Note THIS stuff is not dust collection material. Only obsessive hard core people use this stuff – triathletes, for example use it in Wisconsin winters. Nobody on TV sells stuff that actually works and gets used. No BS here.
In “Oh Behave” and “Biscuit Discipline” I attempted to make a point that information to save energy or to be healthy alone is not enough. Energy efficiency requires somebody, preferably multiple bodies if not all bodies being involved with constant favorable behavior to sustain savings over time. Both EE and fitness require persistence and activity over time. Grapefruit diets? Not so much.
Long term health and EE have this in common. Neither include simply buying your way to success. Ready?
Switching gears just a little, last week I came across this pyramid for energy efficiency in homes, which I thought was pretty cool. (Although as I type that, I’m thinking, wait a minute, the USDA food pyramids were complete flops, unless one rationalizes it was successful with the “created or saved” sort of government metric.) It seems its creator has prioritized things very well for a residence. It has renewable energy with the highest complexity and investment and I would add poor return on investment.
This spurred me to generate one of these for commercial buildings. The pyramid base – the best stuff – the raw vegetables, fiber, and omega 3 of energy efficiency is retrocommissioning, operations, maintenance, and discipline to stay with it. At the top: seven layer chocolate cake with chocolate drizzle and whipped cream – renewable energy. By the way, it takes just over 100 large power plants to cook the TG bird I mentioned above!
Payback ranges and percent of total facility savings potential are guessed for each category of measure. They are all wrong, so let’s just get that out of the way now. Misguided applications of practically any technology can have 200 year simple paybacks. Results can be all over the place and depend on many things possibly the greatest of which is, what is there now and how it is being used prior to implementation. The years noted of course represent a range of typical simple paybacks for the technology. The percentages represent the portion of TOTAL facility energy consumption the technology can achieve. Note for renewables I have a high of 100%, representing most likely a wind turbine. This can be done as Spirit Lake Schools (Iowa) had done many years ago. They were generating wind energy long before wind turbines sprouted like chia heads in the surrounding areas.
The chart is for commercial facilities only; NOT industrial and manufacturing facilities.
*Building envelope measures can have fast paybacks if the existing condition is terrible. For example, no roof or attic insulation – and in the case of flat roofs, the roof is pealed off anyway for replacement.
Some folks are proposing a switch to using lumens as the metric for selecting light bulbs for purchase at your favorite home improvement store. This would be in lieu of incandescent wattages or equivalents thereof. Uh huh. Around 1980 the US was going to be the last country on the globe to convert to metric units. You know – base 10 everything with common sense conversions like a milliliter equals a cubic centimeter. Fuggedaboutit! Not gonna happen. Funny thing is, by mid-engineering-school career, every engineer clamors to use metric only. Six months out of school they are polluted by old timers who like incomprehensible units like mass in units of grains – and so the insanity lingers perpetually.
I had a really bad week last week – nothing significant occurred to me in the world of EE, and nothing really enraged me or even made me snicker, although I could always rant about federal spending on EE and renewable energy. Actually, if you are so inclined, Kim Strassel from The Wall Street Journal takes it to Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, if you are interested. Who would name their kid “Mitt”? What kind of a name is that? Is that short for Mitchell? Mitt for short, with two ts? Or is it short for Mitten? Why are there baseball “gloves” and a catcher’s “mitt”? Because gloves have fingers and mitts, short for mittens, have none. Wow. I think I figured something out today, although Romney is still confusing as hell in more than one way.
In the end, I did come stumble onto this article regarding SAIC’s programs for Ameren Illinois. Specifically, I was looking at the photo, thinking, this isn’t where the savings are! The vegetables are pretty and attractive, although beware of listeria and e-coli. Who’s your farmer?
But the EE-buying public doesn’t know the bok choi and asparagus are harmless passive loads for the refrigeration system. The engineering nerd wants to see the guys standing in a room full of hunks of iron on steel racks with pipes and conduits perfectly aligned in harmonious symmetry and parallelism.
