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20. How to Spot Bogus Energy-Saving Products

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There is no shortage of allegedly “silver bullet” bolt-on solutions for saving energy.  How can you tell which ones could work?  Will they work for you?  Is there a far better solution?

In this issue of Intelligent Energy Insights our Associate Consultant Vilnis Vesma gives advice on spotting bogus energy-saving products and defeating their pushy salesmen.

Vi3450_vilnis2 - - beckylnis is a world-class trainer on energy management subjects, a monitoring and targeting expert, a Certified Energy Manager and Certified Measurement and Verification Professional.

He covers the following topics:

  • Too good to be true?
  • Bad science
  • Implausible savings claims
  • Extreme ease of installation
  • Dismissing convention
  • Indirect measurements
  • Secret ingredients
  • Patent as proof
  • Testimonials
  • Spurious logos
  • Academic research
  • Name-dropping
  • Pincer-movement selling
  • Defeating pushy salesmen

For an example of a class of products for which, in our experience, there is usually a far better solution see the following edition of Insights.

Are boiler controls a good idea?

Click here to see all Intelligent Energy Insight topics

John Treble, Managing Director

Too good to be true?

Some energy-saving products always work; fitting a properly sized high-efficiency electric motor, for example.  Some, like condensing boilers and voltage reduction, only work in the right circumstances.  Some will work only if properly commissioned and operated - automatic lighting controls are a case in point.  Some products, like those based on automatic control algorithms, may be perfectly good from some vendors, and in some situations, but not others.

Certain products, however, will never save energy under any circumstances because they are simply bogus.  I will not name any specific technologies here because I have found to my cost that the people behind some of them are aggressive and unprincipled bullies, but there are perhaps a dozen hallmarks to look out for.

However, apart from bad science, no single hallmark will definitively identify a bogus offering; and some – such as ease of installation, testimonials, and high percentage savings - could of course be perfectly genuine.  My advice is that if at least four of the following apply, there may well be a problem.

Bad science

Compliance with the laws of physics is the only certain test.  Many of us will find it difficult to be sure about this but sometimes advertisers give themselves away - my favourite being the assertion that a product “is definitely not a perpetual-motion machine”.

Implausible savings claims

Implausible percentage savings claims are tricky because some technologies genuinely can save 20% or more.  Savvier crooks now favour subtler claims - 6%, which sounds more plausible, is very fashionable.

Extreme ease of installation

Something that can easily be bolted on makes for an easier sale, and loses the vendor less money when the customer realizes it doesn’t work and asks for their money back.

Dismissing convention

Being dismissive of established test methods or expertise is an attempt to discredit any tests that would expose lies.  But however novel a product, if it works, it will have an effect that can be verified by standard test methods.

Indirect measurements

Analysis based on indirect measurements like reduced running hours is another tricky one because reduced running hours may be a valid test in some circumstances.  The issue is really the use of weird test methods, like measuring the time to bring a tank of water to the boil, when more direct conventional energy metering could have been used.

Secret ingredients

Secret ingredients or principles of operation are designed to prevent scientific challenge.  However, this can be used to your advantage, in that you can insist on independent safety and material-compatibility tests as a way of getting rid of pesky vendors.

Patent as proof

Reliance on being patented as proof of effectiveness: just check where the patents are registered.  In the UK you cannot patent something that breaks the laws of science.  Also a patent does not prove that something works - it merely discloses how to make the thing in question (which incidentally means it cannot contain secrets).

Testimonials

Beware of a heavy reliance on testimonials and especially customers putting a percentage figure on how much they saved.  Few if any of them will be qualified in measurement and verification, and most will have a vested interest in claiming that they did not waste their employers’ money.

Spurious logos

ISO certification, membership and other logos almost invariable convey nothing about the value of a specific product.  For example, ESTA does not provide a testing service so the use of its logo is only an indication of membership.  Also, savings will often be installation-specific, meaning that blanket certification means nothing.  There is at least one supposedly independent testing organization that has certified a magnetic fuel enhancer, somewhat to the detriment of its credibility.

Academic research

Dense academic research reports, often by “world-leading” professors in the field who, even if they really exist, seem surprisingly prone to basic scientific errors.

Name-dropping

Name-dropping - for instance evaluations using degree-day data “from Oxford University”, or a product “discovered by an ex-NASA scientist”.

Pincer-movement selling

You find yourself approached by a pushy salesman and simultaneously leant on by a board member who has been groomed on the golf course by the vendor.

Defeating pushy salesmen

How do you deter a pushy salesman? There are two things you might try.  One is a threat to refer them to the Advertising Standards Authority.  This was used successfully in 2012 to disrupt a company that was peddling a device without having the evidence to substantiate their claims for energy saving.  Just show the salesman the ASA’s ruling and ask if he would like his company given similar treatment.

Another, less confrontational, approach is to insist that any installation should be evaluated under the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP) and preferably under the supervision of a Certified Measurement and Verification Professional (CMVP) who should sign off the measurement and verification plan and check that the analysis and report conform to that plan.  Insist that the seller pays for the evaluation and you choose the independent verifier.

I am always open to enquiries and happy to give an opinion.  In fact I welcome being sent suspect sales literature and web links because bogus claims make very good training material.  In any case I see it as a bit of a mission to put spokes into fraudsters’ wheels.

A longer version of this article can be obtained by emailing Vilnis@VESMA.COM with BOGPROD-TGC in the subject line.

Your Independent RISK FREE Solutions

Before you consider any bolt-on solutions for saving energy, we can forensically investigate the energy efficiency of your systems or buildings to determine the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy consumption.  Often these involve no capital expenditure at all and are by far the most cost-effective solution.

We provide a range of services to suit all situations.  A Green Consultancy Investment Grade Energy Audit will identify and prioritise all cost-effective energy saving opportunities. To ensure that the energy consumption of your boilers and associated equipment is minimised we suggest a Boiler Health Check.  For an investigation of all equipment controlled by your BMS you might like to consider BMS Health Check or a BMS Audit.  We also offer an IPMVP Energy Savings Verification service for both individual systems and multiple interventions in whole buildings.

For more information click the above links or call John Treble on 01761 176300, or email John@GreenConsultancy.com

John Treble

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You need not take our word for it - their comments are on every page of this site.

Put us to the test NOW! To discuss your requirements please call John Treble on 01761 419081 or email

John@GreenConsultancy.com

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University of Oxford

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