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The Case for Energy Efficiency – That Our Mothers Understand

By May 5, 2014November 7th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant, Utility Stuff

If energy efficiency programs are considered and measured to be a good thing in some states, why are they not good for all, or nearly all, states?  Even the utilities we work with in Minnesota and Iowa with programs since the mid 1980s believe in energy efficiency for their customers and their employing utilities.  I get the same vibe from California utilities, for another example.  However, like national elections, all eyes are presently on Ohio – a battleground state for energy efficiency.

But this rant is about what happened in Indiana and how to combat it in Ohio.  In case you’re not aware, the Indiana legislature recently overwhelmingly voted to shut down the state’s energy efficiency programs “Energizing Indiana” at the end of 2014.

In politics, there are a couple strategies for making law.  The first is to win over the public.  This results in a drawn-out battle with protest and huge volumes of money spent.  In the case of Wisconsin, legislators famously fled the state – like kids hiding from their parents when they are in deep trouble.  A lot of good that will do.

The other way to pass law is to organize votes and plow it through so fast that flash mobs have no chance of deploying a counter-attack.  This is what happened with Indiana’s case to shut down energy efficiency programs.  It was first a bill to allow large users to opt out of paying for programs, which is itself an entirely political shenanigan.  Then while we were all watching that hand, they flipped it to the entire state and quickly passed the bill to shut Energizing Indiana down altogether.  From there, Governor Pence of course, as predicted by me, did not sign or veto the bill.  Indiana law allows him to do nothing within seven days of its arrival on his desk, and the bill becomes law with no action.

Another not-so-positive human trait that has been demonstrated to me over the years is the yearning for power.  What is the first thing a new manager of anything can do?  Answer: Stop spending money on something.  Forget any sort of thinking about the benefits and costs and just shut it down.  We have seen this many times with proposals for end-user studies and in some cases, even projects.  As though, “My predecessor was a dufus.  I’m in charge now.  Feel my power.”

This is what seems to have happened in Indiana.  Apparently the commission, with support from Republican Governor Mitch Daniels (same party as Pence), instigated the statewide program, Energizing Indiana.  It did not originate in the legislature.  Since everyone knows, lawmakers are the smartest people on the planet, they know best.  Flip the switch.  In fact, this reminds me of the (ironically) ignorant EPA geek/jerk who ordered the shutdown of the Ghostbuster’s containment unit.  Note the ConEdison guy in the video.

When I read this article by Indiana Senator Dennis Kruse, it screams ignorance.  I don’t mean ignorance = stupid.  I mean ignorance = uninformed, which is its real meaning.   For instance, he says, “In the future, it will be difficult to achieve savings that justify the fees being charged. Also, many customers paying the fee haven’t received any direct assistance to increase their energy efficiency.”

It will be difficult to find savings in the future?  Good grief, Senator.  The programs just started.  That’s like saying by fourth grade, students have learned to read, write, add, and subtract.  What else is there?  Ironically, this is what we asked each other as fourth graders.  All you fifth through twelfth grade teachers, find something useful to do.

The second sentence of the quote indicates ignorance of programs affecting all customers – non-participants alike.

He goes on to say customers are required to fund the program [with the efficiency rider on their bills] for energy efficiency investments they have already made.  Sure.  And then he adds other pushbutton terms and phrases like “forced to adopt cookie-cutter efficiency measures.”  Now, there is a topic for an innovative energy efficiency program.  With all of our genius program implementers in the business, why has no one thought of this?  The program could be called, “Our Lights or No Lights”.  “Find out how to save energy and keep the lights on so we won’t be forced to cut off your service.”  Ok.  This could use some marketing pizzazz.  Make it rhyme.  Give it a jingle.

This sort of ignorant claptrap works for ignorant citizens – and again, I’ll emphasize, ignorant = uninformed, not stupid.

Our industry needs to use parallels and metaphors to push back and persuade citizens who don’t understand benefit/cost analyses and terms like “energy efficiency as a resource”.

Perhaps something like this:  Electric utilities are like roads.  The infrastructure is built for all users large and small.  For roads, we have things like per-axle weight limits.  Do we allow truckers to say, “Don’t tell me what to do!  I’ll load my trucks with 100,000 pounds (that’s about 40,000 over the standard load limit) because that’s the sweet spot for efficiency for me.  I get the most ton-miles per unit of cost, energy and labor, at this payload”.  Well in that case sir, go ahead.  Wreck the roads, and you and your automobile-driving neighbors can all pay to rebuild the road every five years – not to mention, dealing with the hassle of construction, which is like a power outage[1].

