Saturday, April 4, 2009

The efficiency hoax, energy planning and greenwashing

Sometimes I am reminded that I should not take myself too seriously. After laying out a series of dimensions by which future energy plans need to be evaluated, but I neglected to set up a conceptual framework for evaluating a major feature of renewable or green energy plans,
that is the role of efficiency. Last May the Economist noted:
Almost all blueprints for tackling global warming assume that energy efficiency will have a huge role to play. Nicholas Stern devoted a whole chapter to it in the report he wrote on climate change for the British government. In the greenest of futures mapped out by the International Energy Agency, a think-tank financed by rich countries, greater efficiency accounts for two-thirds of emissions averted. The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), the research arm of the consultancy, thinks that energy efficiency could get the world halfway towards the goal, espoused by many scientists, of keeping the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere below 550 parts per million.
The Economist also notes that America has become more energy efficient since 1973 a year in which we spent 12% of our gross domestic product on energy. Recently that figure has fallen to 7%. Of course some of that decline in energy use was due to the transfer of energy intensive industries (and jobs) to other countries. Green experts like Amory Lovins insists that an enormous amount of energy use savings that could be accomplished through greater energy efficiency.
Because so much can be done with just technical efficiency, there's a great deal of flexibility -- in how and where people live, what houses look like, how we get around, what our settlement patterns are. For example, it's very straightforward to have uncompromised, normal-sized family cars achieving upwards of 100 miles a gallon, with improved safety and excellent economics. We know how to triple the efficiency of trucks, and we can probably do even better on planes, I think by a factor of six or so better than now.
According to Lovins incredible energy savings that practically pay for themselves as soon as they are installed are available for the American home.
My own house uses 1 percent the normal amount of space- and water-heating energy, and 10 percent the normal amount of electricity. The efficiency upgrades took ten months to pay for themselves in 1983. But if we were building the house now, we'd be able to save another two-thirds of the remaining electricity, and it would probably cost even less to build.
Quite obviously Lovins does not spend much time watching plasma TV's. Lovins doesn't have time to watch TV because it takes all of his time to dream up such bullshit. As a householder I did my own home energy efficiency program in the 1980's and 90's. And while my wife and I were able to effect substantial energy savings we never came close to the energy reduction Lovins claims to have realized. Nor did the energy efficiencies pay for themselves in anything like 10 months.

If my readers are wondering about energy savings investments, solar water heaters would be high on my list for many localities. But there are areas of the country where a cloudy climate makes solar hot water heaters a bad investment, even with tax and power company subsidies. Solar hot water heaters would be a good investment in Snowmass, Colorado, but 10 months is not to believed. Lovins heated the water with the assistance of a second system, one while relied on a lot of bullshit to supplement heat from the sun. A payback period of 10 years would not be unusual for a solar hot water heater. But in some cloudy localities it might take 30 years. The solar heating project in a cloudy community might never pay for itself. Thus when the eco-cheerleaders at Treehugger want to put solar hot water heaters on every roof, they reveal themselves to be exceedingly ill informed. Local factors play a far bigger role that Amory Lovins allows in determining the payback time for energy saving technology.

There are other factors that may differ within localities that can effect the value of efficiency. For example, in hot climates shade trees have a cooling effect on buildings, but if you have shade trees, the shade effects the efficiency of solar hot water heaters. While ground source heat pumps are more efficient than air source heat pumps, they are far more expensive to install, and far more expensive to repair.

In addition, unanticipated factors may negatively impact on energy efficiency. For example, the clay soil of North Texas expands during rainy periods and contracts in dry weather. The soil movement can damage home foundations, and this in turn can damaged the effectiveness of home insulation. Thus investments in home energy efficiency might in Dallas include foundation repairs. Doubling home insulation might not pay for itself if the shifting foundation has unseated double pane windows, allowing drafts to enter the home at numerous points. Even repairing the windows might not help, since the next time the foundation shifts, the windows would become unseated again.

The quest for energy efficiency thus becomes intertwined with a form of wisdom that is in no small measure based on knowledge of local conditions. This would not be entirely entailed in the concept of distributionism. For example, if solar hot water heating would be in efficient in some locality water can still be heated with electricity from a centralized power plant.

Some energy inefficiencies, work through because local wisdom cannot be assumed and in often lacking. Witness the placement of solar panels facing North. If the stories I have encountered are any indicator, this is not uncommon. Advocates of energy efficiency simply do not take into account the North facing solar panel.

