Ignorance is as bliss as you want it to be.

The problem with fossil fuels, more specifically, big oil, is that it affects all of us. Not only does it affect us in the obvious ways of releasing carbon emissions into the sky, but in the abstract. Abstractly, researchers and economists have found that big oil’s outstanding loans and bonds for the oil and gas industry had tripled from 2006 to the year 2014.[1] As oil prices continue to decline dramatically, under the $70/barrel threshold, according to a Goldman Sachs study, it will kill almost a billion dollars in investments on new oil projects. In the short term this will help the average consumer, as the US continues to find more oil through fracking and as OPEC continues to drill, prices will continue to fall. However, according to Kevin Book, a managing director at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, “an all-out price war could take up to 18 months to play out.”[2] This was said in 2014, now it is 2016, and crude price oils are at $46.90 a barrel. First it was the big banks which crashed, and now we are seeing the slow tumble of big oil which could potentially threaten to place us back in a recession. Now that is a big statement to make under normal conditions, however, the signs are everywhere. The Ratings Agency Standard & Poor, what we know as S&P, in April reported that 46 companies had defaulted on their debt that year ~ “the highest levels since the financial crisis in 2009[3].” With half the defaults being accrued in the oil and gas industry.

Now as we know from the previous blog post on the Paris Accord, strict mandates had to be made by the world’s strongest nations in order to avoid catastrophic environmental disasters. According to a study done at Texas A&M, 2 degrees Celsius seems to be the magic number that we can’t rise above. At two degrees Celsius hotter, on average, around the world, we have the doomsday ice caps melting, and sea levels rising. Now, some have criticized the Paris Accord, arguing that it only is for show, to please the doubters. This study argues much the same, saying that on the one hand, renewable usage will fall by 2050 to 50%, but on the other hand, if we are to use over 50% of the oil reserves on hand right now, that we may as well start digging graves because we’ve already doomed ourselves.

In the short term, yes, buy all the oil you want, in fact, get that Hummer you always wanted. Cost is down, so buy, buy, buy. Just remember, in the years leading up to the ’08 crash, people were buying tons of houses and taking tons of loans, and then when the crash happened thousands lost their jobs, and their homes. They say ignorance is bliss, but I’m afraid if we stay ignorant this time the imminent economic crash will end up being the least of our worries.

[1] Ahmed, Nafeez. “Energy: Sun’s Heat Could Cut Fossil-fuel Use.” Nature 523.7561 (2015): 384. Web.

[2] Randall, Tom. “Nearly US$1-trillion in Zombie Projects Stranded in Oil Fields around the Globe, Says Goldman Sachs.” Nearly US$1-trillion in Zombie Projects Stranded in Oil Fields around the Globe, Says Goldman Sachs. Bloomberg News, 19 Dec. 2014. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.

[3] IBID.

Solar Race ~ Local Edition

History has proven time and time again, that when need be, we are capable of responsible change. Whether that be from the transition from religion to science, or a great migration from their home to avoid uninhabitable weather. Today however, we face a totally different monster. Complex national and international politics which splits societies into binomials. In a micro example we can note the republicans and the democrats. On the right end of the spectrum we find that sympathizers would like politics to stay out of the economic sphere and allow individuals to vote with their dollar bill. On the left end of the spectrum, we see a totally different political agenda, where sympathizers pray to a totally different political deity, one that preaches social and fiscal responsibility. Most recently, one of the big topics on these opposing teams side is that of clean energy, and in doing so, finding the viable exit from natural resources. However, viable, can mean two totally different things for these two opposing teams. The problem is, with no compromise in sight during this presidential year, constituents have turned to a completely different political machine. Federal government has turned to state government, and the states have looked to local government to inspire green change.

We have begun to see a partnership between local government and clean tech companies being fostered. Some cities in fact have become the trailblazers for the movement. In example, San Francisco has recently become one of the first cities to put forward legislation that forces both commercial and residential buildings alike ten stories and shorter to set aside 15% of their roof for solar panels. In Portland, Oregon, as recently as March, legislation was put forward that requires utilities to provide 50% of their energy using renewable resource collection. This is a monumental step forward, and is just one of many. Cities around the world have been the trailblazers to shift their energy reliance to renewables.

People around the world have decided they can’t wait for their federal governments to put forward the royal decree which protects our fragile environment. Moving up the pipeline, we are seeing that although the royal decree isn’t coming from the king, it is coming from the lower nobles. States are putting forward serious tax breaks which allow for these local deals to be struck with private firms. Humans have always had a way to strike a last minute deal, and as the trends seem to be showing, green tech is on the rise in our communities.

