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Modern Efficiency and the Disappearing Clapping Seals

By August 13, 2018November 5th, 2021Energy Rant

A couple of weeks ago I was directed to an article in AESP’s[1] magazine discussing ways to improve efficiency program cost-effectiveness.  Although it wasn’t about avoided-cost and benefit-cost tests, it provides good stuff for elaborating in this blog.

“Cost effective” in the context of the article means lowering the cost per unit of energy or demand saved.  Certainly, this helps to improve benefit-cost ratios, for most of the convoluted tests, that must have been concocted by graduate students under the influence of mind-altering chemicals.  Boy, do I wish we could dial back forty years so we could simply compare the cost of energy efficiency and demand-side resources to supply-side resources.

Here we go.

Bundle Measures for Leverage

The authors suggest adding lighting controls when retrofitting to LED.  There is only one lighting control, other than the ubiquitous light switch, I would install in my building, and that is a boring relay taking direction from an energy management system, or building automation system (same thing).

Motion sensors are a waste of money and result in more lighting burn time while daylighting sensors are unnecessary.  Leaving lights burn in an empty room today is like throwing garbage out the window while driving down the highway.  Yes, there should be a $200 fine for either.

Daylighting controls cost a lot of money for something to go wrong – a prepackaged headache that wastes energy.  Just open the circuit with a relay, all day and call it good, because it is.

Oh, Behave!

Continuous behavior change is hard, but maybe not as much as when the social norm is moved, or there is a carrot or gamification involved.  This falls naturally after the previous topic of lighting controls, which should be as simple as possible.  However, in our industry’s outdated way of thinking, those measures don’t get anything because they don’t cost more.

Really?  Well, let us up the complexity a bit to involve all sorts of behavioral savings measures like not using compressed air, a natural refrigerant per the ideal gas law, to cool off on the shop floor.  There are limitless ways to save, and it isn’t free.  It requires infrastructure and organizational engagement.  Time is money.

By the way, if you want to see how social norms have changed, log onto a 40-plus-year-old movie and behold.  One of my faves is The Bad News Bears.  That is exactly what being a kid was like back then.  It was set in California but it might as well had been Lake Park, Iowa.

Leverage Customer Data

There are many challenges to cost-effectively capture savings.  One challenge is finding opportunities within a customer base.  There are many reasons certain customers don’t use much energy – they run a tight ship, they cheat occupants on comfort or air quality, low occupancy, short operating hours, and so forth.  These customers have one thing in common – they are not worth pursuing.

At least find the customers that use a lot of energy per square foot – i.e., the gas mileage of buildings.  This is getting easier to do every day, especially with interval data from advanced metering infrastructure.  With these data, it doesn’t take much to dump it into a computer and let it pop out some nice visuals for customer engagement. Examples follow.  What does it mean?  That is a question for another day, but an energy professional can read these and get customers to hang on every word.

Interestingly, many utilities seem to think telling their customers about their energy use is spying and intrusive. But this is what retailers do all the time – to make it convenient – to do business again!

Positive Experience

Another relic from the past is throwing money at people like flipping fish to clapping seals.  The theory was of course that people and customers need money to invest in premium efficiency.

Why do people shop Amazon?  Low prices?  Maybe some do, but not me.  When I started buying things online, I was a clapping seal.  I would find what I wanted and shop a thousand sites for the lowest price.

Reasons for me include Amazon two-day shipping, stored card, stored shipping addresses, no minimum purchase, no lines, and 550,000,000 different items for sale.  I don’t shop for price anymore.  Billions of seals level the playing field for me, so I know I’m getting a good enough deal.

The same goes for customers, especially commercial and industrial customers.  They need information and easy, not money.

Acknowledge Reality, aka, Get Real

There are billions of kWh and hundreds of megawatts of savings locked in a time warp because energy codes and standards have been used as baselines.  This too is a relic of another period.  If perfect is the enemy of good, ideal is the close ally of awful.

Ironically, while energy codes serve as baselines for commercial buildings, new commercial buildings often do not perform to code due to shabby construction practices and crumby control sequences.  Here too is another way to save: code compliance.

[1] Association of Energy Services Professionals

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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