This now leads us to US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED program and Henry Gifford. The USGBC is an organization that certifies buildings as energy efficient. The LEED program is the program that tags building as efficient. We should expect that energy use in certified buildings has been checked, and certificates issues based of actual performance. This is, of course, a silly notion. People this is the United States, the nation where where bankers can qualify people who have a $14,000 annual income for $500,000 a year home loans by resorting to outright fraud. Where Wall Street Bankers can ignore the massively fraudulent basis of millions of sub prime mortgage loans, can package them as bonds, and sell the bonds to unsuspecting investors. This is America, the nation where bond rating companies can overlook the fact that bonds were being backed by large numbers of mortgages that were in default because the first payment had not been made. Despite these difficulties the bond rating companies issued Triple A ratings for the toxic bonds. This is America where thousands of people can commit multi-trillion dollar crimes, and none of them seems likely to go to prison. This is America where the people who allowed the theft of trillions, the loss of retirement income for millions of workers, and the ruin of the world's economy, not only face no consequences for their negligance, but end up with titles like Federal Reserve Chairman. This is the United States where a Con Man can become a MacArthur Genius. This is the United States where Amory Lovins can tell us that he cut his electricity use by 9o% and he got his investment payback in 10 months. His entire energy system cost Lovins'$6,000 more than a standard household heating system would have cost. I am not making that up.

The USGBC does not check on energy use in certified buildings. A building is efficient by USGBC standards if the USGBC thinks it is. Recently however the USGBC did do a study of their certified buildings, or at least some of them. The buildings could not be described as a representative sample. Further, some if the buildings in the original data set were excluded because they used too much energy.

Brendan Owen of USGBC of its first cut at data on certified building efficiency, said
I was really kind of cringing about what kind of data we would get. And, when Mark
and I started talking about what this survey, and what this study was going to be, he
asked some pretty pointed questions about what were we going to do with it, and in the back of my head it was, you know, if it’s bad, we’re certainly not going to tell
anybody. And, and we’re going to fix the problem and that will be good. But I knew
he wouldn’t let that happen, so in the front of my head was, if it’s bad I’m going to let Cathy [Cathy Turner, the senior analyst for the New Buildings Institute] publish just her graphs, with no explanation, and it’ll be so statistically impenetrable to anybody who could actually articulate what was going on, that it wouldn’t matter, because they, you know, could only talk to somebody else who could understand them, and there’s not many of those out there. So, the fact of, the delightful fact of the results of the study being what I would consider to be overwhelmingly positive considering how bad I thought it was going to come out, are pretty remarkable.” However, for a number of reasons, the publicized figure is not only wrong, it appears that the reverse is actually true.

Well it helps if you you manipulate the numbers. The purpose of the USGBC is not to encourage the development of energy efficient buildings. It is not to do or encourage energy efficiency research. It is not to inform people about who has energy efficient buildings. USGBC Chairman Rick Fedrizzi said
"We realized we were getting the messaging wrong, leading with the environmental story. We had to lead with the business case."
Building owner Henry Gifford (pictured above) tells the reat of the story:


Warren Heath said...

Charles, you are right on target on the energy efficiency scam. Where homeowners and industry already do energy efficiency improvements, once the subsidies are in place, they will simply wait for subsidies to do something they would have done anyway. That means those subsidies will achieve ZERO GAIN!

Also, the variety, small size and scope of Energy Efficiency projects is so vast, to manage that Rat's Nest, will require a huge bureaucracy. Where are you going to find enough competent people to evaluate millions of projects for economic viability? What’s going to end up happen, is the management will be done predominantly by politically connected individuals with zero or less competence in the field, and the subsidies will be doled out to buddies of the bureaucrats or to politically connected companies. The scam artists will be lined up for the gravy train, like hogs at the trough.

I wish some blogger would keep a file of examples of extraordinarily expensive Energy Efficiency or Renewable Energy projects, with links, and actual $ per average delivered kw of power or power saving, and take submissions from Readers, of whom many are probably aware of numerous examples of absurdly low ROI projects.

Konstantin said...

Just to show how right you are about that banking fraud here is William K. Black on being interviewed by Bill Moyers on that where William Black says Geithner is engaging in a coverup:

After watching that I wonder is there any hope that this administration will do the right thing with energy.

Charles Barton said...

At the moment Presidentr Obama is President clueless. He is [r pesently working as apprentice President receiving on the Job training from people who clearly don't know what a President is supppose to do.


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