Project Tracking with Google Sites

I am not the most organized person in the world, so maintaining lots of nice, organized files is not really my thing.  I recently took a Cisco networking class and was exposed to a wonderful tool (at least in my opinion) called Google Sites.  I think this tool could be of use to the sorts of folks who may visit my site from time to time, so I wanted to present what I am up to.

Sites allows non-developers to create web pages quickly and easily.  It also permits uploads of files and documents, thereby offering cloud-based storage of helpful information…

…such as documentation pertaining to energy conservation projects, including project costs, savings, utility incentives (if applicable), project life and simple payback.  But of course, oodles of other uses are pretty obvious too.

I am going to show some screen grabs of this tool below, but let me first reference its utility.  A consultant friend of mine recently stopped by and was wondering about the effectiveness of some of my conservation initiatives.  Rather that search through files and spreadsheets and emails for various pieces of information about projects, we simply jumped on the web to examine critical information about projects in which he was interested.  It was a really great to have such a powerful, flexible and easy to use repository of information at my fingertips.

Here’s a grab of the opening screen.  Just click on the image below to increase it to readable size, and back arrow in your browser to get back.

Grab1

Looks pretty slick, no?

One clicks on the little arrows to the left of the categories on the left side of the screen to expand them.  Here you can see a list of recent projects I have worked on.  Again, if you click on the little image below it will show large enough to read.

Grab2

Clicking on one of the project titles then delivers you to a page where you can enter free form text and attach supporting documentation, including proposals, purchase orders, energy savings calculations, or whatever else might be relevant to your needs.  And yes, the typo is my fault…

Grab3

Here, for example, is a portion of a copy of a document regarding an energy conservation incentive from my friendly local utility company that I can access from the site:

Grab4

Navigating from one project to another is as simple as clicking on the desired project name.

The amazing thing about Sites is not just it’s capabilities and convenience.  It’s also its ease of use.  I learned how to use it, and had a web site up in running, in only a couple of hours.  And the production version I am now using only took a handful of hours to create, but has saved me hours of “tracking down” time that I no longer need to expend.

There are size limits to the web sites that Sites will let you create (100MB), but I am not aware of a limit to the number of individual sites you can create.  So one could, presumably, create a new site for each fiscal year, or for each facility being managed, or for whatever logical demarcation you might want to establish to manage the size limitation.

Anyway, I found this really handy and wanted to share.  To learn more about Sites, you can find it here:

http://learn.googleapps.com/sites

Thanks for stopping by, and have a Happy New Year!

So what’s wrong with Portfolio Manager (PM)?

As I mentioned in the prior post, the City of Boston is proposing that Boston facilities begin to report their energy use and carbon emissions via a tool created by the Feds called the Energy Star Portfolio Manager (PM).

PM is a web-based tool into which one enters utility consumption and cost data.  PM then performs a couple of calculations:

  1. By looking at your location, the program determines the likely carbon emissions associated with your energy use.  For example, there is far less coal-generated power on the East Coast than there is in the Midwest, so the CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour are corresponding lower thanks to our nuclear, gas-fired and hydro sources.
  2. By dividing your energy use by your square footage, the program determines an energy density.  By comparing the energy density of similar building types (e.g. office building) one can rank them.  And if one ranks high enough, one earns the “coveted” Energy Star rating.

First, some disclosure.  The full PM program may do waaaay more than mentioned above.  I am focusing on what I understand the City to be looking to do with it in this post.

Now, this is the starting point for all sorts of commentary, so bear with me as I jump about explaining the awfulness of this tool.

You will note, first of all, that PM is performing calculations that are so simple that one sort of questions why it’s even put up on the web.  Once I know the CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour (kWh)  and per thousand pounds of steam (MLb) in my area, why can’t I just multiply my use by said factors and divide by my square footage?

Similarly, the energy content per kWh and per MLb is well known, so PM is not needed for this, either.

Now, that might sound petulant.  If PM does the job, even if it’s simple, then what’s the problem, right? But the fact is that PM is very cumbersome and time consuming to work with, whereas doing the same calculations in a local spreadsheet (or even better, a database!) is quicker and allows for much more flexible reporting.  So there’s that.  There’s also the fact that, while you can force me to put information into PM, there is no way you could force me to use it to monitor energy performance.  So it’s simply wasted time and effort in a world that increasingly values efficiency and performance.

My second beef with PM is its lack of detail.  PM does not care about the peak demand of a building.  Nor does it care whether you use energy during “on peak” times or “off peak” times.  Why does this matter?  Well, as usual, a thought experiment can illuminate things quite readily.

Imagine two identically sized manufacturing facilities that consume the same amount of energy each year.  Well, according to what I describe above, they will grade out with identical Portfolio Manager scores.  However, it is quite possible that one facility has implemented energy savings strategies that have dropped the peak building demand, and that they are operating for more hours (and manufacturing more product) without using more total energy.

So wait a minute.

One manufacturer is creating more product while using the same amount of energy, but it’s Energy Star rating is identical to its less efficient neighbor?  How can that be?

Simple.  The program is too unsophisticated to detect operational efficiency.

Let me say that again:

The program is too unsophisticated to detect operational efficiency.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen.  The Ordinance proposed by the City of Boston will use a measuring tool that literally cannot discern the difference between an efficiently run facility and an inefficiently run facility.

This is the stuff that drives you crazy…

I should really play with PM a bit to truly stress test it.  If/when I do so, I will report back.

I may come back and add to my awfulness list.  Let’s see how time permits.

What’s going on here?

We’ll see if I have the energy to maintain this, but I would like this to be a spot to offer reflections on energy, entropy, energy conservation, new energy technologies, carbon emissions and energy/carbon policies.  Some of my views and thoughts are technical in nature, while others brush against politics and philosophy.  And I confess that some opinions may reduce to railing against some of the dumb things I see out there in the world.

I suppose this brushes up against the currently in-vogue “sustainability”, but I find energy to be much more direct and concrete, since sustainability can include things like worrying about renewable bamboo flooring and locally sourced products – things that interest me only tangentially.

Since it’s unlikely anyone will actually read this beside me, I suppose I can use this first post to provide an outline of some of the topics I hope to cover, in no particular order:

  • In praise of energy as a worldview and as a descriptive force.
  • What is energy, anyway?
  • What is entropy?
  • Do you have any idea how much energy you use, and what it physically means? =>>Ans: Probably Not.
  • Why counting on “Technology Breakthroughs” is probably not the prudent bet.
  • You cannot burn hydrocarbons without generating carbon dioxide.  Sorry.
  • Geo-Engineering and why we are probably fated to try it.
  • Describing energy and emissions in other terms (you’ll see what I mean.)
  • Calculating Savings.
  • Calculating Emissions.
  • The conceptual failure of certain energy policy developments.
  • Why is energy not in the curriculum?
  • Entropy and Life
  • Other stuff as it strikes my fancy.

We’ll use that as our starting point.