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  • Solar Powered Air Conditioning?

    Posted on June 24th, 2010 Lee Devlin No comments
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    LG is getting a lot of media coverage for its Solar Hybrid Air Conditioner (model F-Q232LASS) but so far, no one has bothered to do any technical analysis on it. Most blog articles have nothing but enthusiastic praise for it. So, please allow me to provide an alternate viewpoint.

    LG Solar Air Conditioner

    I think this is a product intended just for PR purposes. Some people may look at it and think it is a solar powered air conditioner. Much of the news coverage uses the unrelated logic of how much CO2 it saves or, even more curiously, how it’s like ‘planting 780 pine trees’. As a side note, when someone starts describing an energy benefit with the lifetime CO2 savings and avoids discussing actual costs, be aware that you’re about to be bamboozled. The solar panel on top of the air conditioning unit produces a small amount of energy; according to LG it’s 70 watts. In case you’re curious, that amounts to about $12 of electricity per year, assuming a cost per kW-h of $.10 and average capacity factor of solar panels. That also assumes the electricity it generates can be used by other appliances when the A/C unit is not running and I’m not sure if that’s the case or not.

    The air conditioning unit is rated at 28,000 BTU/hr. Assuming a SEER of 13, that translates to a 2800 watt draw, not including the fan the circulates the air through the evaporator and the house, which can add another 900 watts or so. That would mean that there’s a 52:1 difference between the air conditioner’s energy draw and energy produced by the solar panel. I am assuming that there is a grid-tie inverter that puts the energy generated when the air conditioner is not running into your home to offset other energy consumption. If not, then the solar panel output would only be used when the A/C was actually running and that would reduce the $12/year of annual power generated considerably. Also of note is that most residential air conditioning loads occur from around 4-6 p.m. when people return home from work. At that time the sun is much lower in the sky and solar output is about 20% of a solar panel’s maximum rating.

    An air conditioner needs to get rid of the condenser’s heat and so it’s best placed in the shade. In this case, however, the condenser would need to be placed in direct sunlight, which counteracts what it’s trying to do, namely to get rid of heat, so that would negatively affect its efficiency. In addition, the condenser needs unimpeded forced air flow which is generally done with a fan that blows air from bottom to top to get the added benefit of natural convection since heat rises, but this unit’s fan has to blow air from side-to-side because the solar panel on top would block bottom-to-top air flow. I should also mention that solar panels work best when they are cool so attaching them to a hot condenser doesn’t help their efficiency either.

    You’d be better off with having a solar system that is completely independent of the air conditioning unit because it introduces too many compromises in each of the respective systems’ design goals.

    Nice try LG, but this product is no better than one of those solar powered attic fans which is another idea masquerading as a solution to a problem that it doesn’t solve.

    I should mention that I am a big fan of solar energy. We use a solar array to power our home and it is a net energy producer, generating more electricity than we use on an annual basis. I hope to someday use the excess for a plug-in hybrid car. The reason I felt compelled to write about this topic is because I just get tired of rip-offs and scams that prey on people’s trust (and ignorance) when it comes to energy savings schemes so I have to call them out.

  • Energy Saver 3000 and other PFC nonsense

    Posted on March 6th, 2010 Lee Devlin 7 comments
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    My friend Jack recently asked me to write about the Energy Saver 3000 and whether it will save money on your electricity bill. I saw this product advertised on TV about a year ago and nearly fell out of my chair when I heard the ridiculous claims being made about saving money using a power factor correction device. And I understand other charlatans have jumped on the bandwagon and have begun offering similar devices that are supposed to ‘pay for themselves in a few months’ with the money you will save on your electricity bill.

