Thursday, August 21, 2008

Winter temperatures in the August heat

Sometimes in this great game of energy consumption and environmental impact, all you can do is plead for someone to just pay attention.

Unlike most of our posts here on the larger vision, new technologies, and policy frameworks, this one simply describes the last two days I spent in Chicago. In sum: It is August and I was freezing.

Not outside, mind you. A few years ago, I was in Chicago in August when it was cool enough for a light winter jacket. No, this time, I was indoors. Literally, everywhere was over-air-conditioned. And I asked around. I was by no means the only one freezing.

I was in the Hyatt Hotel O'Hare, a large meeting room at the Stephenson Convention Center at Rosemount, a charter bus to Wrigley Field (Yes, I believe this is the year Cubs fans will no longer have the curse to blame their poor showings on year to year), and the Field Museum. Everywhere, the AC system was doing refrigeration, not cooling.

I am used to being over-AC'ed in Houston. But that's a city that proudly proclaims to be the energy capital of the world, in production and consumption. But Chicago? This is the city that increasingly is referred to in the same breath as "green cities," "cities that work," cities making a collective effort to inculcate green building design into the urban psyche.

I suspect I know the reason, but it's really only an excuse. It was cooler than normal for August. Spaces are commonly over-air-conditioned in the summer under these conditions. Or, in the case of the Field Museum, it could have been a combination of the unseasonably moderate temperature and smaller number of crowds in the space.

My question is, why isn't anyone paying attention and doing something about it? It seems all it takes is for a facility manager to dial back the control system or change the settings if the control system is automated.

Chicago this week seemed like a city where gasoline costs $1.50 a gallon, they have a special deal on petroleum for the low, low price of $25/barrel, and electricity rates are still frozen at 1995 levels.

So, the next time you are talking up green building design, renewable energy mandates, demand side management, energy independence, and the horrors being inflicted on all of us by global oil companies, let's remember that we're not part of the solution until we start paying attention.

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