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Chester the Energy Advisor

By April 9, 2012November 9th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant, Utility Stuff

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[1], 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[2] (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.

[1] Keep your eye out for twists on overused idioms.

[2] As opposed to the pejorative low hanging fruit.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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