BTW, engineers cannot handle any abnormalities, curves, interesting angles, or asymmetry – in a word: art. If you want to get an engineer to sing like a canary, put them on a stool in an empty room lined with Picassos, Kandinskys, and Miros. This would be harsh psychological torture. Why are so many engineers obsessed with woodworking? In another word: square. I’m easy. If I were chemically influenced enough to create, say an entertainment center, I would purposely skip the squares, rulers, pencils and all that crap. Does the end result look like crap? No. It’s art.
Come to think of it, this could be why it is difficult for new graduates to transition into energy efficiency. We don’t solve problems like, “How much work does it take to empty a 16 gallon keg of beer with a hand pump?” (Wisconsin is the only state in the union that refers to this thing as a “half barrel”) That keg question was on my final exam for my first semester thermodynamics course, and that is no joke.
We never have complete information to analyze an energy project, even when we can get everything we can think of. One has to learn what matters and what doesn’t really matter. We are not solving problems like a 1000 Btu of heat is added to a cylinder with water blah blah, this, that, and the other. How far does the piston move?
Unlike design, and possibly any other profession engineers delve into, when calculating energy use/savings, we want it to be as accurate as possible with no safety factor. Most building design, especially new construction, is performed using cookbook methods and then multiplying by 4 because this building will be warm and it will be cool – dammit! Well, this may be fine but it costs the owner, in many cases, a fortune because stuff is grossly oversized to begin with and oversize isn’t like a quad artery bypass burger from Carl’s Junior. Come to think of it, it probably is. You pay more now and you will really pay the rest of its life.
Not all oversizing is created equal. Belt and suspenders design is especially costly as entire systems are virtually redundant with EXTRA equipment. For example, you DO NOT want belt and suspenders for an earthen heat exchanger for a heat pump system. That is costly. Installing an air conditioner or boiler that is 50% larger than it should be isn’t ideal but at least in most cases it isn’t going to proportionally increase the cost, like a couple dozen extra bores for heat pump well field would.
How do people think about EE for decision making and what did the designer have in mind when he designed this behemoth? These are the things that interest me most about EE and they are encapsulated in program evaluation and retrocommissioning. In program evaluation, we are asking, what good is this program anyway? That is a big question to be answered with responses and answers to a thousand other questions. Most of our work for evaluation includes determining gross savings – actual savings. Attributes of a good evaluator include those of a good referee, judge, investigator, interrogator, psychiatrist, dog trainer, social scientist, mathematician, philosopher, priest and engineer. To the square engineer, this seems boring, stupid, and frivolous. To the artful or person who can’t stand wasted money, unrealized or fake savings, it is great stuff.
In retrocommissioning, it helps enormously to figure out the profile of the designer or firm that designed the systems. Descriptions include:
- This must have been the first of this type of system these guys designed. It is designed with backup for everything, which for a nuclear power plant is good, but not for your building.
- These guys paint by numbers. There is no thought or creativity whatsoever. E.g., they put an equipment room on a central air handling system, which will waste energy like crazy.
- I have no idea what the hell this guy was thinking. This is the most bizarre thing I have ever seen.
- These guys actually did a pretty good job.
With retrocommissioning, like evaluation, one has to work with incomplete information and sometimes it requires psychoanalyst skills as well. Being a genius and having tons of experience to recognize the fingerprints of an energy hog are both highly valued, but one also needs the social skills required to act like a schmo or a fan of whatever football, baseball, hockey team, sport, politician or car the customer wants to yap about. Don’t worry about golf. If the guy wants to talk golf, it’s the wrong guy.
Japan, with its devastated tourism industry since the tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, may offer 10,000 free flights to revive tourism. Fukushima is keeping people away? It would be an attraction to me – like seeing a volcano spouting lava.
In the OMG department this week, Bernie Sanders, self-described socialist senator from Vermont, espouses on-bill financing of energy efficiency projects consistent with a key part of my plan a couple weeks ago. This could be described as a broken clock being right twice a day but Sanders has a digital clock. A better allegory would be, even the Minnesota Vikings franchise will win the Super Bowl at some point if the league survives a long time, maybe 10,000 years would do it?