The Solar Industry Today

Over the course of the last decade or so, the cost, and efficiency of renewables, namely solar have dramatically dropped from being reserved exclusively for those wealthy green hippies, to being a massively sought out product in both the public and private sector. In this post, I intend on showcasing the changes in both spheres of, collection efficiency, and product cost between today and ten years ago. Then I intend to compare those numbers with the non-renewable alternatives.

In 2009, the cost of solar was roughly $7/watt, compared to 2015, when the cost of solar PV equated to roughly $2.10/watt. This change has translated to both massive growths in the green industries job market impact, and the sheer number of solar PV installations. In 2010, the solar industry translated to just under 100,000 workers, compared to 2015, when it provided work for over 200,000 workers. To put that number into perspective, that number is larger than both the number of workers of those in coal mining (~60,000), and the number of workers in oil and gas extraction (~170,000). The industry has become not only attractive for the buyer, but has become a major mover and shaker in the national economy.

In 2006, Residential and Non-Residential PV combined for a meager 100+ megawatts of energy. Today, the two combine for a gargantuan ~4000 megawatts. This growth is both a reflection of changes in panel efficiency and cost. The growth in the market allows for more R & D. Sun power’s efficiency roadmap has shown an overall absolute efficiency improvement of 6% between 2007 to 2015. That’s just one company. Many have seen similar changes.

The green industry is not just the future anymore, it has become the present between cost and tax cuts, and efficiency boosts.

Trailblazers; NA Leader Summit Controls Pace

In a surprising announcement last week at the North American Leaders Summit, the presidents of Mexico and the US, as well as the prime minister of Canada, made a pledge that the countries would strive to wean off fossil fuels reliance and usher into an age of green collection. The countries pledged to increase green energy electricity collection to 50% of total electricity consumption in their respective nations. This is a monumental decision which will impact not only job-growth in a variety of different sectors, but also it sends a message to the other national entities who in December last year at the Paris Accord pledged to some pretty drastic renewable energy collection and distribution goals.

Now these goals are great and will serve to benefit the general public, and will set a global precedent. But many experts see a different problem. This commitment is heavily reliant on the 20% of carbon free generation that comes from nuclear power plants, but, between the tax breaks available on solar and wind energy and the dramatic cost reduction in those industries, nuclear power plants have lost their edge and are predicted to retire. Furthermore, with the [slim] possibility of presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump getting elected, the US faces the issue of this entire energy savings partnership being struck out, not solely because of the GOP’s presumptive candidate’s views on green technology, but also through the anger he has been fostering between Mexico and the US.

In regards to the Paris Accord, several poignant studies conducted by those from MIT to the UN have proven the policy implementation isn’t nearly far-reaching enough. If our efforts continue for the next century, conservative studies have shown that the policy put forward will slow down global warming by a meager four years. That being said, what we have seen is that innovation in the green sector sponsored by private investments has been hugely successful. In the last eight years the Obama administration’s energy policy has made green energy more accessible and attractive to a wider market than ever before.

 

Controlling Smart Energy & Case Study

Since the beginning of time, man has sought out control. Whether at the most primitive level, with the invention of fire or through religion, humans naturally feel safest when they are able to mitigate the number of things that are uncertain. Naturally, the number of things up in the air has evolved over the centuries through critical milestones, most notably, the control of the flow of amenities to and from the house. At the turn of the 21st century, futuristic movies began enchanting our creative side through something we now refer to as a ‘smart-home.’ The thing is, however, smart homes seemed like something way down the line, but, from those young minds, to who the future seemed like it was just a drawing board away, we began to see growth in this space-age industry.

Today, the smart-home industry is beginning to see a crescendo in both the capacity of its technology and of course, customer demand. This success is in part due to the big three Telco companies of Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T adding the smart home element to their arsenal. The surge of money into this industry has allowed for new aspects of the smart home to be explored. To this end, the energy industry has been explored and exploited, making the art of control expand to areas that for hundreds of years, have been associated with the notion of waste and loss.

Cue the Energy Management and Control Systems, which have had enormous success in energy waste management, for two reasons. First, in an age where we can access a web browser from the palm of our hands and from nearly everywhere, at the palm of your hand you may check and control your energy output in attempting to mitigate waste. Secondly, through setting long-term savings goals, a computer can make decisions for you, to help mitigate human error—errors that would otherwise likely result in energy waste.

