Believe it or not, I did not have a rant topic in mind going into Saturday morning – my rant writing time. But the fog burned off quickly as a topic came into view – one that arose during the prior week. Incidentally, I once heard a “meteorologist” instructor say he always scolded his students for saying fog “burns” off. Instead, they should say the fog lifted. What? Fog is suspended water droplets, not vapor. Water vapor in air, or as steam, is invisible. When fog “burns off,” it changes from visible water droplets to invisible vapor, so while “burn off” isn’t exactly correct, it’s better than “lifted”.
As I understand it, certain regulatory agencies are getting bored with lighting. Hallelujah! Lighting is kind of like the Star Wars movie that nerds watched 26 times. At some point, it reaches saturation; it is no longer interesting, and it becomes boring. And even as a seven year old, I would be asking how can that garbage can on tiny wheels propel itself in sugary sand?
What comes after lighting? There are a number of packaged control products for mass markets including convenience stores and rooftop units. I’m actually excited about these widgets because they require sound HVAC design knowledge so certain things like the following do not occur: coils freeze into a block of ice, warm air stratifies into wide temperature variation from floor to ceiling, cold air dumps onto occupants making for cold spots in the occupied space, occupants die of asphyxiation (a slight exaggeration), and god forbid the beer isn’t cold.
After lighting, there is also of course, my favorite: the elimination of stupid and/or incomprehensible HVAC system design and the riddance of most energy hemorrhaging from systems and processes. This is virtually limitless in large buildings.
Moving onto the main topic of this rant: new construction. First, let me interject this hot tamale. Some program metrics for new construction success include post-construction energy consumption that matches energy model predictions. No. No. No. No. No. Say it with me. NO! Who cares if the answer is correct? This is the WROOONG metric. How much energy does the building use compared to similarly functioning ones? That is the metric. Customers shouldn’t give a rats if the answer is correct. They don’t get paid for that, and their energy bills aren’t lower as a result. This is an issue I came across TWICE last week in two different states! Regulators and program administrators – are you listening?
Now, understanding that the goal is low energy consumption, NOT right answers, although right answers are typically illusive, there are generally two categories in which to achieve low energy consumption. The first one is to select designs that are inherently simple and extremely difficult to screw up, and NOT extremely difficult to run with low energy cost. The second category includes innovative design, and I mean innovative design. There is nothing so common as “innovative design”.
What am I talking about? Innovative design? I can define this two ways, one for energy geeks and one for common people (not the song – BTW, the William Shatner adaptation is hilarious – good listening for a bad day). The energy geeks dividing line between standard fare and innovation is the common building simulation engine, DOE-2. If DOE-2 can handle the simulation in its entirety, there is no innovation; only incremental upgrades for a multitude of building and equipment characteristics.
The common person definition can be demonstrated with cars. The common automobile with four wheels, engine in the front, and sundry features such as a moon roof and rear camera dummy crash avoider is not innovative. Make em small. Put in tiny engines. Lower the drag coefficient (make them aerodynamic) and so on. Unfortunately, at this point there are few examples of innovative cars, but let’s just use the hybrid and the plug-in hybrid as examples of breaking the mould. The key breakthroughs include energy recovery from braking and an engine that operates in its sweet spot efficiency-wise whenever it needs to run. From an energy perspective, it smashes the model.
Similarly, there are building features that smash the model in ways that aren’t exactly like splitting the atom. Some include radiant heating and cooling, displacement ventilation, smart but easy demand controlled ventilation, and multiple types of energy recovery. The key is application of the technology to appropriate building types with specific needs, keeping it simple and making it difficult to screw up operationally, and keeping occupants comfortable. The DOE-2 engine doesn’t handle this stuff.
Since physical and absolute barriers for efficient equipment – lights, heating, cooling, controls for standard systems are nigh, I would guess the next moves would include the riddance of theoretically efficient but practically unworkable systems from energy codes.
 To use the old cliché, broken clocks are right twice a day, and so there is a difference between correct answers and correct calculations in many cases, especially when entering an error band.