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Energy Policy Initiatives - They Suck

  1. Aug 10, 2006 #1

    russ_watters

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    Lemme get the obvious out of the way first:

    -Bush's energy policy sucks because he is influenced too much by business.
    -Democrats' energy policies suck because they are influenced too much by radcal "environmentalism".

    Now, the thing I want to discuss here isn't the broad-based, high publicity energy policies, but the smaller initiatives that fly under the radar but can potentially have an enormous effect on our energy situation. There are a lot of good things that can be done with just a little nudge from the government and I'm in favor of that for the simple reason that apathy combined with ignorance keeps people from trying new things. People often balk at a 2 year payback on an equipment upgrade, for example. In my job (HVAC engineering), we recently ran into two such initiatives (and my dad profits from a 3rd) and they have some serious flaws, but still have the potential to be a good thing.

    NYSERDA is a government run corporation that is tasked with implimenting various energy policy initiatives for New York. One we recently ran into is funding energy efficiency studies for large buildings in New York city via retrocommissioning. You would not believe how much energy is wasted by heaing and air conditioning systems that are improperly set up and by testing and balancing a system and checking its overall operational parameters (does it let in too much fresh air, for example), there is enormous potential for savings. The economics of successful projects are outstanding for the building owner.

    Sounds great, but here's the thing: this particular program was set up as a biproduct of utility rate controls. Since all rates must be approved by the government, the government gets to make whatever rediculous demands it wants on the energy companies in exchange for approval for rate increases. In this case, the government is telling energy companies that they must help their customers save energy. Yeah, that's right: this program is not funded by the government, but by the energy company (so then it gets worked into the rate increase anyway). It is akin to Coke giving you money to buy less coke while raising the price of a coke to cover what it paid you and the lost profit. Absurd.

    What's more, the studies are competitively bid so NYSERDA wants a proposal saying how much savings will be realized before it funds the study to find out how much savings will be realized. :uhh:

    If government wants businesses to run more energy efficient, it needs to target the building owners directly, with a carrot/stick approach: reward efficiency, penalize inefficiency. This can be done the same way as other sin taxes and incentive programs. One such program....

    New Jersey is on the forefront of energy efficiency policy. I'm not sure who runs this one, but my dad gets a fair amount of business filling out forms for a convenince store, getting them rebates from the state on high-efficiency HVAC for their stores. Pretty good, but it also has a slight flaw: the money for that comes from a general state-wide tax on energy, so essentially consumers are paying for the capital improvements of this convenience store chain. Energy initiatives targeted at business should be paid for by business and energy initiatives targeted at consumers should be paid for by consumers. That will maximize the carrot/stick effect.

    The EPA runs the Energy Star program. You probably have a sticker on your monitor. Recently, we ran into a client with an Energy Star rated house that wasn't staying cool. The fact that it wasn't cool is a side issue for later, but the thing that really tripped me up is the fact that while the Energy Star rating is very conscientious about things like insulation and low flow toilets, it utterly ignores energy efficiency in equipment. Significant (20%? 40%?) savings can be achieved through better insulation and high quality windows, but you can also buy an air conditioner that puts out 55% more cooling per watt than the standard efficiency unit (until this past January, that would have been 100% - the minimum efficiency did just go up by 30%). And Energy Star only requires the minimum. How absurd is that? Worse, the increase in equipment cost vs decrease in operating cost of such an upgrade thing is good enough that you make up the difference in about 2 years. Here we are arguing over hybrid cars when a similar amount of extra up-front money will yield vastly more energy cost savings (and perform the same as any other a/c unit, unlike hybrid cars). If the EPA would hold a carrot out for a new home buyer (offer to defray some of the cost) or whack him with a stick (make the guy who doesn't pay the guy who does), most would make that kind of investment.

