Tag Archives: clean technology

Wind Farms: Are They Worth it?

A USA Today article reported that thousand of birds are being slaughtered by wind turbines in the Altamont Pass in California. Five thousand four hundred wind turbines were installed and birds that were sadly affected include Golden Eagles, Red Tail Hawks and Burrowing Owls. In other cases, local wildlife activists are disputing locations of wind turbines in the Atlantic, which will disturb migratory birds. I am appalled at the fact that we are so thirsty for electricity that we’d rush to install wind farms in locations that are hurting some of the greatest wildlife we have in the world.

I have not seen the studies to back-up these location choices. It seems the electrical industry is so gung-ho to produce renewable energy that they damn the consequences. It’s ironic that we’re trying to save the environment by building these clean energy plants, while disturbing the delicate natural environment and sending countless animals to their Maker. I fully support steps to reduce our carbon footprints, but not at this cost.

The current Administration has issued incentives for renewables and every wind turbine manufacturer in the country is scouring the land to find a spot to plop their machines down as there are no guarantees for how long these programs will run. Renewables are sexy and it seems to be our President’s ambition to blanket the nation with clean energy sources. Unfortunately, the execution of this agenda is socially irresponsible.

Critics plainly state that we are polluting the air (I agree), and that we must take any measures to remedy the situation. However, there are many options for reducing our environmental impact. The cost to install a wind turbine and remove that load from the electrical grid is approximately $0.11/kw. To save the same kilowatt from the electrical grid via energy efficiency would only cost $0.03. If that’s not a cost-effective alternative, I don’t know what is.

McKinsey published the “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy” report, indicating that the best way we can reduce our carbon footprint is through energy efficiency programs in existing buildings. Buildings consume 40% of our total energy usage. Of that percentage, running an HVAC system accounts for 40% to 60% of energy consumption. In addition, a DOE-funded study concludes the single most effective measure to reduce energy consumption and decrease the carbon footprint is to concentrate on upgrading existing buildings and their operations via an existing building commissioning or energy audit program.

I propose we focus on improving the efficiency of our existing buildings, rather than racing to construct wind farms that cause more damage than good. The economics make sense, jobs are created and it’s still good for the environment.

Mr. Obama please read the reports generated by your own Administration, stop pushing the sexy things and start pushing what makes sense.

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Should We Be Energy Efficient Only When it Hurts Our Wallet?

Riding through my hometown, I noticed that the price of gas was starting to creep up again. This week it averaged $2.89/gallon – a far cry from the $4.00+/gallon we were paying last year. When gas was $4.00/gallon, people would sneer at the SUV drivers and seemingly overnight, everyone wanted to drive a hybrid. Now that the price of gas has dropped, does anyone still care?

It’s apparent that the consequences to a person’s wallet are directly proportional to their interest/concern in fixing the problem. This concerns me as we talk about carbon footprints, greenhouse emissions and polluting the environment. The “as long as it doesn’t affect me” mentality that exists in this country will continue to dominate society. When gas gets back to $4.00/gallon, will we be scrambling to drive a hybrid again? We are becoming fair weather energy efficiency supporters.

The same amount of carbon emissions are produced at $2.89/gallon as they are at $4.00/gallon. We need to be constantly vigilant of our energy consumption – in our cars, homes and businesses. It appalls me that, as a society, we are not concerned about energy efficiency until it hurts our wallets. Improving energy efficiency should be something we are always doing.

I was struck by an article in the New York Times that spoke of oil companies abandoning their efforts to drill, as it no longer made fiscal sense because of the reduced price of oil. I would think trying to find new oil reserves would be a top priority in decreasing our reliance on foreign oil supplies. Aircraft and military machinery will not be using renewable technology in the foreseeable future. The sheer power needed in such a short period of time can only be generated from an internal combustible engine (a battery would be inadequate). Therefore, let’s find those extra deposits and leave them in the ground for a rainy day. Don’t abandon the effort. The reality is the price of oil will rebound and fuel will be needed.

During a visit to our office in St. Louis, I was shocked by the lack of awareness towards energy efficiency. It costs roughly 5¢ per KW in St. Louis, while in the Northeast it averages 15¢ per KW. Triple! Compare the interest in energy efficiency in these two areas – increased cost equals increased interest.

Energy efficiency needs to be on all of our minds and we should always be thinking about saving energy every chance we get. This should not be merely a cost-driven exercise, but a focus because we are wasting our resources and polluting the environment.

Sadly, the economic features will always exist and if big oil is not making a buck then why should they drill? The greater society is no different then big oil. If consumers aren’t saving money, will they care about being energy efficient? We owe it to our children’s children and the environment to be energy efficient, all the time.

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Reflections from a Recent Hotel Stay

On a recent trip to one of my offices in St. Louis I stayed in a well-know national hotel chain. As I walked into the lobby, I was greeted by a mini-wind turbine on the front desk and was pleasantly surprised to see this hotel’s support for being green.

As I got into my room, I saw a small placard in the bathroom that stated the hotel’s commitment to being environmentally-friendly and encouraged guests to reuse their towels. It went on about the millions of gallons of water and detergent used to wash towels daily and how it was unnecessary waste if the towel was still clean.

Sitting on the couch, I noticed the lights were left on by housekeeping, TV was tuned to a local station for my enjoyment and most notably the air conditioner was set to a chilly 65 degrees turning my eyebrows into icicles. I sat back and reflected on all of this and thought, “Do they really care about being green? What about their sign in the bathroom…maybe they just don’t want to spend money on laundry?”