Lastly, in the home improvement department, last week I took on a chore for which I am capable – running a drill and grinding paint and rust down to bare metal. Pictured nearby is the front door to our house. It was manufactured by Pella Windows and is probably 12 years old. It was rusting as shown around the fru fra plastic frame, which is removed as shown in the picture. Upon removing the fru fra, it was obvious why this was happening. Look at the gaping cavity with no insulation. Jeez man, I think they could use some better engineering, or possibly the assembly line guy was in the restroom when this one passed his station. For extra credit, why did this happen and why did it rust where it did?
In many states, energy efficiency programs are meeting annual savings goals and their incentive cash is depleted in a fraction of the year. States where energy efficiency programs are a new offering are especially quick to meet goals. These states include Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. These states rely heavily on lighting, which accounts for somewhere in the range of 90% of the total savings. Even mature states like Wisconsin and California still get well over half their savings from lighting and other prescriptive measures (rebates). Wisconsin surpassed goals and ran out of incentives last program year.
There are many ways to solve the “excess savings problem” from reducing or eliminating incentives on some things or eliminating program offerings. In Wisconsin, they are sort of cutting incentives across the board and getting rid of comprehensive energy retrofit in existing commercial and industrial (C&I) facilities, where everyone knows the greatest potential exists. Comprehensive energy retrofit in WI is dead because they killed feasibility studies.
Wisconsin must know something Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, New York, California, Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Siemens, and dozens of energy service companies (ESCOs) around the country are oblivious to. These states’ programs rely substantially on comprehensive energy retrofit and it’s actually the holy grail of energy efficiency. But not in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin instead relies on the discount model. See Incentive or Discount, January 12, 2010. The powers that are believe this is the most cost effective (only) way to deliver savings and that feasibility studies once paid for by the program just rot on the customer’s shelf. But there are numerous ways to avoid this. You just have to develop an integrated program that holds customers accountable for implementing measures.
When Wisconsin (Focus on Energy, Focus for short) took over the energy efficiency programs from the investor-owned utilities about 10 years ago, one of the goals was market transformation. Market transformation simply means making energy efficient products and services the normal way of doing business such that ratepayer-funded programs are no longer needed, or their need is greatly reduced. Market transformation has long since been cast aside.
Instead, Focus has been transformed into something that seems to be directly at odds with its market transformation charter. Service providers in the market, ones with expertise and no bias (don’t sell stuff) are locked out by an apparatus that cannot work for them. Eliminating feasibility studies was the equivalent of adding a mote full of alligators around the fiefdom with razor wire atop the castle wall to keep the serfs out.
The idea that feasibility studies are a waste of money is just plainly incorrect. Nearly all of our feasibility studies are acted on. Last year we kicked off a retrocommissioning program with three pilot studies – no commitment from the owners whatsoever. We just wanted to demonstrate potential. Two of three have already been implemented. One has almost a year’s savings accumulated with 25-30% electric and gas savings, on their bills. The third project is close to implementation, which will probably be completed by year’s end.
In another study, we projected 30% savings for a high school. Actual results were 40% savings, indicated by energy bills. One college campus: 20% gas and electric savings projected, 20% savings realized. Another campus 15% and 22% electric and gas savings projected, respectively. Actual savings from bills: 25% and 20%. A medical clinic with about 25% savings projected: actual savings in the first 3 months of post-implementation operation total a full half year of projected savings. Every one of these projects needed measure identification, cost and savings estimates, and return on investment analysis. We started with a blank slate.
We have a study underway for a huge food processor and are projecting 3.5 million kWh savings, from only a portion of their air handling systems (68 units). We are looking forward to moving on to the ammonia refrigeration and compressed air systems. This customer has been very progressive with energy projects over the past 7-8 years and is willing to get everything that meets their financial criteria. In fact, when we delivered the proposal they agreed to move forward with the study on the air handlers but said, “but I don’t think you’ll find anything”.
The bottom line is, a comprehensive program that includes front-end screening, study, Implementation design, implementation, functional performance testing of measures, and customer training will be acted on by customers. Of the 10 or so projects, including dozens of campus buildings, where we have used this process, savings have been 20% or more in every case, up to 40%, and actual savings from pre and post implementation bill comparisons have always come in above study projections. Projects include everything from retrocommissioning to major equipment/system retrofits to new controls systems.
