There's an elephant in the room

The Elephant in the Room is the day-to-day operation of the energy systems. By using Real-Time data presented in a clear and easy-to-understand format, energy costs can be reduced 20%, 30% and more with existing systems in existing buildings from no-cost, low-cost changes alone. No audits, studies or capital projects are required.

Elephant and dog in room3

Holmes: Being from France Watson, are you familiar with the phrase, “There’s an Elephant in the Room”?

Watson: I had to look it up in Wikipedia.

"Elephant in the Room" is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. It also means an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.

What does that saying have to do with the Energy Profession?

Holmes: We found the Elephant in the Room in our first project in 1979. And to this day, 35 years later the obvious truths we discovered are still being ignored by most in this Profession. Few want to discuss them.

Watson: What did you learn? What is the secret?

Holmes: There is no secret. To put it in simple terms, I discovered that what I learned in the Air Force about planes also applies to buildings. To fly a plane well a pilot needs actual Real-Time data presented in a clear and easy to understand format – state-of-the-art cockpit presentations. How could you expect a pilot to fly a sophisticated plane without any gauges, any Real-Time data?

No matter how sophisticated the plane is, the pilot is the difference between success and failure, not the studies, audits, computer models and cost estimates that went into the design. Thankfully, there are few crashes these days. But even though the pilot has the ultimate incentive – to stay alive, most crashes are due to pilot error.

The very same truths apply to buildings. No matter how simple or how sophisticated the energy systems are, most buildings are being operated very inefficiently. The operating and maintenance personnel are the difference between success and failure. And to operate a building efficiently, operators must have actual Real-Time data presented in a clear and easy to understand format along with a strong incentive. I’ve worked in hundreds of buildings and as hard as it may be for some to believe, there is little if any Real-Time energy data available to most building operators. How could you expect the employees to operate sophisticated energy systems efficiently without any Real-Time data? We couldn’t do it.

Watson: So the Elephant is the day-to-day operation of the energy systems and using Real-Time data is the key! How did you find it Holmes?

Holmes: By refusing to simply follow the herd and do what others were doing. I didn’t want to spend my life doing audits, studies and designing capital improvements in an office. I wanted to actually save energy in the field.

Although I wasn’t really sure where it would lead, we designed, built and installed an Energy Monitoring System in our first project, a Mental Health Hospital. Without actual data, we had little idea of what needed to be done to reduce the energy consumption and costs. We installed the monitoring system at our own cost and our only fees were a percentage of actual documented savings each month. We learned how to get the data required to produce the greatest savings at the least first cost. We operated the energy systems, did much of our own control work, managed the maintenance, balanced the air and water systems and were responsible for comfort and quality and on-call 24/7.

I was trampled by the stampeding Elephant when we reduced the annual energy costs by 59% through low-cost, no-cost changes in operation, maintenance and control alone. There was no way I could ignore the Elephant we had discovered. The project was written up in the AEE Journal of Energy Engineering in 1983.

Watson: You obviously learned what worked and what didn’t. What did you do next?

Holmes: Two things. The first was of course, to apply those same techniques to every project since and produce savings of 20%, 30% and in a few cases more than 50% with existing systems in existing buildings from no-cost, low-cost changes alone, without the need for capital projects. Paybacks were in weeks or months in every project. Remember, those savings weren’t due to any extraordinary things we did, they resulted from using actual data to simply tune-up buildings that were being operated very inefficiently. We have yet to find a facility that doesn’t offer a similar potential.

The second was to share what we had learned with others in this Profession. Since that first project I have written more than a hundred articles, papers and case studies, made numerous presentations in Webinars and at conferences around the country and taught our methods in the Continuing Education Program at the University of Wisconsin. I have tried every way I could think of.

Watson: Have you tried trumpeting?

Holmes: That’s something that hadn't occurred to me. You animals have such good instincts.

Watson: Thank you. I can understand that technology limitations in 1974 would have required more manual data collection and analysis, but this is 2014 the Information Age not the Estimation Age. Why are most Energy Professionals still using those obsolete methods and spending the bulk of their time preparing to save energy with audits, benchmarking, studies and capital projects?

Holmes: Great question Watson. For reasons that have mystified me for 40 years, the Energy Profession has never required actual monitored data showing where and when every KWH, Therm or Gallon of water is used. In the absence of actual data, this Profession goes to great lengths and expends tremendous resources trying to estimate what that data would be if they actually had some.

Today, in 2014 nearly all professions, businesses and industries are based on permanent Information Systems and use of the resulting data. Other than the Energy Engineering Profession, I challenge you to think of another that isn’t based on applying fundamental scientific methods to actual data from permanent information systems.

Watson: I was taught in engineering school that all valid science must be based on accurate data. The “Energy Profession” doesn’t sound like a true science-based “Profession” to me. It hasn’t recognized the Elephant in the Room.

It appears like many organizations and individuals in this so-called “Profession” have a stronger incentive to maintain the status quo than to actually do what’s best for the owner.

Holmes: I agree Watson. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tell us about your experiences, both good and bad with energy professionals, what has worked and what hasn’t. Send us your comments, thoughts and suggestions on how to improve our profession so we can all continue to learn from each other. Thanks – Holmes & Watson