WAPA phases out Equipment Loan Program

Based on a recent evaluation by WAPA’s Assessment Team, Energy Services is sunsetting its popular Equipment Loan Program. The Assessment Team, which was established in 2017, has been studying WAPA programs and initiatives to ensure that they support WAPA’s mission and bring value to the customer. The evaluation concluded that the program had successfully accomplished its original objective of giving power customers the opportunity to test out expensive diagnostic tools that might help them with planning, operations and maintenance.

Diagnostic tools like the Sense Home Energy 3300 power monitor have become less expensive, more accurate and easier to handle than the monitors of even 10 years ago.

WAPA launched the Equipment Loan Program more than 30 years ago when diagnostic tools were often large, cumbersome and expensive. The price of an infrared camera, for example, used to run to several thousand dollars for a basic model. Now you can pick up a pocket-sized camera at Home Depot for a little more than $200. There are even apps you can download to take IR pictures with your cellphone. Likewise, anemometers and weather stations have come down in price so that entities on a tight budget—schools, small municipal utilities—can afford to purchase their own.

Keeping pace with the latest technology has also become a problem for the Equipment Loan Program. The technology behind the tools used to change more slowly, so the program could provide customers with state-of-the-art equipment, or close to it. Today, a new and genuinely improved model seems to come out every couple of years. Even with more affordable prices, updating the tool library becomes an expensive proposition. At the same time, customers often can buy the latest version of a particular tool without denting their own budgets.

These changes in the marketplace have led to a sharp drop in the number of customers using the Equipment Loan Program. At the same time, many of the tools have become outdated. Were the program to continue, bringing the library up to date would be costly. The decision to end the program saves about $177,000 annually—funds that can be directed toward efforts that offer customers greater value.

All of the existing loan requests have been filled and we are in the process of retrieving the equipment so it can be disposed of as federal law requires.

Going forward, WAPA customers will have to make other arrangements for their equipment needs. However, most of the diagnostic tools in the Equipment Loan Program library are readily available from local vendors for rental or purchase. Also, you can contact your regional Energy Services representative for suggestions on where to find tools.

Your support of the Equipment Loan Program over the years has made it a highlight of Energy Services. It has allowed us to meet our customers, learn about your unique operations and find solutions that improve safety, efficiency and occasionally your bottom line. As hard as it is to say goodbye to the Equipment Loan Program, we consider it a success to retire a program that has served its purpose and met your needs.

Changes come to Energy Services

WAPA has always been committed to helping customers deal with both the routine and unexpected challenges of powering the West, and that assistance has taken many forms over the past 40 years. Technical assistance, in the form of workshops, customer meetings, one-on-one troubleshooting and a wide variety of traditional and electronic publications, has been one way of supporting customers’ business and operational goals. Lately, WAPA has been looking at the programs and initiatives we offer to determine which bring the most value to customers and which have served their purpose.

Technology has changed rapidly over just the past decade, and it has reshaped the electricity industry and the way we communicate. Where Energy Services’ website and publications used to be a go-to, one-stop clearinghouse for energy planners and managers at WAPA utilities, it now competes with thousands of other high-quality information sources online. Many of the diagnostic tools customers used to borrow from the Equipment Loan Program have come down in cost to be within reach of even small utilities, and the number of customers checking tools out has dwindled accordingly. To support WAPA customers in this new environment, Energy Services must evolve, too.

Customers will continue to receive support from WAPA for their resource planning activities as they have for more than 20 years. Regional Energy Services representatives will still be available to answer questions about integrated resource planning or to suggest tools and programs that can help utilities reach their load management goals.

The communications component of the Energy Services program is being integrated with WAPA’s Public Affairs office to present a more cohesive message about the mission and value of the organization. The Energy Services Bulletin will publish its final issue Nov. 1. Over the next several weeks, subscribers will receive an invitation to transfer their subscription to Customer Circuit. Along with features about WAPA customers, this publication is filled with news about the organization that touches every part of utility operations: transmission, markets, budget and finance, environment, legislation and more.