    Few people understand what power factor means and I guess this makes it an ideal way to extract money from consumers who trust that anything that appears on a TV ad must be legitimate. Basically, the power factor is an indication of phase alignment of the voltage and current in an AC waveform. In a purely resistive load, the alignment is perfect, which gives it a power factor of 1. On loads that have energy storage elements in them like inductors and capacitors, it can get out of alignment and the power factor falls below 1. A power factor below 1 doesn’t mean that all the energy is getting lost, it’s just that a portion of it is being returned to its source. Whenever energy is transmitted through wires a small amount of it is lost in the resistance of the wires, so it’s preferable to minimize the amount that gets returned. The power company has a vested interest in keeping the power factor as close to 1 as possible for the same reason. However, unless you’re a commercial customer, you don’t get charged for power that is returning to its source. You only get charged for actual power consumed. And in the grand scheme of things, the amount being returned is rather small as a percentage of the overall total, less than 10% for the average household. Since about 7% of all power is lost in the power company’s transmission lines, the overall loss due to having an imperfect power factor is 10% x 7% = .7%. This means that if every household in the nation were to have a PFC device (one that actually worked) the maximum potential energy savings is .7%.

    You can improve the power factor of an inductive load such as a motor by adding a properly sized capacitor to it. This is what these power factor correction devices claim to do. But the problem is that they can’t match the capacitance to the load because most of these motors run only intermittently and so when they are not running, the capacitor will cause the power factor to become out of phase in the opposite direction. And none of these devices has active monitoring to switch the capacitor in and out. That is why these devices simply cannot save energy. Even if they did actively monitor and correct the power factor, the savings would be nowhere near what they claim since, as mentioned, the average savings would only approach .7%.

    The Energy Star website has an interesting entry on these devices:

    “ENERGY STAR does not qualify any Power Factor Correction Devices. Please send us an email at logomisuse@energystar.gov if you see one that claims to be ENERGY STAR certified.

    Power Factor Correction Devices claim to reduce residential energy bills and to prolong the productive life cycles of motors and appliances by reducing the reactive power (kVAR) that is needed from the electric utility.

    We have not seen any data that proves these types of products for residential use accomplish what they claim. Power factor correction devices improve power quality but do not generally improve energy efficiency (meaning they won’t reduce your energy bill). There are several reasons why their energy efficiency claims could be exaggerated. First, residential customers are not charged for KVA-hour usage, but by kilowatt-hour usage. This means that any savings in energy demand will not directly result in lowering a residential user’s utility bill. Second, the only potential for real power savings would occur if the product were only put in the circuit while a reactive load (such as a motor) were running, and taken out of the circuit when the motor is not running. This is impractical, given that there are several motors in a typical home that can come on at any time (refrigerator, air conditioner, HVAC blower, vacuum cleaner, etc.), but the unit itself is intended for permanent, unattended connection near the house breaker panel.

    For commercial facilities, power factor correction will rarely be cost-effective based on energy savings alone. The bulk of cost savings power factor correction can offer is in the form of avoided utility charges for low power factor. Energy savings are usually below 1% and always below 3% of load, the higher percentage occurring where motors are a large fraction of the overall load of a facility. Energy savings alone do not make an installation cost effective.

    Power factor correction devices are NOT eligible for a federal tax credit.”

    Most of the ‘evidence’ to support claims by companies hawking these devices is very unscientific, often times just unsupportable anecdotes by shills talking about how their energy bill went down after installing one of them. This could simply be due to behavioral changes one naturally makes when focusing on an area of improvement, behavior that a customer who purchases an expensive power saving device is likely to engage in without realizing it. To truly measure improvement, you need to run a controlled experiment and I’ve yet to see a legitimate experiment demonstrated when it comes to these devices. Even the videos on the websites don’t bother to measure actual power, just current or power factor before and after which to me means that they are intentionally trying to mislead customers. There are many inexpensive power meters out there such as Kill-A-Watt and yet there are no demos with a power meter used properly, i.e., showing watts consumed before and after installing a PFC device. Instead, they show power factor or current before and after, which makes for an impressive demo, but tells you nothing about the energy savings you’d experience.

    If you’re thinking about buying one of these devices, I’d recommend you buy a whole house energy monitor like the TED5000 instead. It will cost less than a useless PFC device and is likely to help you figure out where your energy is going so you will be more aware of how you can save energy. It will also tell you exactly what your power factor is at any moment. As I type this, my furnace blower (a 900W load) is running and my power factor is .94, which is close enough to 1 that it’s hardly worth worrying about.

