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The Future of Energy Efficiency and Big Blue

By July 15, 2013November 8th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

We were recently conversing with folks from AESP about topics of interest for newsletters, and one intrigued me: what will be the big thing in the industry in 2014?   Answering that would be like predicting the S&P’s close on December 31st.  Over the long term (decades) the market tracks the economy.  Over the short term (years) it tracks sheep, which are entirely at the mercy of the Ben Bernanke.

First, a quiz.  I love quizzes.  What saves more energy?

A) Swapping out a 10 SEER air conditioner for a 13 SEER unit? or

B) Swapping a 16 SEER for a 25 SEER unit?

[Pause for nerds to grab their calculators]

The answer is A, which reduces power by 0.69 kW for a 2.5 ton unit versus only 0.68 kW for option B.  Consider that!  Three SEER covers more ground than a whopping nine SEER improvement.  Furthermore, starting with the current code minimum, 13 SEER, one has to go all the way to a 19 SEER to get the same impact as going from 10[1] to 13!

How can this be?  It’s a  1/X relationship, like insulation, heating equipment, and everything else.

I recently came across a blog that asked, “Are we approaching the physical limits of energy efficiency?” My answer: yes and no.  Yes, many widgets [2]are approaching the end of the line.

No – NO,NO, NO, NO. NO!  We have barely bitten the apple of energy efficiency as a whole.  Energy waste oozes, bleeds, and hemorrhages from buildings, sea to shining sea.  And I am not talking about the trickle of power your DVR is using right now.

IBM, Here We Come

IBM was a fat and complacent world beater through the 1980s.  They were still selling car-size mainframes and introduced the PC.  Attention old codgers – remember these Charlie Chaplin ads from the 1980s?  Great taste!  Less filling!

In the early 1990s IBM ran head-on into a granite wall.  Remember the term “clone” in regard to PCs?  Gateway, Dell, HP, and hoards of others building PCs in garages and eventually third world countries brought IBM’s MO to its knees.

My first experience on the internet was some sort of text-only thing, and shortly after that I was on to Netscape, a browser that cost money!  Bottom line: all this stuff has become commoditized.  Consumer software is free, or virtually free – of negligible cost compared to 20 years ago.

In the chart nearby we have IBM’s growth from it’s founding through the modern era.  You can see the Charlie Chaplin years were fat and sassy, but you can also clearly see the granite wall of the early 1990s.  It had enormous losses as its cash cow was cloned by the masses.  But as the graph shows, it miraculously recovered by reinventing itself into a different company – one of software applications and services.

Energy Efficiency, Here We Are

Do you see the trend for energy efficiency yet?

Energy efficiency is in its Charlie Chaplin years.  Actually, we’re approaching the flat line period for the next generation of technical cows – the clone makers, Dell, HP, Acer, Lenovo, et al are at the end of their heyday, and they better figure out what’s next, and fast.

The current delivery of energy efficiency programs looks mostly like this:

  • Driving through neighborhoods giving away CFLs, programmable thermostats, and showerheads in exchange for customer signatures to prove these trinkets were accepted by someone with a pulse.
  • Throwing money at contractors, retailers, and C&I customers to buy commodities, er, I mean efficient equipment.

In the next Hail Mary of widget-standards desperation (today), we have microwave ovens – reducing standby consumption to make them more “efficient”.  My microwave pulls 5 Watts when it isn’t running.  Savings from eliminating that entirely might get me a hot pretzel with cheese dip at a baseball game; not even a hotdog.  Is this where we are going?  A cheesy pretzel?

In ten years, the energy efficiency landscape will look very different.  My plea to regulators is hold the line.  Like the post Chaplin years, the industry must reinvent into a knowledge and applications industry.

There is enormous waste and opportunity in commercial and industrial facilities in the way their systems and processes are controlled and built[3].  The waste won’t be nicked by any widget, code, or standard.  It requires expertise and problem solving like IBM provides today.

Regulations need reinventing as well, and one thing to do is get over the petty, political, and whatever else fuel-switching issue.  We need to stop using valuable electricity in foolish ways – e.g., heating water (unless possibly by heat pump) and drying clothes.  This is silly.  It’s like burning Honey Nut Cheerios to heat the house.  It’s a value added product.  Combined heat and power[4] is another one.  The barriers to that are status quo thinking, and help me, I can’t get up.  C’mon let’s figure it out.

[1] Which I have at my 13 year old house

[2] An endearing term for anything that uses energy from TVs to 1000 ton chillers (tons of cooling capacity that is)

[3] Note, I did not say designed.  Built and designed are two different things, not that design is worth a cheesy pretzel either.

[4] CHP is a perfect example of an application-specific solution for end users; not a light bulb.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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