At WAPA, customers are partners. Programs like Energy Services give us the opportunity to learn more about their operations so we can continue to build that relationship. Energy Services will continue to seek customer input on the direction of the program and on what services you value most. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.

Equipment Loan Program adds new tools

Thanks to your suggestions, WAPA customers can now borrow two new diagnostic tools from our Equipment Loan Program. The electromagnetic field (EMF) monitor and the Sense Home Energy monitor are easy-to-use meters that provide useful information for both you and your customers.

Electromagnetic field monitor

The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health does not consider low-frequency EMFs to be a proven health hazard, but your customers may have concerns about nearby power lines or appliances in their home. You can use the EMF monitor to answer their questions. This device allows you to measure when, for how long and how frequently an appliance or system is emitting EMFs.  No special training is needed to use the point-and-shoot tool and it does not store readings to be downloaded.

Sense Home Energy monitor

The Sense Home Energy monitor measures the energy consumption of individual appliances and light fixtures. It connects wirelessly to the user’s cell phone to provide data that can help consumers understand their home energy use and take more effective actions to reduce it. The information is stored on the connected cell phone.

As a WAPA customer, you can borrow new monitors and a whole library of other useful tools free of charge. Utilities must pay the cost of return shipping. To schedule an equipment loan, contact Chris Lyles at 720-962-7249. And don’t forget to share your story with Energy Services Bulletin about how the borrowed tool helped your utility.

Equipment Loan Program changes with the times

Chris Lyles, who took over as the new manager of WAPA’s Equipment Loan Program in August, is making some updates to the popular program that reflect the changing needs of our customers, as well as advances in technology.

The Equipment Loan Program stocks infrared cameras, power meters and other diagnostic tools for WAPA customers to borrow free of charge.
The Equipment Loan Program stocks infrared cameras, power meters and other diagnostic tools for WAPA customers to borrow free of charge.

Planning the future
The increasing availability of easy-to-use diagnostic tools is prompting Lyles to look at new ways the Equipment Loan Program can support WAPA customers. “It’s possible now to walk into Home Depot and pick up a pocket-sized infrared (IR) camera for a few hundred dollars that will serve the purpose for a home energy audit,” he observed. “So we are asking ourselves what other needs our customers have that the program can meet.”

One answer is to stock more sophisticated versions of consumer-level tools for linemen and electricians to use for industrial audits and transmission and distribution system maintenance. The boroscope, for example, allows the user to take thermal images in tight spaces where just pointing and shooting with an IR camera might fail to pinpoint the problem. Utility field crews can use the LineTracker power monitor to diagnose fast-moving and minute malfunctions in overhead lines.

Providing instruction on the proper use of borrowed equipment is another one of Lyles’s goals. Currently, customers can find general equipment training resources on the Energy Services website, but Lyles has something more specific in mind. WAPA plans to produce videos that explain how to use the equipment, and post them on WAPA’s YouTube channel. The URLs will be sent to customers in place of physical manuals when they borrow a tool, providing a quicker, easier start when using the equipment. Perhaps most importantly, the customized videos will give customers a more personal connection to Energy Services and WAPA.

Help shape the program
The Equipment Loan Program and Energy Services have always provided WAPA customers with a direct line to technical assistance and support for their maintenance, load management and planning needs. Those needs have evolved—a slow-sounding word for the rapid-fire change occurring in our industry—and we want to make sure our services keep pace. Your input, suggestions and feedback are crucial to the direction the program takes.

Tell us what kinds of tools you would like to see added to our library. “Our equipment inventory should reflect that we understand the changes going on in the industry and that we know how to help our customers deal with them,” Lyles explained.

If you know of an online resource that gave you a better understanding of a borrowed tool, share that with Energy Services. The same goes for that clever solution you discovered while using it. The Equipment Loan Program is your program and we are eager to hear how we can better serve you.

