March 2007

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Tom HartmanEMAIL INTERVIEW  Tom Hartman & Ken Sinclair 

Contributing Editor Thomas Hartman, P.E. The Hartman Company

The Hartman Company was founded in 1972 as a high technology engineering firm, specializing in applying computer technology to commercial and industrial building control and energy management. Hartman has played an important role in pioneering the use of advanced computer based energy management control strategies. He continues to place a strong emphasis on the use of modeling for evaluating potential improvements, and has developed a number of in-house programs to model a variety of energy and financial improvement scenarios. Today THC is utilizing dynamic control concepts with networks, TRAV and advanced chiller plant design. 

The State of Sustainability

All of us need to ready ourselves to participate in projects wherein we can assure that sustainable principles are really applied so that energy use and resource depletion are truly reduced by orders of magnitudes.

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Sinclair:  In January, you completed a series of four articles in with The Electric Utility Industry - Missing the Boat on Conservation in which you called in question whether industry organizations can be relevant in the sustainable building movement. You called on individuals to become more personally active.  At the same time, you tell us you are optimistic about the future. What’s happening that makes you optimistic?

Hartman: I do think important change is beginning to take place. In my State of Texas, the largest utility announced its plan to build over a dozen new coal fired power plants. But that met sharp popular resistance and may have been behind a recent takeover bid that appears to have some alignment with conservationists. Meanwhile the City of Austin has resolved to make all its municipal operations carbon neutral by 2020. Since Austin operates its own municipal utility, this is an enormous commitment. I believe these trends are reflected throughout North America – an increasingly activist population that supports sustainable principles and wants to see them incorporated in our plans for the future. I and others have called on concerned individuals in all related industry segments to be bold and rise above the perceived limitations of their employers to be more forthcoming in supporting some of these new approaches and initiatives that may work more effectively toward a sustainable society. I am optimistic that such bold actions will become more prevalent and have a positive effect.

Sinclair:  That is one heck of a commitment by the City of Austin. Do they even know what they have committed themselves to?

Hartman: I think Austin’s initiative is a key. The Mayor says this city is motivated by its understanding of the unprecedented environmental risk facing society. The city is reflecting its community by becoming committed to making the changes and doing something about this risk. You and I know that what the City of Austin has committed itself to is possible, but we also know it will require unprecedented changes in the way business is done internally and also by those industries, such as ours, that serve it. All of us need to ready ourselves to participate in projects wherein we can assure that sustainable principles are really applied so that energy use and resource depletion are truly reduced by orders of magnitudes.

Sinclair:  I know there are initiatives similar to Austin’s being discussed and perhaps implemented elsewhere, and I understand that you see these as an opportunity for us to successfully apply sustainable principles, but I may be somewhat more reluctant to predict these initiatives will be entirely successful. There is a chance they may even result in disillusionment. What are the biggest impediments to the necessary changes  you see to ensure these initiatives are successful?

Hartman: There are several major impediments. Put together, they boil down to this:  Sustainable design and operation of our building stock is not presently compatible with the current value equation of this industry. Utilities make their money by selling more energy, manufacturers by selling bigger and more expensive equipment, contractors and designers are paid by markups or percentages of that equipment. Doing more with less simply means less money for everyone in our industry according to the value equation now in use.

Sinclair:  That’s quite an impediment. How can you be so optimistic that it can be overcome?

Hartman: I think there is a growing realization that this current value equation must be replaced. Those that are successful in serving the needs for municipalities like Austin will be those that find a way to do it and develop the new model for others to follow. Communities like Austin that are served by municipal utilities can themselves change that the utility value equation. At this point utilities need to see conservation as a resource and construct “conservation power plants” to fuel their projected load growth.  When forward thinking municipalities sit down with designers for their building and infrastructure needs, they have to be certain that the value equation employed in those contracts rewards the designers and other members of the project team for meeting the project needs, not for the amount or expense of equipment purchased or installed. This means project teams need to take responsibility for the actual performance of their designs. These are concepts that have been much discussed and a variety of solutions are well known. Now it is time to see they are implemented.

contemporary Sinclair:  That’s quite a change in the way we do business. How can you be so optimistic that it can happen quickly?

Hartman: It already is happening. There are a number of unconventional design and contracting firms that have been offering equipment and services based on new value equations. Project teams are beginning to realize that by contracting to guarantee particular project goals rather than install a certain schedule of equipment can provide much greater flexibility and the opportunity for greater profitability along with more positive project outcomes. Some in the public policy and regulation spheres are beginning to see that using conservation as an energy resource can replace the need for building any new power plants in the short term and leads to the lowest cost – as well as the most environmentally sound – path toward fueling economic growth in the short term. They understand that utilities need to be provided with an entirely new set of public policy goals to bring them into the 21st century. Individuals working with these and other entities are beginning to understand that their organizations need to change dramatically to maintain relevance, and the management of those organizations is increasingly interested in hearing what those employees have to say because it is that knowledge and experience we as individuals have that is essential to guiding our organizations to a new value equation that works.

Sinclair:  We certainly do see some of the changes you describe, but there seems to be an enormous challenge in bringing it to the mainstream.

Hartman: No doubt about it. What is interesting about change is that the prelude is often more difficult than the change itself. That’s because the prelude is all about reaching a consensus that the change is necessary and what form(s) of change will be the best. I think we may be nearing the end of that prelude and near reaching the necessary consensus on change in this industry. Once we get there, the rest will be easier than we now think.


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