As a result of these monumental spurs in efficiency and corporation buy in we find that the government has begun to take notice, in a big way. All of a sudden, we are seeing huge government rebate programs from the state all the way to the federal level. This has caused a groundbreaking shift in the once niche market of the solar and energy management industry. Between energy management systems becoming more and more affordable, and their efficiency skyrocketing, the age of the green hippie customer is collapsing, and now we are seeing more customers from small businesses and apartment buildings, to the everyday middle classer understand that savings are at a hands reach.

Take one case study of a customer of ours in San Jose, California. This customer originally purchased a 198-collector system for their apartment building. The cost before any rebate or tax break came out to be $750,000. Now although that is a large number, look on below at the graph to see how rebates and tax breaks played a role in the final cost, as well as the annual energy savings:

The Unlikely Ally of the Green Movement

By now, most of us, have begun to accept the reality of climate change and the tragedy of the commons that occurs with that. By ‘tragedy of the commons’ I refer to an economic theory which states that within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest will behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource. In this case, the commons this blog post refers to are the animals threatened by climate change as far away as the Antarctic and as close to home as the coal plant that can be found only a few miles out of town. However, there are more living entities that are effected by climate change, and who for so long have been silenced by the powerful private sectors who seek only capital gain. Those who I am referring to, are the children, the children’s children, and those yet to be born. Those who will be truly effected by the horrors of climate change that we are only now seeing the effects of take hold.

That being said, a trend has begun. A change within the system. Millennials, all over the country have turned to their last, and unforeseen ally—the judicial branch. In a time of special interest, and bloated campaign costs, the role of the judicial branch has been expanded to speak on behalf of those generations to come. Those generations who are forced to bear the weight of a government who can’t act fast enough to meet the growing costs of irresponsible and not so stringent environmental laws.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen an explosion in the amount of millennials turning to litigation as their only weapon against a powerful opponent. More specifically I am referring to three landmark cases: a suit by high-schoolers against the Massachusetts state government, Washington state government, and the Oregon state government.

In the Massachusetts case, the supreme court judge found that the government wasn’t doing enough to reach its greenhouse gas emission cuts set forth in the 90’s. In the Washington case the superior court ordered the department of ecology to create rules to reduce greenhouse gas by the end of 2016, and to make recommendations to the state legislature during the 2017 sessions. In Oregon, 21 plaintiffs from the ages of eight all the way to nineteen were successful in their lawsuit which argued that the federal government is violating the plaintiff’s constitutional and public trust rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels.

In the final case mentioned, a precedent was set. Our voices, the millennials, not only count, but carry weight as we are the bearers of an unkind future if we continue at the current rate. A variety of other cases have been put forth with varying levels of success, however one thing is certain if proactive change is to occur it will land in the hands of the generation who has the most to lose.

Reducing Operating Costs for Commercial Pool Operators

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The challenge

Commercial pools are large bodies of water that consume considerable amount of resources.

To operate these large pools the pool operator needs to deploy industrial size boilers, pumps, chemical systems, lights, filters, control devices and other electro-mechanical systems. In most pools, these systems are not interconnected nor synchronized and operate independently from each other. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to over or under heat the pool, or accidently drain thousands of gallons of pool water due to a late discovery of mechanical failure in the filter backwash system. In a worst case scenario pool operator may expose pool patrons to health hazards that can lead to unpleasant consequences due to a pool water chemical makeup that is way out of spec and unsafe to swim in.

The trigger for a pool owner to call for the expensive process of pool re-commissioning, are unusual high water or energy bills that cannot be explained by the facility staff, or a catastrophic event that leads to a pool shut down by the local health and safety authorities. The problem with utility bills is that they show a month worth of usage and do not allow the breakdown of consumption by system or specific dates.

