Saving Energy

25 Ways To Roll Your Own Blackout

Most readers probably recall hearing about the rolling blackouts that took place about 10 years ago during the California Electricity Crisis, also known as the Phony Energy Crisis of 2001.  As it turned out, that particular power shortage was not only due to mass amounts of air conditioners; it was also cause by market manipulations and illegal shutdowns of pipelines by Texas energy consortiums like Enron

Power Grid

But, did you also know that Texas experienced its own rolling blackouts as recently as February 2011?  Record low temperatures caused many of the generators to shut down automatically, coupled with an increased demand for electric heat, drove the electrical demand to exceed the supply.  Even more recently in Japan, authorities have been forced to institute rolling blackouts, because of the damage to power plants as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis. The country could see a 10 to 30 percent energy deficit starting in June, as temperatures rise and people start to use air conditioning.

What is most unnerving about rolling blackouts is there is no warning.  It’s commonly accepted that if there was a warning, there could be looting.  At best, you may lose an important email; at worse, you may find yourself stuck on an elevator for an hour, when you really have to use the restroom.  (Please, feel free to add your own rolling blackout story in the Comments section below.)

So where am I going with this?  Well, considering PG&E’s recent track record, and the money they blew on Prop 16, I would not be the least bit surprised if California experiences some sort of “energy crisis” again this summer.   Instead of waiting for the lights to dim, I have instituted a personal No Power Hour every weekday, usually between 4pm and 5pm.  For at least 5 hours a week, ~250 hours a year, I am going to work (or do something productive) without power.

Why 4pm?  Well, it’s a number of reasons.  First, it’s usually when the sun comes beating through my window and I’m struggling to see my computer screen.  Second, its during the peak hours, when the load on the electrical grid is at its daily maximum.  Third, I can usually queue up an hours-worth of caveman tasks by that time of the day.

I will freely admit, its not a true blackout: I’m not unplugging my refrigerator, or turning off my cell phone.  There are no rules to this game, its more of a conscious effort, a personal commitment to do my best to NOT use any electrical power; to lighten the load already on the grid, or at least not add to that load.  I also try not to use any battery power, but if you charge your tablet overnight and unplug it during the daytime, you are still lightening the peak load. Sometimes, I get down with other people’s power (O.P.P), if they are already using it, for example, the lights inside of a grocery store,  or going to the movies. 

I challenge you to host your own No Power Hour.  Here are some examples of how you might spend an hour working, working out, or not doing any work at all, without using any electricity:

  1. Read a newspaper or trade magazine.  The next day, write a letter to the editor, long hand.
  2. Open and read your mail. Clip some coupons, pay some bills, and recycle the junk mail.  Yes, junk mail can almost always be recycled, check your local codes.
  3. Meet a coworker or potential client in a park or botanical garden, and talk while strolling.
  4. Dust and/or clean your desk, doors, light switches, and printer.  Clean out your junk drawer.
  5. Go to a local farmer’s market.  Wash and prep veggies to munch on during the next week.
  6. Read a work-related book.  Or a really long book, or set of books that you have been meaning to read, like the Bible, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter. Or, dare I say it…Twilight.
  7. Don’t like my books?  Then write your own book , or poem, or letter, longhand.
  8. Start your holiday cards now.  Stamp them later.  No one will know.  Send me one.  I’ll get you back.
  9. Take a nap.  Tell everyone that you are conserving energy by sleeping during peak hours. 
  10. Go fishing.  Enough said.
  11. Run, or workout.  Sure, you may already have a workout routine, but is it during peak hours?  Are you using a treadmill, a TV, or lights that you don’t really need to use?
  12. Take a hike, or walk, or just meditate.
  13. Start a miniature garden, or volunteer to help with a community garden once a week.
  14. Go kayaking, skiing, or mountain biking.  Remember, if you are off the grid, its fair game.
  15. Do some yoga or tai chi.  If you like hot yoga, try using layers to warm up, or a fireplace.
  16. Go rollerblading.  Bring a fanny pack.
  17. Have a weekly No Power Craft Hour with your kids.  Or with adults.  Naughty crafts?
  18. Play a board game with your coworkers; its great for team building
  19. Learn to play guitar: you know you have always wanted to learn since you first heard Bryan Adam’s Summer of 69!  Or was it Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero?
  20. Paint.  A still life, landscape, or maybe just an accent wall.
  21. Have sex, unplugged.  No radio.  What did you think I meant?
  22. Fold your laundry. Rake the leaves.  Sweep the floor.  Shovel the driveway.
  23. Solve a puzzle, or play Sudoku, or Mad Libs.
  24. Go to church, synagogue, mosque, or other house or worship.  Visit a graveyard.
  25. Go shopping, without driving.  Biking or bus is okay.

