Extraordinary efforts to avoid instrumenting energy systems

March 28, 2016

The energy profession has a credibility problem

By not requiring actual measured data from permanent instrumentation, the so-called energy profession has lost the respect of many building owners and managers. It is full of snake-oil salesmen who promise one thing and never deliver. Unqualified energy auditors “certified” from a two-day, $2,000 class with little or no understanding of complex energy systems often miss the biggest opportunities and tell owners of energy-intensive plants that new lights will solve their problems.

If it weren’t such a serious topic, I would find some of the creative ways to avoid using actual data almost humorous. Let me give you some examples.

"I have spent a fortune on products to save energy and none of them has worked.”

As I had one business manager tell me at the beginning of a project: “Just don’t ask me to buy anything. I have spent a fortune on products to save energy and none of them has worked.” Luckily, we were only providing the information and expertise required to tune up the existing energy systems.

After we installed our energy monitoring system in his 21 buildings at our expense and thoroughly analyzed utility records for the previous five years, I could understand his frustration.

Not only was he not saving $800,000 a year from his $1 million investment in an energy management system (EMS), but also the energy costs hadn’t gone down at all. Not surprisingly, when we unplugged the main EMS panels in most of the buildings, nothing changed. They had been bypassed; they weren’t being used. No wonder he told me what he did. Of course, it was no coincidence that the man who reported those savings was also the one who had recommended the system.

We managed his buildings for 10 years and provided monthly reports for every utility meter - gas, electric, and water - in every building to document the actual savings. When the top management changed, he moved on. Before he left, he wrote me a reference letter confirming that we had cut his utility costs by 35%, or more than $500,000 a year, every year for 10 years. During that time he had not spent a single dollar on new equipment.

Had his experience prior to hiring us been unique? No. I have heard similar stories my entire career. Unscrupulous people can and do make the most outrageous claims, and without actual monitored data to confirm the results, many get by with it. They have made it difficult for legitimate and competent professionals to complete and survive.

Innovative efforts

The only thing we have done is put up the posters.

One of my closest friends who has been in the building energy systems business for nearly 40 years experienced one approach. As he was walking around one of the largest printing plants in the U.S. with the plant engineer, the person responsible for all of the utilities, he noticed posters everywhere touting what their green teams had accomplished in terms of reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. He was impressed and asked the engineer what they had done. The plant engineer’s answer was, “As far as I know, the only thing we have done is put up those posters.”

We take credit for “estimated” savings.

A number of government agencies take credit for “estimated” savings as if they actually occurred. Some send students into industrial plants for less than a day to gather data. They go home and write a report recommending new lights, repairing compressed air and steam leaks and estimate the costs and savings. Many of the recommendations are never implemented. For those that are, there is no way to measure the actual savings and assure that they are maintained. Even so, the governing agency takes full credit.

That energy-savings stuff is just a marketing gimmick.

Several years ago when I walked into the branch manager’s office at an energy services company (ESCO) in Albany, NY, the first thing he said to me before I even sat down was, “You do realize that we make all our money from selling new equipment, don’t you, that energy-savings stuff is just a marketing gimmick”?

Our M&V reports always show that our savings match our projections.

I did some work with an ESCO in Boston about 10 years ago. Rather than install permanent instrumentation, it used M&V protocols to “estimate” savings. The result was, as one of the executives told me when I asked him why the company didn’t use instrumentation to verify savings, “We don’t want our clients to know we haven’t saved them what we promised; everybody is happy with our projections”.

We use our estimates to take 99.9% of the savings.

Our local newspaper recently printed a report from an ESCO working with the local schools that stated: “By the end of 15 years, the total energy savings should come to $3,043,168. The total customer cost…should equal $3,041,900…resulting in a net savings (to the schools) of $1,268 over 15 years.”

When I divide those numbers I come out with 1.0004. That either is an example of the most accurate estimate in the history of mankind or an example of someone so stupid that they didn’t realize their fabricated numbers were totally impossible. I doubt that utility meters are that accurate.

And how generous of the ESCO to give the schools $1,268 out of more than $3,000,000 saved.

The people in accounting provide the numbers to meet our goals

About 10-15 years ago we designed the HVAC system for a new addition to a Japanese manufacturing plant. At that time there were signs everywhere promoting the company’s commitment to reducing energy consumption by 15%.

When I came back to the project manager at the plant with the preliminary design, he wanted more detail on the control of the reheat coils during the summer. A variable volume system was provided for individual control of zone temperatures. He said: “Unacceptable. I want a system with a fixed discharge temperature of 55 degrees and use electric duct heaters to control the space temperatures.” I explained that using electric reheat coils to control space temperature the way he wanted to do it violated ASHRAE standards as well as the state energy code.

How was he going to meet the energy consumption goals? His answer, of course, was that it wasn’t his problem; the people in accounting would provide the numbers to satisfy corporate.

Why not install a permanent energy monitoring system as the first step in every project?

The question that I have been trying to answer during most of my career is why don’t those in the energy profession install a permanent energy monitoring system as the first step in every project? It will provide all of the continuous, accurate, and unbiased data required.

Energy audits, benchmarking, collecting spot data, commissioning new systems, M&V evaluation, periodic retro-commissioning and many capital projects can be eliminated.

All of the hours and dollars associated with “estimating” energy use and savings can eliminated, and the savings will more than pay for the cost of the energy monitoring system.

The solution is valid scientific methods

Rather than energy professionals spending their time gathering data, filling out forms, and generating reports preparing to save energy, they will have all of the data they need. They can actually become energy managers and fund their own jobs from verified savings. True green jobs can be created. Qualified professionals can spend their time doing something with much greater value and satisfaction.

By requiring all projects to be based on actual monitored data and valid scientific methods and practitioners to be fully qualified, the energy profession can rid itself of the snake-oil salesmen, set higher standards, and begin to regain the respect it has lost.

It’s past time to move from doing what is best for the practitioners to doing what’s best for building owners, communities, our children and grandchildren, and the earth.

contact Bill: [email protected]

About the Author

Alexis Gajewski | Senior Content Strategist

Alexis Gajewski has over 15 years of experience in the maintenance, reliability, operations, and manufacturing space. She joined Plant Services in 2008 and works to bring readers the news, insight, and information they need to make the right decisions for their plants. Alexis also authors “The Lighter Side of Manufacturing,” a blog that highlights the fun and innovative advances in the industrial sector. 

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