Meet Chris Lyles, new Equipment Loan manager

It is with a heavy heart that Energy Services must bid Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann farewell as he moves into a well-deserved retirement. Hoffmann was a tireless champion of our Equipment Loan Program and we will miss his customer service skills, “interesting” theories on how the world works and his tasty vegan recipes (ok, maybe only the Energy Services Bulletin editor will miss the food). The silver lining in this loss is that we gain Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager.

Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager, wants to hear your suggestion for tools to add to the Equipment Loan Program.
Chris Lyles, the new Equipment Loan manager, wants to hear your suggestion for tools to add to the Equipment Loan Program.

Learning new business
When Lyles joined WAPA’s Desert Southwest office in 2008, it was the Energy Department veteran’s first utility industry job. He had been working on environmental cleanup on Super Fund sites but wanted a more people-oriented position. “There seemed to be a lot of job opportunities in the field and I liked the idea of working in a stable industry that provided society with an important product,” Lyles recalled.

Working as project manager in charge of transmission line and substation construction gave Lyles plenty of chance to work with people. He had to help facilitate the selection of capital projects that would best meet the needs of WAPA and its customers’ transmission needs. And since such projects affect customers’ rates, he had to explain the need for them to the customers, too. “When people who have been in the business for 40 years are asking you questions about a transmission project, you had better understand the details and have answers for them,” noted Lyles. “It was a real learning experience.”

Fortunately, Lyles is a quick study and has exceptional listening skills, which came in handy when he visited customers in the field. “That is where they really open up and share their concerns about WAPA and about the industry in general,” he said. “Those meetings really helped me to identify projects that could make a positive difference for our customers.”

Growing on job
WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel was another person who found those one-on-one meetings valuable. When he visited the DSW region, Gabriel often accompanied Lyles on his visits to small utilities. While the administrator was learning more about the specific needs of the region, he was also discovering an employee with exceptional customer service skills. When there was an opening at WAPA headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado, for an acting chief of staff, Lyles was selected to fill it.

Filling the temporary position gave Lyles the chance to work with WAPA senior management and learn more about WAPA’s broader mission. One thing that impressed him was how diverse our customer base is. “Each region has different needs and each customer is facing different challenges,” he said.

Finding new ways to help
Lyles also came to appreciate the need to maintain our aging grid infrastructure, an area where he sees potential for the Equipment Loan Program to grow. “We have equipment that can be particularly useful for finding problems on distribution systems,” he pointed out. “One of my goals is to make sure our customers know all the different uses for our tools.”

The distribution system is being used differently now than it ever was before, Lyles added, and Energy Services and the Equipment Loan Program can help customers manage those changes. “For example, distributed generation causes back-feed into the system that can potentially lead to power quality issues,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from customers who see a blip on their system, and need help to track down the issue.”

Lyles is looking forward to learning what is important to customers, and one way to do it is to put equipment into the hands of customers who have not borrowed from the program before. “I would like them to get a chance to play with our tools and discover new uses for them,” he said.

That will also help with another goal Lyles has for the program: modernizing the fleet of equipment. “Our equipment inventory should reflect that WAPA understands the changes going on in the industry and that we know how to help our customers deal with them,” he explained.

To that end, Lyles is eager to hear suggestions from customers about tools that could be added to the program. Contact him at 720-962-7249 with your ideas.

IR camera borrowed for classroom, saves energy for university

Western State Colorado University is located in Gunnison, frequently one of the coldest areas in the 48 states.
Western State Colorado University is located in Gunnison, frequently one of the coldest areas in the 48 states. (Photo by Western State Colorado University)

Anyone who picks up an infrared (IR) camera quickly becomes aware of the possibilities of being able to “see” the temperature of objects. Some WAPA customers find that once they borrow a camera from our Equipment Loan Program, coworkers from other departments suddenly appear with ideas for their own projects, as happened at Western State Colorado University You are leaving WAPA.gov. (WSCU).

