Talk Green While the Economy Bleeds Red

March 15, 2010
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Richard "Dick" Starr

I’ll never forget the Arab Oil Embargo that occurred during my first days in this business. Long lines at gas stations and people siphoning fuel out of vehicles are vivid memories of the mid-1970s. As a novice sales engineer with a Fortune 500 control manufacturer, I recall visiting a school superintendent and preaching the values of energy management. What a wake up call as he pinned my ears back with the response, “Young man, do you realize if I listened to every supplier who will save this school district energy, we would be printing money?”

This abrupt response was quite a lesson in differentiation for a rookie sales engineer. This memory from my early days helps me understand why the word green can be a total turnoff to some. Green has become a bandwagon term that encompasses anything from used furniture to your favorite push mower. Yet, somewhere in between we HVAC contractors need to educate the “greenwashed” buyers how our industry helps preserve our environment while protecting his bottom line.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last December that the American appetite for energy would grow by only 14 percent over the next 25 years. Energy efficiency and high prices will drive down demand.

The annual long-term forecast by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts slower growth in overall energy demand and a shift toward renewable energy. By 2035, fossil fuels like coal and oil will drop from today’s 84 percent to about 78 percent of the total.

“Our programs show that existing policies that stress energy efficiencies and alternative fuels, together with higher energy prices, will curb energy consumption growth and shift the energy mix to renewable fuels,” said EIA administrator Richard Newell.

The growth in demand for electricity will only creep up at 1 percent per year over the next 25 years, despite population growth as mandated state conservation programs in more than one-half the states will begin. Biofuels will lessen the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, renewable technologies like wind and solar will surge from 9 percent of today’s power to 17 percent by 2035. Meanwhile, U.S. natural gas production from shale and other unconventional sources will increase, pushing imports from Canada and abroad. But new uses for gas will mean price increases, doubling today’s prices. This also means the cyber-world is helping buyers become smarter and more disciplined in this tight economy.

Fast forward to a 2009 meeting I had with a city director in a small northeast Ohio city. As we met in his large municipal building conference room, I’m distracted by the long, vertical window shades flapping in the background. My sixth sense recognizes this as an out of air balance condition and visual waste of energy. Consequently, I ask my prospect about the city’s green goals. The business manager goes into an animated tirade claiming, “That green stuff is a bunch of baloney.”

I gather my thoughts for a second and reply “it might be baloney to you, but the constituents in this city pay their tax dollars hoping that city officials are making sustainable decisions on their behalf each and every day of the year. So whether you want to call it green, sustainability, or waste - it’s real.”

My willingness to politely challenge this individual left my brash city manager to stare at me. After a few seconds of silence, he leaned forward and replied, “OK, let me tell you what’s wrong with this building.” Ninety minutes later I had heard all about the ineffective BAS system, ‘too hot/too cold’ complaints, draftiness, simultaneous heating and mechanical cooling in winter (AHUs had “free cooling” economizers), and the total embarrassment to him personally. After all, it was he who sponsored a $3 million retrofit 6 years ago.

THE SUBMITTAL

The outcome of this meeting resulted in our prospect convincing city council to pass an emergency appropriation that would allow our company to re-commission both the HVAC and control system. Our written submittal scope of work (in part) was as follows:

“The main problem with the system centers around the fact that the BAS system was programmed by a ‘Nintendo Kid’ while the HVAC system was installed by a mechanic.

Likewise the municipal building seems to experience a severe lack of access to the HVAC software program, along with conflicting building automation system (BAS) sequences, inconsistent airflows, and speculated higher than normal energy costs/square foot.

We discussed several items of concern to you at our meeting. These included:

• Lack of BAS integration and feedback to the boiler loop.

• Council Chambers ‘stuffiness’ when temporary walls are set up.

• Boiler flue pipe may have been installed backwards.

• Unoccupied program seems to lack proper zone override feedback.

• Lack of access for internal staff and need to call in a third party every time a software program adjustment is necessary.

• Were the mechanical design engineer’s specifications followed according to recommendations of both ASHRAE and Ohio Basic Building Code (OBBC)?

• Mixed air temperature is reset through a cumbersome Btu calculation within the software program. Its outcome confuses the ventilation system.

With the above in mind, we recommend that our first order of business is to consult with your design engineer. This will be followed by diagnostic testing of mechanical/control/air/hydronic systems to verify the city’s interests and engineer’s specifications are being fulfilled.

Our goal will be to verify the installed system is creating an environment conducive to productivity, safety, and energy efficiency in accordance with the city’s intentions and local building codes. We also recognize the city wants to ensure that the building and systems are optimized to perform interactively to meet the current needs of the occupants (as closely as possible).

Therefore, we propose to furnish diagnostic services, field technicians, project management, and technical support to:

• Review original plans and specifications and mechanical engineer’s design intent.

• Perform field measurements and compare hardware results to studied drawings and specifications.

• Interview staff as needed to better determine periods of inconsistency with system operation.

• Verify carbon dioxide (CO2) levels during periods of occupancy and carbon monoxide (CO) levels where gas appliances (boilers) are active.

• Furnish low cost installations as we are able (less than $1,000) that enhance BAS and/or HVAC operation.

• Document all findings into a report. Verbalize results to city management. Furnish implementation budgets on all recommended items outlined.

Total Fee for Above (not to exceed): $____

Our city official respected our holistic approach to problem solving. So my point is whether we call it avoiding waste, creating sustainability, or going green, it must have an economic payback that fulfills a building owner’s expectations; otherwise, you’re a “tree hugging hippie with a hollow message.” This also means controls must be in sync with the mechanical systems and air changes per hour (ACH) should follow ASHRAE guidelines. Those three objectives should come together seamlessly like the musical instruments of an orchestra.

Reinforce your presentation by educating the building owner in the LEED process. Show him how 40 percent of the LEED credits correspond to a properly controlled, efficiently serviced, and continuously commissioned building. No matter how tight the budget, senior managers will always embrace waste reduction as long as the economic payback makes sense. And don’t let a non-profit agency off the hook, they may not be profit driven, but neither are they loss motivated. Be the driver within your company that convinces others that selling sustainability is not only good for business, but it’s the right thing to do.

Publication date: 03/15/2010

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