Pool Analysis

Running into this issue in almost every pool that we have analyzed, we found that the ability to measure, monitor and gather data on individual systems is a fantastic source for analyzing pool systems and reducing waste. By manipulating the continues stream of data coming from the different systems and setting min/max limits, alerting immediately the facility staff when these limits are reached, and by setting automatic responses and actions to these scenarios we are able to control the pool water and energy consumption to a targeted level. To get there our “weapon” of choice is the TEK Aquatic Controller, (by Lincoln aquatics) a PLC based control monitoring and reporting system as well as an energy performance management solution. The TEK controller pulls data from the from installed sensors like flow meters, temp sensors, pressure sensors, chemistry systems, filtration systems boilers, solar systems (PV, thermal or both), and more. These data points are being continuously recorded, logged and reported instantly. The information collected is displayed on a pool control dashboard and provides a wealth of data that is processed by the software which generates smart reports that help the facility staff track and quickly correct any anomalies showing in the report. For example, the software reports can show a graph of energy usage information over a period of time showing metrics of actual energy consumption and real time scheduling of a sub systems. The software raises red flags when systems stray out of their predefined range along with automatic actions to avoid catastrophic events.

Real Pool Case Study

One of our earliest projects was a 600,000 gallon commercial pool that has a surface area of 9,825 Sqft. The ownership had no idea how much it cost to operate, while the CFO had a feeling that the cost of operating the pool has been slowly creeping up over the years.

We were hired to complete the following:

1. Estimate as close as possible the pool annual operating cost

2. Come up with a plan to save a minimum of 30% of the annual operating cost

3. Any proposed plan must carry a less than 5 years ROI

To complete the task we have decided to take a 3 step plan

Step 1 – Base line the pool parameters and operating costs

Step 2 – Reduce waste where we can

Step 3 – Produce whatever we can’t save or reduce

Baseline

To base line the pool, we have installed a TEK Aquatic Controller in order to accurately sub-meter the pool boiler for gas usage, filter loop pump for electrical usage and makeup water consumption.

The operating costs became clear after a few weeks of data collection:

• Gas – It takes 30,000 therms annually to heat the pool, and with cost per therm =

$0.93/.8 (boiler efficiency) = $1.1625, annual savings are estimated at $34,875

• Electricity – a 45 HP Pump consumes 301,563 kwh annually with estimated cost of

$45,234 ($0.15 /Kwh)

• Water – 750,000 gallons annually are used to back wash the pool filters with estimated

annual cost of ( $0.03/gal) $22,500. Disposed chemicals cost estimated at $5,000 to a

total estimated annual cost of $27,500

Total estimated pool annual operating cost – $107,609

Reduce

• Install a VFD on the pool pump, using lower Hz that would save 35% of pump energy

consumption. A 45HP pump would reduce its consumption by 12Kwh. Total reduced Hz

hours in a year 6,750 @12Kwh = 81,000 Kwh saved with estimated annual savings of

$12,150

• Schedule the Pool Boiler to reduce an average of 5,000 Therms annually with estimated

annual Savings $5,800

Produce

• Install a 200 Collector Solar Thermal system to produce 22,000 Therms /Yr. The solar

system carried a $72,000 rebate with estimated annual gas Savings of $25,575

• Install water recycling plant to save 95% of the water and chemicals wasted with

estimated annual savings of $33,250

We have presented our plan to the ownership with estimated total annual savings of our grand plan to be $76,750 which represent over 70% annual savings on operating pool cost. After reviewing our proposal and considering cost, available space and resources, the owner opted for the following parts of our proposal:

1. Install a Solar thermal system – $250,000 with CSI Incentive of $72,000

2. Install a VFD on the main pool pump – out of pocket $15,000

3. Schedule the pool boiler – expense was covered under the solar system controls

Total out of pocket cost – $175,000

Annual savings – $43,500

ROI – 4.02 yrs

In addition to the annual savings the owner got to benefit from the following:

• Internet Connected & Monitored pool system

• Complete pool dashboard to monitor& diagnose:

• Pool Temperature

• Filter loop and solar flow rates

• Solar BTU Production

• Boiler BTU Spent

• Chemistry usage

• Make up water consumption

• Data Logging of all relevant parameters for future reference

• Alarms via txt/ email and automated actions

• Remote control

• Filter Loop pump schedule

• Load Shedding

• Backwash automation

Summary

By retro commissioning a pool, the owner will benefit from the following:

 Improved system operation

 Improved equipment performance

 Increased operations & maintenance staff capabilities and expertise

 Increased asset value

 Energy savings

 Water

 Improved environmental control

 Improved occupant comfort

 Improved indoor environmental quality

 Improved building documentation

 Reduced operating and maintenance costs

 Reduced maintenance/troubleshooting issues

 Reduced energy expenses

 Improved controls over the building’s mechanical systems

 Constant improvement of equipment optimization

 Automated record keeping

For questions on the above project or any energy reduction project, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at gal@freehotwater.com