Does energy certification save money?

What does it take to become a real energy manager?

By Bill Holmes, P.E., Holmes Energy

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This past July, I spent four days working from 7 AM until 9 PM starting up an energy monitoring system in a large industrial plant on the East Coast. On my way back to Colorado, between flights at Chicago’s Midway Airport, I decided to put some of my thoughts on paper, about not only this project, but the energy efficiency profession in general and, more specifically, the education, training, and certification of practitioners.

Figure 1. Real energy managers and engineers spend a lot of time working in electrical and mechanical equipment rooms with multiple chillers, air compressors, boilers, pumps, and heat exchangers.

As an energy engineer or manager, have you ever spent 8-10 hours a day, day after day working in electrical and mechanical equipment rooms with multiple huge chillers, air compressors, boilers, pumps, and heat exchangers (Figure 1)? Those rooms are hot; they’re noisy; and they can be pretty scary until you get used to them. How much time have you spent working outdoors during a record heat wave on rooftops covered with air handling units, exhaust fans, and cooling towers, in the real world where the energy is actually used, where the people who install, operate, and maintain that equipment spend every hour of every working day?

I’m not talking about slides in a classroom or a plant tour but working with electricians running wire, installing and calibrating sensors, deciding where each should be located to provide the information required to analyze the energy usage of the total facility and all of the significant energy systems? Have your back and feet and knees ached from standing, crawling, and walking on concrete floors and climbing ladders for 12 straight hours? Have you ripped your new shirt or blouse on a protruding screw or banged your head on a threaded rod from a steel pipe hanger?

If not, you’re not a real energy manager; you are just fooling yourself and your clients, no matter what that framed certificate on your wall says. I’ve been told by more than one experienced energy engineer that certifications from many professional associations or continuing education courses appear to exist primarily as a means for individuals to promote themselves and make more money. Issuing credentials to someone after a few days’ study of an overview of a few topics doesn’t make that person a fully qualified energy professional. In the real world, theory and practice are very different, as I explained in this article.

A business executive from the Philippines, with more than 30 years of experience working with large energy systems wrote to me, “Young guys seem to know it all from school, not knowing the theories taught by inexperienced professors hardly happen in the real world.”

Would you go to a physician who has taken all of the classes but never treated a patient or one who learned to do heart surgery during a three-day workshop? When you walk into a conference room in your power business suit to present your proposal for an energy audit, most likely funded by the local utility company, to the plant manager, has it ever occurred to you how much the men and women working out there in the plant with the actual equipment every day know about their plant that you will never know? When you present your recommendations for putting in new lights or improving the efficiency of the chilled water system —with all of the nice cookbook lists, including how to reset your chilled water temperature, use variable speed pumping, and install heat exchangers for free cooling in the winter — have you ever wondered who will actually do these things? Who is it who has the specific knowledge and experience to make the changes, make them work as prescribed, and document the performance and results using actual data and valid scientific methods?

Can you just give your study to the temperature-controls contractor and expect it to be done? Will you trust the same contractor that neglected to create deadband between heating and cooling setpoints, which resulted in the systems fighting with each other and the reheat running on a 100 °F day? Are you comfortable with the same company that implemented strategies preventing the multiple variable speed drives from reducing their speed and energy consumption under low load conditions as they should? Will you rely on the same temperature-controls company that programmed the chilled water system to operate with temperature differentials on both the chillers and cooling towers to be about half of what they should have been, wasting both fan and pump horsepower? Is it a good idea to hand that job over to the same company that designed and installed an energy management system that wasn’t monitoring a single utility meter, the same company that had never detected any of these problems, even though the system had been operating that way for many years? If you think that company is going to implement your theoretical recommendations properly, you are really out of touch with reality.

Doesn’t it embarrass you a little to be recommending changes that you have little clue of how to do yourself? Or are you content to be like the clerk at the health insurance company who tells a highly qualified surgeon which procedures to use, knowing that they themselves have no clue of how to perform the surgery? Doesn’t it bother you that you are a card-carrying member of a profession with such low standards for training, certification, and performance that you are a “Certified Energy Professional” even though deep down in your heart you know how little you actually understand about real energy systems in the real world?

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