Ironically, we completed a “no risk” study with Focus last year including controls, refrigeration and HVAC. The customer went forward with all recommended measures. Again, all we started with was a customer that wanted to cost-effectively save energy, a blank sheet of paper. No “pre-packaged” projects. I.e., no free rider.
From a program perspective, this is very cost effective because savings are huge and concentrated and studies do not get stranded. The problem with some (as in, not all) program administrators whether they be third parties or utilities is they are steadfastly wedded to the status quo with a divorce rate Vatican City would cheer. The typical disjointed process with reams of paperwork and delays at the outset, no assistance between study and implementation, no hook or commitment from customers to do anything with the study, and no functional testing at the conclusion of implementation is doomed to fail.
The solutions to the “waste of money” issue are simple and they work very well, but some administrators and in some cases regulators need to open their minds and ditch their horse and buggy program paradigms.
And by the way, the attribution rate, which is the savings that occur as a result of an integrated program including feasibility studies, is near 100%. See the food processor guy’s quote above. He didn’t think we would find anything. Tell me. Would these 3.5 million kWh savings have occurred in the absence of a thorough investigation? How does a customer who buys an efficient boiler have any idea what the incremental cost and energy savings of his new equipment are? Does that constitute decision making based on energy efficiency? Perhaps some programs could improve their attribution rates on C&I programs if they would actually lead customers to implement energy efficiency measures rather than chasing contractors, like lawyers chasing ambulances, to capture savings that are going to happen in the marketplace anyway.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
Automobiles have really changed over the past 30 years, and in some ways for the worse. Back in the 1970s before hardly anyone purchased imports, imports were small and domestic vehicles were hulking behemoths. Then it was the second, or was it the third or fourth – doesn’t matter – energy crisis hit in the late 1970s and domestic cars shrunk in a big way. The Ford Mustang went from a muscle car to feeble runt. A 1982 Mustang was the first car I owned. It was also by far the crappiest car I ever owned.
This was the first giant step for domestic auto makers toward import fuel efficiency and of course it was disastrous. Millions of buyers experienced the same thing I did and did the same thing I did; started buying imports and never went back.
Getting on with the topic at hand – just look at how automakers of all stripes and origins have morphed into the same styles. Let’s look at how the Ford Taurus (formerly the LTD), Honda Accord, Volvo, and BMW 535 have changed from 1978 through today.
Back in the day, you could look at a silhouette of a car – or better yet, I could draw it on paper and you could tell what brand it was, and I draw as well as I play violin (I don’t think I’ve ever had my hands on one). In 2010, all you have to do is change the front grille and unless you study cars like an anal-retentive buyer with every issue of Consumer Reports and Buyers Guides for the past five years, you would never be able to tell what brand they are. They only have a tiny vestige of auto heritage left in about one square foot of the front of the vehicle.
Here’s an entrepreneurial thought: the “import” makers should sell optional “domestic” front ends and leave their stores open around the clock. This way the few remaining people who wouldn’t be caught dead in an import could sneak in the back door with a big hooded rapper sweatshirt on at 3:00 AM Monday morning and drive out with a car they really want and nobody would ever know it’s an import. Their parents would let them in the house.
This paragraph is a bit of a guess because I’m not THAT old to know for sure. Over the same period of 30 years, energy efficiency programs have “evolved”, more like devolved, in the same way. Back then there were few efficient technologies (products) and energy efficiency required brain power. A portfolio of programs probably got the most savings from custom measures like upgrading systems and controls, replacing controls, adding heat recovery, changing incandescent lighting to fluorescent and boring building envelope improvements. Compact fluorescent and T8 lighting, if they existed back then, probably cost as much as the modern laptop Check out that baby!
In 2010, program portfolios are like modern cars. Just take the utility logo off one and slap on the next logo and voila, ready to launch. They typically consist of prescriptive incentives for residential lighting, heating and cooling, appliances, appliance recycling, and maybe ENERGY STAR® new construction; and commercial and industrial prescriptive incentives for like categories plus maybe commercial new construction and retrocommissioning. Prescriptive measures, those that receive incentive for achieving some equipment efficiency threshold, probably account for 80-90% of savings – more for newer programs, maybe less for mature programs.