    While the above are good ideas executed poorly, there are also a lot of bad ideas being pushed through. Solar power is a biggie that is out there because the "environmentalists" love it. But it is a mediocre idea from an environmental point of view and [because] just plain awful economically. An architect we work looked into putting solar panels on the roof of his business and found that even with a government incentive paying a substantial fraction of the up-front cost, the payback was 20 years.

    Comments? War stories? Other ideas?
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2006 #2

    Ivan Seeking

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    Regulate Motor-homes, trucks, and full-sized SUVs, like we do tractor-trailers: They stay in the right lane or two of the freeway and go 55. Next, it should be politically incorrect to drive a pig SUV, but this is a social thing.

    From what I've been seeing and reading, solar is now viable in solar friendly areas; which would not likely include Penn. But a twenty year pay back is typical. Until just now I didn't see that active solar was worth doing anywhere, but at this point we gain a bit I would imagine.

    The problem with energy efficient homes is the lack of air exchange. We can't live in sealed bottles.

    We installed all new energy efficient windows and our heating requirements have dropped significantly. I don't know the actual number as the temps vary so much from year to year, but it is obvious that even on the coldest days one doesn't feel cold air running off the windows. So, tax credits for high efficiency windows makes sense to me.

    Provide additional incentives for companies to implement telecommuting. Aside from purchasing responsibly sized autos, this is probably one of the single most significant and easy things that can be done. And the secondary effect of reduced road use is less time spent idling in traffic for those who must commute. Also, staggered shift changes for companies were tremendously effective during the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. This helped to avoid impulse traffic loads which resulted in much less stop-and-go traffic. Again, reduced idle time in traffic could result in significant savings.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2006
  4. Aug 10, 2006 #3
    But then again, what do we stupid physicists know about energy initiatives...

    Paden Roder
     
  5. Aug 10, 2006 #4

    Bystander

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    Old number --- U. S. consumption's around 3kw/head, and 3/4 of that is the extraction, refining, processing, manufacturing of "consumer goods;" tax the hell out of "disposable" consumer goods, not "consumable" consumer goods, but the "throwaway" electronics, cars, housing, textbooks, and other things that used to recycle through second hand stores.
     
  6. Aug 10, 2006 #5
    It would be interesting to know how much energy is used for consumer products such as "junk food". The stuff is not needed, and if the nation really wants to get serious about energy they would immediately "trim the fat".
     
  7. Aug 10, 2006 #6
    Anything implemented by the government is going to be inefficient and come up short. Giving tax incentives directly to the people will do little to nothing to entice change in the right direction. How many people would spend their increased tax creditied refund on a down payment on a bigger car, or house? I didn't install the most efficient AC unit in my house last year because it was much more expensive than the less effcient one. What ever miniscule credit I could of gotten wouldn't of changed my purchase choice. Make the more efficient product competitive with the "regular" one. Government could subsidize companies that produce these more efficient goods with the promise thier price points would be comparable with the "regular" one. People will avoid a large financial hit up front in exchange for many smaller ones later almost every time. How many people finance thier car for 3 years versus 6 if I can save the big down payment.
     
  8. Aug 10, 2006 #7
    That junk food is cheaper than doing the cooking at home almost every time if you take the time cost of your labor in account. Eating healthy is more expensive and time consuming. Try to find a good healthy breakfast on the road, but a cheap fatty breakfast is easy to find.
     
  9. Aug 10, 2006 #8

    russ_watters

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    A lot of people have the "sealed bottle" perception of houses, but it just isn't a reality. Infiltration is far more significant than people realize, with .35 air changes an hour being the lower limit of what is typically expected/acceptable. Air seeps through concrete, wood, and drywall at a surprising rate.

    A quick calclation shows that a 1500 square foot house (relatively small) with a .35 air change rate provides about 70 cfm of outside air. Code requires 20cfm per person. The smaller the house, the smaller the airflow for the same air change rate, but about there isn't much smaller than 1000 square feet except hi-rise apartments - and they require forced ventilation.