  • Barnstorming and other Adventures

    Posted on December 10th, 2009 Lee Devlin No comments
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    1929 Travel Air

    1929 Travel Air


    I once shared a hangar with this beautiful 1929 Travel Air. About 20 years ago I learned to fly at the New Garden Airport in southeastern PA. Shortly after getting my license, I purchased a 1961 Piper Colt. Not long after I purchased it, this amazing aircraft showed up in the adjacent hangar. The plane had been purchased by a young lady who quit a secure job and started a barnstorming business with a business partner giving rides in an open cockpit biplane. I was amazed to think that someone would leave a secure job and start a business like that. Later on when I was exposed to Richard Bach’s books I felt like his stories might have inspired the couple to throw caution to the wind and start that business.

     

    While reading the Slashdot feed yesterday I saw a reference to a site that was exposing the Internet get-rich-quick schemes that are so prevalent these days. The article referenced a website called undress4success.com. Despite the attention-getting title, I learned that it was dedicated to providing useful information to people who are working from home. It provides resources to help people who like the idea of a 2-second commute and the site’s owners regularly gave the low-down on scams that prey on those hoping to make a living working from home. The most recent article was related to the ‘Work for Google’ scams that are being actively pursued by Google’s legal team, since they are not endorsed or supported by Google. The scammers are just trying to profiteer from pretending to have an association with the Internet search giant.

    I like to expose scammers. Seeing unscrupulous charlatans abuse the goodwill and trust of others is just one of those behaviors that I can’t sit by and idly watch. Several of my most popular blog articles are related to exposing scams like the Amish Heat Surge miracle heater, the Arctic Cool Surge (yes, same company), and exposing the unworkable mathematics of all MLM schemes.

    biplane_ride_san_vicente

    I was reading through the website and I started to realize that the couple running it had a very familiar-sounding story. They mentioned that they had started a Barnstorming business in Pennsylvania in the early 1990’s, moved it to San Diego, and then grew it to 7 aircraft and 25 pilots before selling it and starting this new website and promoting their book entitled Undress for Success: The Naked Truth about Making Money at Home which is about how to work from home. It was Kate and Tom, the same couple I had met at New Garden Airport, all these years later! It’s certainly a very small world.

    I had been working on my own article about people who make money by selling others on the idea of how to make money on the Internet. The funny thing is that many of these sites are all writing about the same thing, which usually involves selling ‘secrets’ or starting an endless cycle of recruitment for information products. It sounds a lot like an abusive MLM business. The kingpins in the worst MLMs don’t actually make their money selling products, they make their money selling high-margin ‘educational materials’ and ‘tools’ to unsuspecting recruits month after month. This is precisely what these get rich quick membership sites (who generally want a direct line to make a monthly withdrawal from your bank account) are up to. When it’s all said and done, they sell you on a business that is nothing more than a recursive cycle for you to try to write and sell the same kind of information on the Internet. But who wants to buy from you when they can go right to the source, i.e., the guy holding up an image of his big earnings check on every one of his pages? They augment this income with a other questionable affiliates all who have something to sell you that sounds like it will teach you to get rich quick. Or, if not that, then information on how to get flat abs, or get ripped like Arnold Schwartzeneggar in 4 weeks.

    I just purchased the book based on the positive reviews I’ve read on Amazon. Websites that educate people on the perils of scams tend to restore my faith in humanity and I always feel good when I come across one.

    And if you can’t live without a ride in the vintage Travel Air, you can find it at Barnstorming Adventures (phone: 800-759-5667) located at Montgomery Field Airport in San Diego flying under the new ownership of another couple who no doubt purchased the business as an insurance policy… an insurance policy against a boring life. 🙂

    Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and on the Internet, that goes double.

  • Business Relationships vs. Hostage Situations

    Posted on September 25th, 2009 Lee Devlin No comments
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    I’ve been working with computers for a very long time, dating back to the time when you needed to use punched cards to program them. After graduating with several engineering degrees from Penn State, I went on to design computer peripherals for a major computer firm for many years. Because of my computer experience, my friends, most of whom are not computer experts, often use me as their first line of defense when they have a computer problem. And these days, “business is a boomin’.”