John Mason, an associate professor of physics in WSCU’s department of Natural and Environmental Sciences, recently borrowed an IR camera primarily for class demonstrations. He heard about it through a colleague who attended an energy fair in Gunnison, Colorado, where then-Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffman had a display table for WAPA.

Showing, not telling
“The camera is great for making abstract concepts concrete to students,” Mason noted. “Take thermally induced electromagnet radiation, for example. Instead of trying to explain it to students, I can focus the camera on a black plastic trash bag, and it shows right through it. Then, I point it at a piece of glass and they can’t see what is on the other side. The students perk right up when I bring out the IR camera,” he added.

Other teachers found uses for the camera, too, but it was in the hands of the WCSU facilities manager that the loan really paid off for the school. “It didn’t take long for word to get to facilities that we had an IR camera, and Bryce [Hanna] showed up asking to borrow it,” Mason recalled.

Gunnison, always one of the coldest spots in the Colorado Rockies, was experiencing a particularly cold winter during the period of the camera loan. Facilities Manager Hanna saw the opportunity to show the administration why Hurst Hall, a building of classrooms, labs and offices, needed a thermal envelope upgrade. The department performed an IR inspection of the building and shared the picture with the insulating contractors to get their input on what measures needed to be taken. “Then we showed the thermal images to the WSCU Sustainable Action Committee to get their approval to fund the project,” he said. “The committee is the ultimate decision maker in terms of how—and whether—sustainability funds get spent.”

Finding, fixing
Hurst Hall’s frigid upper floor and frozen water pipes were plenty of proof that the building had a leaky envelope. But the IR camera helped to pinpoint the areas that needed repairs and make the case for investing in the improvements. “The problems are not always where you expect them to be,” Hanna pointed out.

Hurst Hall; containing offices, classrooms and labs; was very much in need of an envelope upgrade.
Hurst Hall; containing offices, classrooms and labs; was very much in need of an envelope upgrade. (Photo by Western State Colorado University)
The light areas of the thermal image show where Hurst Hall is losing heat to air leaks and inadequate insulation.
The light areas of the thermal image show where Hurst Hall is losing heat to air leaks and inadequate insulation. (Photo by WSCU Facilities Management)

The camera uncovered a bad case of “gaposis” just below the roof where the exterior wall and insulation didn’t quite meet the insulated roof. The opening allowed heat to escape while an uninsulated steel tube vented cold air into the building. Adding spray foam insulation to the gap raised the temperature by almost 40 degrees in some places. “Filling the big holes also helped us to locate the smaller leaks, which are just as important to sealing the building envelope,” noted Hanna.

The results from the project are still coming in, as the heating system controls must be fine-tuned to adjust to the tightened thermal envelope. However, a normalized comparison of 2015 gas bills to 2016 indicated that the building used 20 percent less gas during the coldest month. Hanna explained that because of the low cost of natural gas, the return on investment for the upgrade is practically nonexistent. “We did it because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Not to mention, the building occupants are a lot more comfortable.”

Which water pump would you rather touch? Thermal image showing pump on right clearly overheating.
Which water pump would you rather touch? This thermal image clearly shows the pump on the right overheating. (Photo by WSCU Facilities Management)
The lighter the window, the greater the heat loss. Windows on the bottom floor are new. The dark mound below the windows is snow.
The lighter the window, the greater the heat loss. Windows on the bottom floor are new. The dark mound below the windows is snow. (Photo by WSCU Facilities Management)

Safe, efficient maintenance
As impressive as big upgrade projects are, keeping equipment and systems in good working order is even more important over the long term. While Hanna had the camera, he used it to detect and correct mechanical and electric issues. “If you are having a problem with a hard-to-reach piece of equipment like an inline water pump, you can see what is happening right away on a thermal imager,” he explained. “If you are dealing with an electrical short, you don’t want to be handling it without knowing if it is live or not.”