The last suggestion is arguable of course.  The more shoppers, the more HVAC needed, AND the more registers that need to stay open.  But if you do need to get milk, its best to do it during peak hours because you are not plugged in somewhere else!

Rolling Blackout alertSome of you may already be biking to work, or commuting using public transportation like a bus or ferry.  If that’s case, your commute is a personal blackout of sorts.  But, I still challenge you to try to have your own “no power hour” in addition to your daily commute, either at work, or at home, or both.  If you can’t do it every day, try once a week.  Ask your employees if they would be willing to come in an hour earlier on Fridays, if it meant that they also get to leave an hour early too.  Have them unplug everything before they leave for the weekend, except critical servers and emergency lighting.

Last but not least, I encourage you to monitor the savings on your power bill, and let me know if you notice a difference.  If we all just stop using peak electricity for one hour every day, or even once a week, we can collectively save a lot of energy.  We may even save money (no promises there), and hopefully avoid we can all avoid the inconvenience of rolling blackouts.  Wouldn’t you prefer to roll your own?


Technology and Green Buildings

What does LEED® stand for?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED®, is a rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The LEED® green building certification program is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings.  In the simplest terms, LEED  = green buildings. The certification system is credit-based, which gave rise to the term LEED Scorecard.  LEED points are available for every phase of the project: site selection, design, construction, ordering bulk materials, job site conditions, commissioning, the use of renewable, recycled, and/or durable goods, as well as the overall life-cycle of the building.

AV FSR Floorbox installed into reclaimed wooden flooring with laptop input, microphone jacks, power outlets, and data connections
FSR FL-500P AV floor box with laptop and microphone inputs in reclaimed wooden flooring

One helpful mantra to memorize about the LEED® process is: buildings are certified, people are accredited.  For a given building to obtain LEED Certified, LEED Silver, LEED Gold, or LEED Platinum status, the Integrated Project Delivery team needs to have at least one LEED Accredited Professional (also known as a LEED AP) on the team, from the start of the sustainable design, through the commissioning of the project.  A larger project team may have multiple LEED Accredited Professionals and LEED Green Associates designing the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, acoustics, lighting, landscape, data, and audiovisual systems.

Wait a second, did I just say LEED® and AV in the same sentence? 

Infocomm’s Sustainable Technology for Environments Program (STEP) is sort of like LEED for AV. STEP itself is still rather green, but as it grows from a sprout to a tree, AV manufacturers will have a place where their green products, shipping practices and facilities can showcased. AV consultants (like PK) and systems integrators can collaborate to share responsibility in the planning, design, integration and programming of systems, to minimize energy consumption while still promoting AV quality. Most importantly, clients can measure the ROI of their sustainable AV investments.

Here are some examples of how integrated audio and video systems can contribute to your next green building project:

1. Energy Star Compliant Audiovisual Devices – By specifying Energy Star compliant audiovisual devices early in the design process, the architects, engineers, and contractors can provide the proper space, backing, and electrical infrastructure needed for the flat-panel LED displays, AV equipment racks, etc.   The AV systems generally support the Energy Star credit as part of a larger Energy Star calculation, which also includes all computers, copiers, refrigerators, washing machines, fax machines, etc.   If a certain device required for the project does not have an ‘Energy Star equivalent’, then that device is exempt from the baseline calculations, but should still be properly documented as n/a (not applicable).  For example, there is no such thing as an Energy Star-compliant HDMI cable, or and Energy Star-compliant motorized projection screen, because they only draw power for about 30 seconds each time the screen is raised or lowered.  However, some projections screens are GreenGuard certified, which is important for LEED For Schools and CHPS projects.

2. Day-lighting, Shades, and Dimmable Lighting Control – Inexpensive projectors and warehouse-store televisions may not be bright enough to overcome the ambient light in many new green buildings, so it’s very important to plan your AV enabled meeting spaces properly, including proper AV equipment, manual or motorized shades, solar window films, and dimmable lighting fixtures.  Most MEP engineers know these systems can be controlled automatic using occupancy and light level sensors. But did you know you can also control them all using a Droid or an iPad?