    Part of the reason people have trouble with their PCs is because of the aggressive nature of companies trying to shove services down the throat of anyone who gets on the Internet. Not content to festoon what might otherwise be useful information with blinking banner ads, the new target of choice is the browser’s toolbar.

    Last night I was helping my auto mechanic friend with his computer because it had lost his user profile, and Windows would let him log in but wouldn’t remember any of his desktop icons or save any of his browser’s bookmarks. He needs his computer to do his job as a mechanic since GM has moved all of its documentation on-line and without a computer, you just can’t function as an auto mechanic anymore. I know that sounds unbelievable but it’s true.

    While I was adding a new user and copying his data over from his prior user’s settings, which seems to be the only way to fix a broken user profile on Windows, I noticed that his browser real estate had shrunk considerably since I first helped him to set up the computer. Why? It was because numerous toolbars had somehow managed to install themselves without my friend’s help. I suppose he may have helped a little but I can assure you it wasn’t intentional. I know this because his smile brightened more each time I managed to make one of them disappear. So in addition to fixing the main problem, namely the lost Windows profile, I also spent a lot of time cleaning up the computer.

    Not only did I remove the offending toolbars, but I also removed all the miscellaneous links HP had included in his browser before he even set up the computer. He was too afraid to delete these items for fear he might break something. I call this stuff ‘crapware’, because it usually induces a customer to try crippled versions of programs or services which seek to get him to sign up for a perpetual subscription to an unnecessary service. And I should mention that the computer crawled along at a snail’s pace because of its heavy-handed virus protection software which his employer requires him to use, at his expense, of course.

    I might have forgotten about this travesty and you’d not be reading it here, but then I got spammed by Sun today. I’ve been constructing an article in my head about Sun Microsystems which I will publish soon about how this once proud and capable company is now engaging in a desperate attempt to monetize the un-monetizable, namely Java, by using Java’s persistent need for updates as a trojan horse. I made sure to visit Sun’s CEO blog, written by the pony-tailed Jonathan Schwartz himself, just to make sure that was their plan. Sure enough, it was.

    In my haste to quiet that little Java coffee cup by saying ‘yes’ to the update, it installed Carbonite’s crapware on my PC. Now, I’m no fan of on-line backup services and had previously written a critical review of what I think of them. Part of my view is colored by an image that I will now convey to you. Hang on, because I think you’ll like it. In any event, I can guarantee you won’t forget it.

    A few years ago I witnessed a sales pitch for a service to provide on-line backup. I won’t mention the perpetrator, and you’ll never guess who it was because this idea was pitched by at least a million companies over the past few years and it’s one of those bad ideas that simply will not die. But during the presentation, the presenter took several opportunities to indoctrinate us, much like he was reciting a mantra, with this phrase:

    “When you hold the customer’s data, you hold the customer.”

    Along with this mantra, delivered with pregnant pauses both before and after, he used a hand gesture. Imagine holding an invisible tennis ball out in front of you at approximately waist level, palm pointed upward. The image is that of grasping and squeezing a person’s unmentionables. Wow! I think I knew where he was going with this. It wasn’t a business relationship he was proposing, it was a hostage situation.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I’d prefer not to get involved in that kind of thing.

    Yet it is precisely this kind of desperate business model that gets investors all worked up these days. No longer can you propose to provide a useful and valuable service for which people are willing to pay. Instead you must trick them into accepting something (often something offered for ‘free’) and then force them to become some sort of stooge, paying you perpetually for your right to continually abuse them.

    I can only hope that this nonsense fades into oblivion, because I don’t want to live in a world where every business relationship requires duplicity and, eventually, larceny.

    The next time someone is proposing to give you something that sounds like it’s for free, grab your wallet and anything else you’d like to hang on to and run in the opposite direction, because if you don’t, your valuables will soon be in the possession of someone who may not treat them with the same respect that you have for them.