Will government plans put incentives where they'll do the most good?

Sept. 3, 2009
Paul Studebaker, CMRP, editor in chief, asks will Uncle Sam's plans put incentives where they'll do the most good.

By now you’ve heard a lot about the U.S. government’s cash-for-clunkers automobile trade-in incentive. As we go to press, a similar cash-for-clunky-appliances program is about to go into effect, offering as much as $200 apiece for inefficient residential refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, furnaces and air conditioners.

Vendors and pundits around the country are trying to cash in on the hype, suggesting trade-in credits for everything from outmoded computers to out-of-style men’s suits (cash for seersuckers?).


On the industrial front, an advanced motor technology tax credit being promoted by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) is included in current Senate tax bill S. 1639, the Expanding Industrial Energy Efficiency Incentives Act. The bill provides $120 per horsepower to original equipment manufacturers and end users who substitute advanced motor systems with adjustable-speed capability, like permanent magnet, electronically commutated or switched reluctance motors, as well as other technologies as determined by the secretary of energy, in redesigned equipment and appliances. The tax credit is estimated to provide between $400 and $600 million in direct tax incentives for the purchase of NEMA member products.

S. 1639 is likely to be adopted into the Senate’s comprehensive energy bill, which also contains NEMA’s “crush for credit” motor rebate program. Crush-for-credit is expected to offer a $5 per horsepower bounty for disposing of Watt-sucking inefficient motors, and an additional $25 per horsepower rebate on the cost of a new, high-efficiency motor.

It’s all well and good to replace wasteful equipment, but energy ratings alone don’t tell the whole story. Even the newest and best equipment will waste energy if the application isn’t well engineered, installed as designed, programmed and commissioned wisely, and properly maintained. The best automaker, dishwasher manufacturer or motor vendor can’t keep you from wasting half your energy with unplanned trips, pre-rinsing or, say, compressed air leaks.

The plants described in the article, “Watch Those HVAC Reheat Systems” (http://www.plantservices.com/articles/2009/155.html)could upgrade their boilers from 60% to 90% efficiency, but they’d still be running in the summer because of subtle problems in their high-tech reheat control systems. And no one in the U.S. Department of Energy would know the difference.

At the International Facility Management Conference 2009 (http://www.plantservices.com/articles/2009/159.html), Jagath Gunawardena, manager of projects and building development for the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, decried the fact that experts in facility management often are left out of the design stage of a building even though they understand their business’s needs and can materially contribute to designing an efficient, sustainable building.

When the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry was built in 1995, it was a state-of-the-art building and the seventh tallest in the emirate. The highest quality materials were used, and an excellent building envelope was designed that reduced the internal heat loads and complies even with today’s standards. But the HVAC system was oversized by 200%. “We were able to make several modifications which seriously diminished the affect of this oversight,” said Gunawardena. “Of course, these costs could have been prevented if facilities management had been consulted initially.”

Monitoring the equipment led to dropping the secondary water chilling system and running four chillers instead of eight. “The results speak for themselves,” he added. “We’ve reduced the building’s annual energy costs by 30% and annual water usage by 75% since 1995.”

It’s no surprise that the automobile, appliance and motor industries, as well as many politicians and environmentalists, enthusiastically support programs that simply reward those who scrap and replace their products. But would that be the choice of those of us who actually buy and use the equipment, pay the energy bills and are on the hook for the cost? Which of your energy- and efficiency-draining assets would you prefer to be paid to pitch?

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