Program implementation has become a marketing campaign for technologies; efficient versions of everything available in the marketplace. There is nothing wrong with this, but codes and standards can drive these. Take the home furnace. Is there any need for an 80% efficient non-condensing furnace anymore? Any contractors who install 80% efficient furnaces should be fined, speaking facetiously. It’s just stupid. Compact fluorescent lighting is pretty much in the same category. This gravy train of easy savings is about to end as incandescent lighting is phased out. Moreover, I would say the market has already transformed to CFLs and possibly not even for energy efficiency. Many consumers choose them because they don’t burn out. Less maintenance and pain in the kiester to keep up with failing light bulbs. In commercial and agricultural facilities, these maintenance savings swamp energy savings. People are expensive. Good light bulbs are not.
Some states are sharply increasing goals and what are program administrators doing in response? More of the same. Some are just increasing incentives, even doubling them in some cases. This is like trying to significantly cut federal spending and taking entitlements and defense off the table. There isn’t much left to work with. Cost premium of efficient stuff is only one barrier to energy efficiency. At some point, you could literally give away efficient stuff and still not meet goals.
Program administrators and utilities need to put everything on the table and go back to the early days of custom efficiency, and comprehensive energy retrofit, retrocommissioning and demand response for commercial and industrial facilities. Industrial programs are woeful all over the country, including in California. Measures like “pump off controllers” for oil wells and numerous oil refining measures are complete free riders – measures that would happen regardless of any efficiency programs.
Administrators also need to think outside the box with “incentives” as well. There are many ways to do this but I’ll have to save that for another day because I’m out of time. But for now, let’s just say to take it to the next level, administrators are going to need custom measures, which requires engineering expertise. It looks good for us!
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
I hate electricity. I love what it allows me to do but I just don’t understand it. I sat through an in-house safety training session on arc flash, which I actually understood – there is a huge burst of energy through a “fault” that melts and actually vaporizes the copper conductor, which expands 7,000 times at Mach 2 and 1 million degrees F (made up numbers but the premise is correct). It’s one heck of an explosion. During a break I was asking our electrical engineers what the difference between a neutral and ground was, the flow of electrons, the consumption of energy. They may have just as well been explaining how to play “Teenage Wasteland” on the synthesizer for The Who (my entire musical career consists of 2 weeks of saxophone lessons in 5th grade and then I broke my arm – game over).
Typically, electrical systems are explained in terms of fluid systems. Voltage equals pressure. Current equals flow, etc. I interviewed one guy with my normal mechanical engineering quiz and he was explaining mechanical systems with electrical ones. I had to laugh. A couple questions downstream I asked my question – without using an electrical analogy, I said!
I’ve done a few electrical things in our house – changed a couple switches to the mechanical twist timer thingies and I replaced one crappy fluorescent fixture with and incandescent fixture – so I can see my clothes in the morning! It’s on for 30 seconds per day. Ok.
My electrician career ended earlier this winter. I was trying to install one of those push button timers – 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes and it turns off – to save 25 kWh/year on my garage lighting. I pull out the instructions. Attach the black wire to the black one, green, red, white, etc. Ok. I pull my switch out of the wall box – I have two blacks and a white – great, just great. I gave it a shot, replaced the thing, went downstairs to throw the breaker, came back up – nothing. Let me try again. Downstairs, upstairs, screw, twist, cram, throw the switch. It works! The timer is clicking through its settings. Before stuffing it all in the box and buttoning it up I go outside to make sure the lights are on, just in case. Hell no! I’m done! I give up. I’m wasting my precious weekend. Downstairs, upstairs…zzzzzt. I was shocked. Somehow I had gone downstairs, gotten sidetracked and didn’t open the breaker. So I almost got barbequed. Never again! I should have taken a hint from the timer switch package. It looked like it had been purchased and returned about a dozen times. At least I’m not the most electrically ignorant guy on the planet.