    A quick google revealed some articles where they complain about humidity problems when ventilation is low, but that's not a ventilation problem, its an air conditioning problem. Water vapor infiltrates faster than air because of vapor pressure driving it through the walls and as a result if your a/c isn't on, the interior absolute humidity will increase quickly to match the outside absolute humidity. You can run a fan and that'll largely fix the personal comfort issue, but the only way to actually fix the humidity is to run your air conditioning. In PA, there are times in the spring that I'll forgo air conditioning, but even with a whole house fan running, comfort is marginal at 70 degrees and 80% humidity - and a box of envelopes on my desk sealed themselves.

    THIS link talks about home energy usage in general and has a lot of info on HVAC, including about infiltration.
     
  10. Aug 10, 2006 #9

    russ_watters

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    This can't be stressed enough. We have a residential client that has center-pivoting windows, some old and wood and some new and metal, and their infiltration rate is horrendous. No thought whatsoever was given to energy efficiency, and she wants her place humid in the winter (she owns a lot of wooden sculpture), but you can't even tell her humidifier is running and it is cold in her apartment. You can feel the breeze blowing through the windows from 5 feet away.
     
  11. Aug 10, 2006 #10
    Nothing necessarily that's actuarially or politically relevant to the discussion. Russ is outlining (and even thinly analyzing) the ledger of policy. You can black box the efficiency crap and concentrate on that.
     
  12. Aug 10, 2006 #11
    Which is interesting insofar as we ignore that the perception is relevant in terms of quality of life.

    Can you elaborate more on this as it concerns the broader demographic in your area?
     
  13. Aug 10, 2006 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    Here's another one: Tune up your car and check tire pressure regularly. Not only will you save money on gas, your car will last longer. But aside from tax deductions for tune-ups, I don't know how the government would play a role beyond emissions testing. Japan is famous for its low mileage engines that are junked to avoid taxes and then sold in the US. Maybe we need to look at this sort of thing more closely, but that can backfire as well. I know that in California, some truck laws intended to get the old smokers off the road only encourage companies to buy all new trucks rather than keeping up the old ones. Then the old trucks are sold and continue to run anyway.
     
  14. Aug 11, 2006 #13

    Astronuc

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    Maybe people don't behave the way the members of the government think they should. :rolleyes: Maybe people in government are out of touch with the people out of government, which is interesting since the people in government are supposed to represent the interest of those outside of government. :rolleyes:
     
  15. Aug 11, 2006 #14

    selfAdjoint

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    Maybe a committee of intelligent people is stupid by nature? The truck law Ivan mentions is surely the work of many hands, and its ignoring of entirely predictable first-order consequences is surely stupid.

    But it can't be attributed to ignoring what the people want. If you polled Californians, you would certainly find that they supported the AIM of the law; smokers off the road.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2006
  16. Aug 11, 2006 #15

    Astronuc

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    Intelligent people in government? I've interacted with various levels of government (federal, state and local) - elected and otherwise. My experiences are pretty much :rolleyes: :uhh: :grumpy: :yuck: :mad: :rolleyes: :bugeye: :eek: :surprised :rolleyes:

    Once is a while, I encounter someone who really understands and appreciates what they are doing. I don't know how they survive for that long! :rolleyes:
     
  17. Aug 11, 2006 #16
    I thought CA already did this? When I worked in Santa Monica, the company had a rideshare program that provided financial incentives to employees who participated. I would assume (perhaps incorrectly so) that they weren't doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, but because they were granted some kind of tax incentive. Then again, perhaps it was just LA County and the AQMD.
     
  18. Aug 11, 2006 #17

    Astronuc

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    I think Russ is indicating that not only is temperature a consideration, but humidity as well. Humidity is a consideration along the eastern coast of the US. The Gulf Stream brings warm water up the coast and winds moving along the coast make for humid air.

    The climate in Pa would also apply to VA, MD, DE, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA and probably NH and ME. As one goes north land temperature is somewhat lower during the same period, and going south, the temperature is warmer.