Get it?

[1] Multiple sources indicate a loaded five axle truck – a standard “18 wheeler” causes over 5,000 times the road damage of a single automobile.  Exceeding the load limit by just 10,000 pounds (16%) causes roads designed for a 20 year life to wear out in seven years.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Kate Miller says:

    The US economy is being drained by it’s absense of a more comprehensive long range move to efficiency and that is costing up in terms of our international competitiveness. Please use you wit to examine what it would look like if the US had as assertive a role in home weatherization as GB – Where they are investing in properties to upgrade, This is a model that can work well. If we looked at the jobs creation would be alone it is a compelling argument One area that puzzles me is why states like Indiana do not want to keep more of their energy dollars in the state and help homeowner and businesses control their operation costs.

    • Jeff Ihnen says:

      Thanks, Kate. In order to “sell” energy efficiency to policy makers, programs need to be cost effective as measured by a bunch of different methods. Most simply, I like to view it by asking the question: is it cheaper to weatherize thousands of homes or is it cheaper to build more power plants and infrastructure. Combined, not just weatherization programs, but all programs, energy efficiency has shown to be the cheapest “resource” compared to more energy production, fuel, and hardware.

      Second, yes, the utilities that “get it” realize that having profitable and prosperous customers is better than not having customers. I will follow up at some point with a case study in Maryland, where a steel mill went bankrupt and stuck the utility with $2 million in accounts receivable. So not only does that customer no longer exist for the utility, the utility is $2 million in the hole for delivered goods that will never be collected.

  • SidAbma says:

    The residential market has high efficiency water heaters and condensing furnaces and boilers that operate in the mid 90% efficiency range and vent COOL exhaust into the atmosphere.
    America has only 1 grade of natural gas (unlike gasoline) so why can’t the commercial building owners and industry, or the Big one, the power plants not operate at over 90% energy efficiency?
    Every natural gas appliance has a chimney. Most of these commercial and industrial and larger consumers vent HOT exhaust into the atmosphere. This is all Wasted Energy! Why is this still allowed?
    The other side of it is Increased Natural Gas Energy Efficiency = Reduced Utility Bills = Profit
    Which building owner or industry does not want to increase profits?

    The DOE states that for every 1 million Btu’s of heat energy recovered from these waste exhaust gases, and this recovered heat energy is utilized efficiently in the building or facility where it was combusted, 117 lbs of CO2 will NOT be put into the atmosphere.
    Show me another technology that can make such a big difference in emission reduction. Please if you find something, please tell me.
    There is Water in combusted natural gas, and during this condensing flue gas heat recovery process, this distilled water is being created.
    Do not waste this water. Have you ever seen combusted natural gas irrigate the lawns and flower beds?

    We have a lot of educating to do about Increasing Energy Efficiency!

  • Jeff Ihnen says:

    Good questions and I am happy to answer. Efficiency is measured in desired output divided by input. In the case of furnaces and water heaters, the desired output is obviously heat. The desired output for a power plant of course is electricity. Heat and electricity are much different outputs, with electricity being a higher value form of energy.

    For heat generating equipment, the primary feature of the equipment that determines efficiency is the size of the heat exchanger. The 90%-plus efficient equipment, like a furnace simply has an additional heat exchanger section made of stainless steel. It is stainless steel because the water/condensate you mention can be slightly acidic and this is corrosive. This is a relatively inexpensive upgrade.

    A power plant on the other hand is essentially an engine; the efficiency of which is proportional to the temperature difference between the high end (steam or not gas for a gas turbine) and the low end (condenser). Materials, including steel, stainless steel and more exotic alloys get weak around 1200-1400 degrees F. This limits the efficiency of these “engines”. Combined natural gas plants start with a gas turbine with a high temperature of perhaps 2000 degrees F. Thermodynamically, this is why combined cycle plans can be 50-60% efficient while conventional steam plants are only 35-40% efficient. It is cost effective to use exotic materials to withstand the 2000 degrees in a gas turbine because very little material is required – unlike literally tons of material that would be required for a steam power plant.

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