Comfort and Efficiency
In northern China, the heating season runs from November 15 until March, and most of the people who live in the cities live in apartments served by district-hot-water systems. The goal is to keep the temperature in the apartments above 60 degrees, which seems low to me, but there are a lot of Chinese and maybe they huddle. And I figure they must huddle because some people over there have been complaining that it's too warm on some days. But that makes sense if they're sending 200-degree water into the radiators when the weather is mild.
Now, you and I would probably cure this Chinese dilemma with outdoor-reset controls, modulating burners, or multiple boilers, but in China's big cities, they're sticking with the big boilers for the time being, and that’s where these 100 new weather-monitoring stations come in.
Here's the plan: They'll record the indoor and outdoor temperatures, and the wind speed throughout the city. Then they'll analyze this data, along with the water temperatures into and out of the big boilers, and they'll come up with the ideal water temperature for the next few days. At that point, some guy with a screwdriver will run around and reset the boiler-water temperatures.
And as for the folks living in private homes, where they have their own boilers, they'll access the weather data as well and do their own daily temperature reset. Sweet.
The Chinese figure this new systems will save nearly $268 million each year, and it will help clear the air for the Olympics. How 'bout them Chinese!
Which brings me to the Brits. In the UK, you must now replace any boiler that fails with one that condenses all the flue gases. With laws like that, you would think that everyone would be wildly enthusiastic about conservation, but I just read a survey about the "eco fatigue" that's taking place throughout the UK. About a quarter of the people surveyed said that they've heard about enough eco news to last them a lifetime. Eighteen percent think that the only reason why people are talking about any of this eco stuff is because it's fashionable.
Imagine how they'd feel if they had to reset their boilers by hand every day.
And while it's true that you can overdo anything, more than half of those surveyed (57%) still believe that the environment could get better if everyone did their bit. In fact, 78% said they were indeed doing their bit; but 83% of those same people felt that the other guy wasn't doing his bit. That bounder!
Men are more cynical about the difference they can make (surprised?), with 19% believing that small changes won't have any effect at all. Only 11% of the women agree with this, and as a result, women were more likely to make the changes around the house to be greener – except for using eco-friendly detergents.
Eighty percent of those surveyed said they use energy-saving light bulbs, while 90% fill the teakettle with the right amount of water. A full 83% recycle paper, glass and plastic, and 83% donate old clothing to charity. But when it comes to heating, nearly half of the Brits are turning up the thermostat rather than putting on a sweater.
Sounds pretty American so far, doesn't it?
And this, I suppose, is why the government has stepped in with a very heavy hand and is now telling the people what they will do when it comes to their boilers. You can stay warm, but you'll do it efficiently, by Jove!
But then I read this story in Forbes magazine, and I learned of a report issued by the UK Energy Research Centre, which states that energy savings in UK home could be nearly 30% less than previously thought. This is threatening the success of the UK's climate-change policy, which is hell-bent on reducing carbon emissions by 60% before the end of 2050.
So what's up with that?
Well, it's human nature. The folks in the UK are now using energy-efficient devices (they no longer have a choice), but they're using these devices a lot more, and that's reducing the potential overall energy savings. They call it the "Rebound Effect."
It works like this: Suppose you buy a hybrid car that runs on less petrol. You're now saving so much money on petrol that you decide to drive twice as much as you used to drive. You stop taking the bus and you're now using nearly as much fuel as you used to use, but you're using it efficiently.
Another for instance would be that new condensing boiler. It's wonderfully efficient, and you're saving so much on fuel, so you turn up the thermostat, take off the sweater, and run around your house with a bare bum. Splendid!
Another example: You save money by using energy-efficient equipment, and you then use that money to buy additional, fuel-consuming devices.
So let's now talk about the Governator because he's got it all figured out.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently signed a bill requiring state regulators to set energy-consumption standards for light bulbs by the end of 2008. The goal is to cut energy use by 50% for household bulb, and 25% for other bulbs within 10 years. They'll be doing the same thing throughout the European Union, and in Australia, but those folks will get the job done in two years instead of 10 years.
The challenge with the bulbs, however, is that they contain mercury, and they do fail after a while, so the mercury is probably going to wind up in the world's landfills. This isn't stopping the movement toward efficient bulbs, though. They give you the same amount of light for less wattage. They're more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and that's the focus nowadays – efficiency. We'll deal with the mercury later.
And here's why I find this so interesting: Governments around the world are now shifting the public's focus from conservation toward efficiency. If you're old enough to remember Jimmy Carter sitting in the White House with his Mr. Rogers sweater you'll understand the significance of this. Jimmy was all about conservation, but most people won't sacrifice their comfort to save fuel. Not for long, anyway.
So with the Governator leading the American charge, the Green Movement is heading away from conservation and racing toward efficiency. Leave the thermostat set at 72 degrees year-round, but heat and cool your home with more-efficient equipment. That's exactly what the Brits are forcing with their insistence on condensing boilers. They're just now finding out about the Rebound Effect, and my guess is that they'll deal with this by insisting on higher efficiencies in even more equipment.
It's not about conservation anymore. It's about comfort, and how to stay comfortable in the most efficient way. As primitive as it seems, that's what the Chinese are doing by monitoring the weather in their big cities. They took that step because people complained about being too hot. Discomfort presented an opportunity to burn less fuel and clean the air for the Summer Olympics. The officials tout the anticipated annual fuel savings, but they did it for comfort reasons.
I read this in the International Herald Tribune not long ago: "'Conservation got a bad name under Ronald Reagan when he said that conservation means being cold in the winter and warm in the summer,' said Joel Gordes, an energy consultant in Connecticut, who is also the technical coordinator for the state's Energy Conservation Management Board. 'The connotation of deprivation made it easier for the public to embrace energy efficiency instead,' he said. 'Energy efficiency is one of the very best ways you can mitigate climate change. With efficiency, you are getting exactly the same amount of air conditioning or lighting, but you're doing it with new technology and using less energy.'"
The article continued with a quote from Mithra Moezzi, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "The policy shifts began quietly more than a decade ago, to escape the moralistic, anti-consumption tone of earlier conservation campaigns. Energy conservation focuses on how much energy is consumed. Energy efficiency may result in energy conservation, but it may also serve as permission to consume."
That's the Rebound Effect – something we'll deal with as this moves along, and probably with more advances, but for now, I think you should be talking to your customers about how they can burn fuel efficiency, without sacrificing comfort. That's what they want to hear about – comfort and efficiency.