My curiosity got the best of me. After shutting off the TV, turning off the lights and opening up the curtains to let light in, I called the front desk and inquired about the true meaning behind the placard. After questioning the very polite hotel manager, I found out that laundry wasn’t even done on-site. So, the placard is not about wasted water, detergent or staff; it’s about saving money and the bottom line. Less towels means less laundry, which means less to pay the launderer. Speaking of the launderer, does the hotel know whether they have any green practices, like using environmentally-friendly detergent, recycling the water or conserving energy?

I’ve seen similar placards all across the country and can’t help but think it’s a PR tactic to make me feel better about staying at their “forward-thinking-clean-green-therefore-expensive” hotel. I would rather they say, “Please help us keep your rates down by using your towel more than once.”

If the hotel is going to be environmentally-friendly, it would have more impact on me by keeping the air conditioner off when someone is not in the room, keeping the lights off or put them on motion sensors and keeping the TV off. Also, I would love to see a recycling bin and a sign that reads, “When you’re done with the beverage we’ve conveniently placed in your refrigerator and ripped you off by charging $5, please put it in the recycling bin provided.”

As I checked out, I asked the young man at the front desk when the last time someone used my room. He said business was a little slow and it had been four days since someone was in there. So much for the wind turbine.

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BCA Certification for CxAs

Recently, I’ve been working with the BCA to create new certification guidelines and I wonder how we can make the process easier without sacrificing integrity. I presented the question on my LinkedIn account and received this post from Nathan Gauthier, Assistant Director at Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability:

“As someone who has worked with a lot of bad commissioning authorities, I think the certification requirements are great. How many projects have a commissioning authority sign off despite never having an OPR or BOD? How many CxA’s use the nominal group technique to facilitate development of the OPR? How many CxA’s use Guideline 4 to prepare the systems manual? CxA’s that confirm As-Builts are As-Built? CxA’s that suggest envelope commissioning in a complex building? I think the BCA and U of Wisconsin certifications give educated owners a level of confidence in their consultants and help give the industry a better image. I’ve worked on lots of clients who feel (after paying for bad commissioning) that it was a worthless investment though I’m convinced and the data supports that good commissioning is the smartest investment an owner can make.”

Well, to Nathan and others who share this experience, I’m sorry you’ve been the recipient of poor Cx services. The fact that this occurs is one of the reasons we started certifying CxA’s with the BCA. But currently, some members of the BCA feel pressured to lower standards as other organizations tend to give out certifications without having the applicants prove they deserve it. I feel that most owners do not value a good Cx provider and are either chasing points or getting their buildings commissioned because it’s the cool thing to do. Unfortunately, this waters down the quality of the building and doesn’t help our cause. My question to all you building owners: how do we get you to value the service of a good Cx provider?

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Are We Spending Money in the Right Spot?

Is the current Obama administration’s approach to eliminating greenhouse gases (GHG) balanced? It seems the in vogue thing to do is build a wind farm, set-up solar PV panels and put more and more money toward clean energy. I agree that all these measures have a tremendously positive impact on our environment. However, it appears the lost child in this whole green initiative is improvements on how existing buildings actually consume energy.

The amount of private commercial real estate that exists is in the billions. According to the Energy Information Administration’s latest report, there are over 4.8 million commercial buildings in the United States covering over 71.6 billion square feet. These buildings consume over $82 billion in electricity and spew out GHG. The cost of improving these buildings’ energy efficiency would be a fraction of the cost to build a wind farm or install an array of solar panels. Marc Gunther of Reuters recently covered Silicon Valley venture capitalist Sunil Paul’s “Gigaton Throwdown” report that details how top clean energy technologies can have a significant impact by 2020. Gunther writes, “building efficiency is a much, much cheaper way to reduce greenhouse gas emission than solar thermal power or nuclear” noting that it’s the least expensive option.

It’s plain and simple: today’s buildings don’t run efficiently and it’s the worst kept secret in America. There are many buildings that are either too cold or too hot and are wasting energy by allowing those kilowatts to literally escape out the window. I have been involved in commissioning millions of square feet of all types of buildings and can tell you that finding savings is easy and relatively inexpensive.

So why aren’t more building owners doing it? Reasons abound – building operators are too busy keeping their buildings from falling apart and dealing with tenant complaints. In addition, tenants are often kept in the dark with building costs and problem areas, but still have to foot the bill because of how leases are structured. This waste is quickly written off as the “cost of doing business” and not investigated further.

What incentives will encourage building owners and tenants to look at actively decreasing energy consumption as a bottom-line saver? The highest expense our businesses face today (other than payroll, benefits and rent) is energy. Improving energy consumption by just 10% will undoubtedly increase profits and save jobs by improving the bottom-line.

ROI should be proof enough to support energy efficiency of buildings. An upcoming study by ACEEE found that for every kilowatt-hour saved by installing solar panels we spend 20¢ or more. But for every kilowatt-hour saved by improving an existing building’s systems we only spend 3.5¢. Why does the current administration not see this and invest more toward building efficiency instead of focusing so heavily on clean energy? This too creates jobs, saves money and reduces GHG. President Obama recently said changing light bulbs is not that sexy, but he’s doing it. Though I give him credit, more still needs to be done. For now, building owners can follow suit and launch initiatives to capitalize on these low/no cost energy saving measures.

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