All entries for Tuesday 17 September 2013

September 17, 2013

September 17th: Audits and Airwaves

I can hardly believe this is my third week of posts and my first music reference. Oh well.

Today changed gear completely. Got in at 9, spent an hour spreadsheeting as usual, before heading over to the housing department with t'other intern (t'intern? Not that he speaks like this) for our new set of tasks.

Spent the morning doing more data analysis to get a background overview of the buildings we would later audit, and research into all sorts of things. Found sustainable alternatives to tin foil ready meal trays for the elderly, looked at modern thermostats, and discovered Airwave technology which is pretty nifty. I almost said cool, that would have been a terrible pun.

Nest explain it well at http://nest.com/blog/2012/06/15/meet-airwave/, but in simple terms if you stop powering a cooling coil, it stays warm for a while and continues having an effect for a while. When you implement technology that takes account of this as it tries to reach your desired temperature, you can save 30% on energy spent cooling, and I'm guessing a similar thing happens for heating.

The Nest tech is inspiring in general, with its sensors that detect signs of life, and logic that works out how confident it is that you're not at home so it can stop heating/cooling...then predict when you'll be back and resume appropriately. It'll be coming to the UK soon, which is exciting.

The analysis we did was for two buildings under PCC control. They're identical in build (well, mirror images) and serve the same purpose, but one had 50% higher gas use, and the other 20% higher electricity. We also knew that one had LED lighting, among other bits of information. We visited them this afternoon for casual audits to try and figure out the discrepancies and only got more confused.

1. The building that had 50% higher gas use had its heaters off, mostly. Either magic gas fairies are involved or we'll likely find them all on if we visit again. The windows were all open, which might have had an effect.

2. We'd seen a decrease in electricity use in early 2012, and use at a constant level since then...but LED lighting was put in this year, so we haven't got a clue where the 2012 savings came from, or where the LED savings went!

On t'other hand, we did get talking to some residents of the homes on various topics, giving us lots of insight into their needs. The only rooms we found without LED lighting in the building that featured it were the lounge areas where residents were reading. Well, trying to read. They were quite vocal about the lighting that was still there (compact fluorescents) being inadequate, and wanted it upgraded to LED as well. I had assumed for some reason that the apparent "glare" of cool-temperature LED lighting would be disliked by older eyes, but they were all for it. They also seemed less reliant on heating than we thought (though still more than younger people), with the warmer house residents more than happy with the temperature, and the colder house residents also happy.

It really hammered home the fact that you need to talk to people and find out their needs. Assumptions are all well and good for estimates, but you can't beat talking to someone to find out what they want and how they'll use it!


September 16th: Motivation

So it seems like I'm terrible at writing blog posts on Fridays. Who'd have thought? Luckily I learnt exactly two things about the world of work, one per day, and can claim them to be as such! Both on motivation, however.

Friday was one of the longest-feeling days I've had so far. There's something about coming in and sitting in front of a spreadsheet for seven or eight hours that drains the mind.

Oddly, what kept me going was something I'd been slacking off on, the action-recording/accountability stuff. Originally I'd been writing down every time I moved on to the data of another site, with only five to ten minutes between notes. Over time these became less frequent as I forgot to write things down or just couldn't be bothered because I was losing motivation.

But keeping track of my time helped, in a manner of speaking. Writing down what I was doing every few minutes kept me on track, and kept a record of what I'd achieved. What didn't help, and what had put me off it, was accounting for when I wasn't doing things, or deliberately leaving out periods of time in which I'd felt unproductive.

About half-way through friday, I resolved to put down everything I did, the buzz came back, and I realised that even things I thought were unproductive were actually really useful in the long-run as bits of background research.

Also, I realised that when you've got twenty charts to look through and a bunch of background research to do, and it's been really hard to find out when a building is use or whether it was in use June of last year...it's ok to take more than ten minutes to analyse a site! Heck, it's ok to take more than half an hour. As long as you feel like your time has been spent well. The things that are difficult to find out tend to be the ones that are important, because nobody's managed to record them yet, and they've occasionally solved puzzles in the data that both me and my line manager have been stuck on.

Today was a lot more fun. A second, part-time intern returned, so I had company for the morning. We talked for about an hour and a half on our respective fields of study and why we were even here, then later on had a two-hour (supposedly one-hour) meeting to plan the rest of this week. (Spoilers: We'll be doing energy and lighting audits of sheltered accommodation to figure out how/if we can improve them. This could not really get more relevant to the project I want to do next year...)

All in all, about three and a half hours were taken up. And yet I feel like I got more of my spreadsheet done today than friday.

Turns out I forgot how motivational it is to have someone to talk to, or have a definite break from routine. Days of solid data analysis felt like they dragged from 3 o'clock onwards, but today I stormed straight past 5pm without signs of slowing. Maybe I need to take better stock of how I'm feeling, and when changing track will speed me up again.

Tomorrow we probably audit! Woo!


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