3.Recycled Content –There are number AV products on the market that are somewhat made of recycled materials, including projector housings, acoustic panels, and loudspeakers.  Swapping out 2 speakers on your next hang-and-bang may not earn you the LEED credit. But, the AV design could make a HUGE difference in an expo hall, airport, casino, or mall project, where a large majority of the AV system is ceiling mounted speakers made from 50% recycled content.

4.Possible Innovative Design Credits – I’ve heard of a couple AV folks trying to get LEED innovative design (ID) credits for audiovisual systems: one involved videoconferencing as an alternative to travel, the other was using digital signage (LED/LCD flat panel monitors) as part of a larger educational aspect, where the building would be used as a teaching tool.  The flat panels might display the building’s energy and water consumption versus a typical non-LEED building of the same size (baseline).  This sort of interactive education can directly influence the building’s users and visitors, and help develop sustainable habits, measurably improving the building performance over time.  Once I hear a verdict on the credits, I will follow up on this blog post.

In summary, the best strategy to obtaining a LEED certification is to use Integrated Project Delivery (or IPD), including at least one LEED Accredited Professional in a Principal position.  This integrative approach emphasizes communication and teamwork between the architect, building owner(s), operators, engineers, and contractors.  The term “integrated design” is usually applied to new construction, but this integrative process can also be adopted for tenant improvements, land-use, or any phase in the life-cycle of a project.

For more information on Green Buildings, Integrated Project Delivery, LEED® Certification, and Professional Accreditation, please email Paul Konikowski at at, or visit these websites:

U.S. Green Building Council
Green Building Certification Institute
Collaborative for High Performance Schools
Sustainable Technology for Environments Program (STEP)

Continuing Education Renewal Credits

What’s in it for me? or RU sure?

Earlier this month, I attended the Almo ProAV E4 event in South San Francisco, a mix of free food, continuing education classes, a raffle, and a showcase of Almo’s manufacturers in a miniature trade show environment.  It was a good crowd, balanced between local AV integrators, design consultants, regional sales managers, and national experts of the AV industry including Gary Kayye of rAVe publications.

Infocomm CTS-D Certified Technology Specialist logoIn addition to the new gear and obvious networking potential, I also attended E4 largely because of the free CTS-D renewal units (or RUs) available for attending the 1-2 hour classes.  I wasn’t the only one; a few of my Bay-area CTS and CTS-D-toting friends also mentioned how much they appreciated the free Infocomm renewal credits.  (I’ve said it before: Don’t you just love free?)

For readers outside of The Land of AV: Infocomm Intenational® is a nonprofit association serving the professional AV communications industry, since 1939 A.D. (or 1 A.V.) I like to think of Infocomm as the clergy of the AV industry, teaching us the Best Practices (The Golden Rules) of AV design and integration.  If 25% or more of your company’s sales and technical staff is certified as an Infocomm CTS, CTS-I, or CTS-D, your company can also call themselves an Infocomm Audio Visual Solutions Provider, or AVSP.  To maintain your individual Infocomm CTS certification, you must obtain 30 RUs every 3 years, and pay them some money of course.  (Hey we all gotta eat, right?  Even clergy.)

C Is For Continuing EducationAlso starring The Letter C, the other major AV industry association is CEDIA.  A CEDIA Membership is a company membership, and employees of those companies are considered Members.  Their renewal credits are called Continuing Education Units or CEUs.   Both Infocomm and CEDIA host trade shows every year, showcasing new audio, video, touchpanels, and other audiovisual products.  The main difference between Infocomm and CEDIA is this: CEDIA is mostly centered around the home theater and consumer integration market, whereas Infocomm is largely focused on commercial integration and unified communication.   There is plenty of overlap between the two markets, and there are other audio, video, and broadcast associations out there too.

AV geeks are not the only geeks that need these renewal units to renew their licenses.  Architects and need AIA and CES renewal credits, as do Professional Engineers (the requirements vary state to state).  This past week, I was invited to co-host a lunch and learn presentation at the City and County of San Francisco’s Bureau of Architecture office.  About half of the 25 attendees signed up for the AIA/CES renewal credits; I guess the other half were there for the free lunch.  Hopefully, they all learned something.

Hopefully, you did too.

What types of continuing educations credits are you required to obtain?  Does your company offer formal classes, or lunch and learns, that include AIA, CTS, CEU, or other renewal units?  Please comment below, or email the author Paul Konikowski at at