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Saints Are Marching In, Michaels Energy

One of the most rewarding aspects of our business is ensuring people get it right and customers get the legitimate energy and monetary savings they should be receiving.  My answer to “why should we pick you?” is: we are passionate about what we do; we get things right; and we want to make a difference – improve things.  The problem occurs when others don’t give a rip about these things.

Michaels’ primary thrust in the evaluation arena is impact evaluation, which is – what difference does the program make?  The questions are (1) what is happening versus what would have happened and (2) would it have occurred without the program?  The first question is difficult and the second question is really difficult.  The result of the first question is adjusted gross savings and the result of the second question is net savings.

Adjusted gross savings is simply the actual savings verified at the site, with customer interviews, visual inspection,  and data recorded over time to verify savings via the 80/20 rule, which means don’t sweat the little stuff.  Net savings starts with adjusted gross savings and applies psychoanalysis via a battery of questions and hypnosis mixed with bat wings, chicken bones, and Ouija board viewed through a crystal ball.

Efficiency measures are generally broken into two categories: prescriptive and custom.  Prescriptive measures, as the term indicates, prescribe fixed savings and fixed incentive for a specific measure, regardless of how it is applied.  For instance, a compact fluorescent may have an incentive of $2 and deemed savings of 10 kWh per year even though it may save 5,000 kWh (that’s a hell of a CFL) in one instance and 3 kWh in another.  When averaged, the population of CFL measures should save 10 kWh apiece.  Custom measures have savings and incentives calculated for the specific application via customer, vendor, or program personnel.

Everyone agrees that calculating savings for June Cleaver’s new energy efficient clothes iron is stupid because everyone knows Ward, Wally, and the Beaver wear seven neatly pressed outfits per week.  (I don’t know about you, but my mom used to iron EVERYTHING, except maybe grundies, circa 1960s-1970s).  This is well documented and the savings aren’t that great.  But consider a variable frequency drive on a 100 horsepower pump for a manufacturer.  There might be a half million kWh savings or their might be zero.  Engineers have a major conniption over such uncertainty.

There is a balance between accuracy, program cost, and equity (as in fairness to customers).

  • Accuracy includes that for the customer so they have confidence in their investment, and that for the program as a whole such that the net answer for the program is reasonably correct.
  • Program cost includes costs to calculate and verify savings via program QA/QC and independent evaluation.
  • Equity includes not giving customers a huge incentive for a technology application that results in a one month payback but also not giving a customer a huge incentive for an application that results in a 78 year payback.  In the first case, it would be moronic to not do the project with or without an incentive.  In the latter case, the customer is obviously doing the measure for non-energy reasons.

A segment of humanity chooses to avoid problems rather than addressing them, wallowing in the bliss of ignorance.  They want everything jammed into the prescriptive bin and never look at it again.  It’s one thing to cram ridiculous stuff like a 500 ton chiller into the prescriptive column where savings could vary immensely but another to say the savings are correct on average and you evaluator don’t worry about it and whistle past the bank robbery.  In some programs, measures are sanctified into sainthood and once there, they are untouchable.  The implementer is “made”, like a mob boss (a little extreme but you get the point).  The result of a less than glowing evaluation sometimes is sanctify the measure(s) and insert head in sand rather than improve the program for customers.  This is depressing.

We don’t need to evaluate CFLs year after year although prices and technology adoption change so an update is warranted once in a while.  We don’t need to evaluate programmable thermostats (which incidentally have been elevated to sainthood in some programs) because their net savings is zero.  (see “Oh Behave” for why)  It is so ridiculous that in some cases, if “it” appears to be installed, it gets full credit for savings that don’t exist.  It may never be used.  It may not be connected to anything.  This is the stuff 20/20, 60 minutes, Glen Beck and John Stossel live for.  Bogus results and collusion.  Thankfully, in most precincts this is not the case.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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