I didn’t try this to save money. I’m just never home during the week so it was really to save time and hassle, but this is beside the point. The point is, some commercial and industrial end users think, why do a study? Why hire somebody who knows energy efficiency? “We know what needs to be done. Why not just hire a contractor and get it done.” Why not just have Hannibal and his pal Max Cady to drop by to check on my house while I’m out of town?
First, contractors sell stuff. I find it interesting that the vendor’s answer to compressed air system problems is always a new compressor set to operate at just a little higher pressure. Nevermind the capillary tube they have for a header. Could that be a problem? A contractor’s path toward a more efficient heating plant is a new boiler – a conventional non-condensing shiny unit beside the dingy old one that can be tuned to achieve as good or even better efficiency.
Second, on the flip side, if they can’t make money on it, they wouldn’t spot an inferno of cash if it singed their eyebrows. Last week I was getting an explanation of a boiler plant I have never seen. It was from a facility manager who thinks they’re paying excessively for energy in their new 200,000 square foot facility. They want retrocommissioning (RCx). They have condensing boilers running 190F water. Ok. Turn a screw and save $6,000 per year. Not a new boiler. Not new controls.
I’m probably roughing up vendors and contractors a bit excessively. I’m sure some of them understand some things about energy efficiency beyond the sales brochure. I know one such excellent contractor, personally. We on the other hand revel in polar opposite – reducing energy bills in a big way for practically no cost. When a significant capital expense like a new control system is warranted for long-term value, we will recommend it.
Our challenge is our product, a service, is a complete unknown to a facility owner. You buy it and wait to see what happens. Wait a minute. This sounds like buying mutual funds. However, unlike the broker, investment in expert RCx has a very high probability of saving substantial money. You might as well fling darts at the mutual fund tables as opposed to spending money on a mutual fund advisor. Since they ARE the market, their odds of being right are 50% no matter what they say. Conversely, paying a decent RCx guy is like finding money on the ground. Just squat and pick it up, and move on to the next pile.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP
Talk about an oxymoron. Years ago this was a favorite saying of my roommate and I as we lambasted dopey ads on TV, on paper, or over the airwaves.
Fewer years ago, once I got into this energy efficiency profession, I was speaking with a utility energy-efficiency program guy who frequently interacts with regulators. This was during a stakeholder meeting for quantifying energy saving potential by sector and by technology. (technology = lighting, furnaces, chillers, etc.) Knowing buildings systems rarely work as they are supposed to, I asked, “Have you considered retrocommissioning (RCx) as an energy efficiency program?” His answer in effect was, that would be great, but it would be double dipping since customers have already been incentivized for energy efficiency. I didn’t have a response for that. I do now.
Incentives are based on building systems working as they should. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Buildings almost always use more energy than they do on paper (or computer). See the recent Illinois LEED performance report, Figure 14. Buildings underperform badly compared to design models. I would venture to guess that the majority of this discrepancy is lousy controls.
Therefore, my response to the “buildings have already been incentivized and therefore, RCx is double dipping” is twofold:
- Incentives for efficient equipment and systems are many times actually too low. The building’s systems and controls are performing so poorly that the boiler actually has to make more hot water and the chiller has to make more chilled water than planned. The lights are saving more because they are on longer than they should be. If you’re going to waste energy, you may as well do it efficiently (oxymoron alert). The more you spend, the more you save! Other measures probably under-predict savings but these are typically control measures and control measures make up a small fraction of incentives and associated savings that programs take credit for – a thesis based on my experience – a thesis I am very confident with.
- Savings from RCx IS NOT double dipping. When I poll our own recent RCx projects, I find that 75% of the savings are derived from measures that either (1) fix control issues that wouldn’t even be eligible for incentives in the first place or (2) implement measures that are required by energy code. Some buildings aren’t built to comply with prescriptive energy code requirements – imagine that! and (3) implementing new measures that exceed code requirements.
- Incentives in many cases are too low because systems perform poorly (the more you spend, the more you save)
- Incentives in other cases are too high because they are controls-based and the control sequences are wasting energy
- Reducing over-use and fixing things that aren’t even incentive-eligible almost certainly outweigh fixing control issues on measures that were already incentivized. Therefore, the net of RCx measures is all new unrealized savings.
By the way, the utility mentioned above has an RCx program now.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP