Tomorrow's Environment: New Language, New Benchmarks
Back in the 20th century, I had the opportunity to provide in-house technical services to our outsource firm that operated and maintained mechanical and electrical operation systems for over 24 million sq ft of building facili-ties. Way back then, we would receive the monthly utility bills for electricity, gas, and oil and convert each to the common denominator: Btuh. Next, we would convert that to Btuh/sq ft for that month. Capturing this information over the year, we could then benchmark the next year’s usage in a graph that would also show cost/sq ft/month. It was simple to do and easy to convey the message as it pertained to how well we were operating the building.
Another feature of the graph was to introduce the degree-days per month so that we did not overlook the severity of the weather each year. Overall, these energy pictures helped us manage utilities based on historical data and we were able to assess what buildings we needed to look closer at for potential energy conservation opportunities. There hasn’t been a lot of this type of energy monitoring done by design engineers, and I think that is be-cause engineers don’t stay close to past projects they designed so there are seldom lessons learned.
An Invaluable EducationFor me, this nine-year experience, in combination with our D-B services, was invaluable to my energy education. This experience opened up my eyes to the influence of energy consumption, energy waste, and how energy recovery and conservation could improve building system performance.
It made me a better design engineer and prepared me for our current environmental challenges, but not everyone today was around for that initial crisis, so again, there aren’t the lessons learned from past projects. In between the oil embargo of 1973 and our current global warming crisis, energy conservation took a back seat again as America prospered. Conservation wasn’t a big deal and for many, they were able to adjust through increased annual income. With little recollection of the long lines at gas stations, far too many people, you could say, have found comfort in their hectic business life by driving Cadillac pickup trucks, Hummers, etc. After all, what does global warming have to do with them?
Today, our illustrious American vehicle manufacturers are scratching their heads, wondering why they are losing their hold on the world automobile industry. Fortunately, I see our colleges and universities leading this country with a commitment to not let this 21st century energy and environmental crisis be overlooked because “life is good” for many.
Returning from the third annual Smart & Sustainable Campus conference in Maryland, I was encouraged by what I heard and saw at the conference. In particular, there is a new language being spoken when it comes to building O&M. The use of 20th-century benchmarks like Btuh/sq ft and cost/sq ft are being replaced with greenhouse gas equivalences for emission avoidance.
Today, we are now being asked to provide the estimated reduced emissions for carbon dioxide and avoidance of hydrofluorocarbons (to mention two nasty contaminants), instead of asking us how much money did you save me with your building design, energy retrofit project, or retrocommissioned system.
A New GenerationSlowly other industries, such as health care and industrial institutions are following suit, but clearly it’s the colleges and universities that are driving (or should I say bicycling) the process. The force behind the cause is the students who are the heirs to this world and so they are the ones demanding their environment be preserved, and while some ideas may appear to be extreme, we need to recognize who will be the next generation of leaders. Certainly, the recent and current generation of leaders have not done a very good job preserving our environment.
As an individual who lived through the sixties and the changes that occurred as we challenged the establishment, this E-generation is going to bring down a lot of companies who continue to market antiquated ideas and 20th-century mindsets. We need to be speaking and embracing the greenhouse language because it isn’t going to evaporate like the first energy crisis did. We need to move beyond oil and gas, irresponsible building designs, and, of course, penalize those gas-guzzling Cadillac pickup trucks and Hummers. We need to talk in terms of greenhouse equivalents and ask, “How much carbon dioxide did you save me this time?” We need to follow the students, since we are not prepared to lead these stu-dents. Change is difficult, but we MUST do it.
In closing, could someone tell me what you do with a Cadillac pickup truck? Do you put a toolbox in the back and use it for HVAC projects? And, where are you allowed to drive that Hummer at 70 mph over sand dunes and up rugged mountains? Aren’t there laws against that? ES