    The Gulf Coast region, TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, FL also have high levels of humidity, and in addition to cooling the house, AC reduces humidity.

    In my area of NY, humidity has been running in the range of 60-70%, and even at 70°F, it is not as pleasant as when the humidity is less than or equal to 50%.
     
  19. Aug 11, 2006 #18

    russ_watters

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    Granted, but understanding that the perception is leading to an incorrect conclusion and learning the correct one allows you to fix the problem correctly and improve that perception/quality of life.

    And even if people don't want to do what is really correct (turn on the air conditioning even if it is 70 F outside), they can still get the same net effect of increased ventilation of a loose home by opening a window.
    I'm not quite sure what you are asking, but I'll give a little spiel about the weather and see if that's good enough...

    On the east and west coasts, humidity is pretty high. You may notice that on a pretty high fraction of nights (in the early morning) you get fog or haze. The humidity in the air actually determines what the low temperature will be for most nights: the temperature drops until air reaches saturation (100% humidity).

    In the east, typical dew points (and thus night-time temperatures) are 65-70F. If you have a good whole house fan like I do, you can get the temperature of your house to within about 5 degrees of the outside temperture. But that means that on a 65 degree night it will be 70 degrees and 85% humidity in your house.

    Commercially, this situation is unacceptable and for that reason, commercial HVAC systems always cool their air down to 55F (providing 50% RH at room temp) to dehumidify it before supplying it to a space. They don't pull in extra outside air (for free cooling like with the whole-house fan) unless the outside dew point is low enough to provide 50% humidity.

    When a thermostat is working and your room temperature is consistent, humdity becomes the primary space comfort concern and in an awful lot of buildings, especially houses, it isn't addressed correctly.

    Additional note: it may be surprising to note that air conditioning loads on buildings are typically higher in Philadelphia than Las Vegas. That's all a matter of humidity.

    edit2: Just to check that, I picked a recent 90,000 square foot building with 400 people we did loads for. It was 177 tons of cooling, with 17% of the load being dehumidification (latent load). Flipping to Las Vegas and recalculating gives 167 tons and no latent load. Design outside air temperature is 92F in Philly, 112 in Vegas.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2006
  20. Aug 11, 2006 #19

    russ_watters

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    I mostly favor the stick approach on this and would say current emissions regulations just need to be solidified a little. I'd say that newer cars don't need regular inspections, but older cars need them frequently and the government should be strict about them. They could work the emissions test in with an oil change every 3 months for cars over 50,000 miles and it wouldn't be very expensive.
     
  21. Aug 11, 2006 #20

    russ_watters

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    This was something I left out of my initial post, but was thinking of....
    I agree with Astronuc: I've worked with too many government people to believe they are, by and large, intelligent. Government jobs don't pay much and except for a few exceptions (special research projects, for example), the people who work in government do so because they can't get better jobs making more money elsewhere.

    In addition, these laws are not written by engineers and economists/businessmen, they are written by lawyers and lobbyists. The government needs to recognize its limitations and hire qualified, independent energy/business analysts to help come up with sound policies. The NYSERDA initiative I discussed before was, at least, to be implimented by independent engineers, but they need more help designing the initiatives.

    I'll also say that not all engineering disciplines are equal either. Sexy industries like aerospace draw the best people, leaving the pool of decent engineers diluted for industries like mine. I've seen too many examples of just plain bad engineering in my field and it isn't even a difficult field.

    Or, at the very least, should solicit unpaid opinions before putting these policies in place. I'd be happy to write a 1000 word critique of an energy policy in my spare time.....heck, didn't I just do that?

    Another problem (perhaps related) is government oversight. Even if the policy is well-written, it can still be poorly implimented. My very first client was a school that had a design-build contractor put gas-fired equipment in a plenum-return system and provided no fresh air to the system. And this building got a certificate of occupancy? How? What did the inspector do?
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2006
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