Instead of wasting a thousand words on the importance of efficient windows, Hanna simply compared a picture of recently installed windows to old windows. “We could see an immediate difference between the two,” he declared. “The old windows appeared as bright in the picture, indicating high heat loss. The new windows were much darker, showing that less heat was escaping them. In some spots the new windows were even out-performing the stucco wall around them.”

Many lessons to learn
This story offers more than one take-away besides the obvious, “Infrared cameras are awesome!” You might conclude that customer outreach can pay off in unexpected ways, or that facility managers can be a utility’s greatest ally. You may decide that customer service representatives and key account managers need to take an IR camera along when they visit customers.

The Equipment Loan Program can help with that last one. Contact Chris Lyles, 720-962-7249, to reserve a camera for your next customer meeting or public event. And don’t forget to tell us your story afterward.

Equipment Loan champion retires

Western is pleased to recognize Darrel Iverson of the University of North Dakota You are leaving Western's site. as a pioneer in the use of infrared, or IR, thermography in the early detection and prevention of electric power system problems.

University of North Dakota Electrician Darrel Iverson shows off the Competitive Edge award he received from Western's Energy Services in 2003. Iverson is retiring in January.
University of North Dakota Electrician Darrel Iverson shows off the Competitive Edge award he received from Western’s Energy Services in 2003. Iverson is retiring in January.

First in line
Iverson, who retires in January as an electrician with UND Facilities Management, began using the IR cameras at the university nearly three decades ago to improve the reliability of its power distribution system. Customer Service Representative Jim Bach of Western’s Upper Great Plains regional office first introduced Iverson to the Equipment Loan Program in 1986. “The first time we saw an IR camera, we weren’t sure what to do with it,” recalled Iverson. “Then Western held a training class in Sioux City, Iowa.”

The facilities electrician quickly recognized the technology’s potential and became a member of the “First Dozen” club—customers who were among the first to borrow from the Equipment Loan Program. “As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to an electrical system, the IR camera is a godsend,” Iverson declared. “If you are not doing IR inspections, you are not taking care of your system.”

Problem solver
Iverson continued to keep up with the changing technology, from early cameras that filled two large suitcase-sized shipping boxes with necessary accessories to today’s thumb-sized cameras that attach to smart phones.

Throughout the years, each time Iverson borrowed a cameras from Western, he kept refining his inspection technique to protect his crew and the equipment. “One of the great things about the Equipment Loan Program is that every time Western got a new camera, I got to learn about new technology and share that with coworkers,” he said.

Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann recalled one particularly ingenious solution to inspecting the confined spaces of underground vaults and tunnels. “Checking electrical distribution systems in those places is potentially hazardous for workers because of the dangers of toxic fumes, flooding or fires,” said Hoffmann.

Iverson created a version of a bucket camera by mounting an infrared camera with a remote control inside a bucket with a hole in it for the lens. After testing the spaces to be inspected for toxic fumes that could cause an explosion, the inspector lowered the camera into the space by a rope tied to the bucket handle. The improvised rigging allowed the inspector to take pictures of vaults and tunnels without having to physically enter them.

“Darrel told me once that he tied the other end of the rope around his back and shoulder. If he accidently dropped the camera into the vault, he wanted the rope to pull him in with it,” said Hoffmann. “That way, he wouldn’t have to explain to us how he smashed our camera.”

Educator
Iverson often provided Energy Services with copies of reports on potential problems to share with other Western customers so that they could learn from his experiences. His desire to educate led him to persuade the university to sponsor one of Western’s infrared training workshops in Grand Forks in 2011. The utility representatives who attended the workshop learned a great deal about the uses of IR cameras and inspection techniques from Iverson’s extensive experience.

In 2003, the Energy Services program recognized his dedication with Western’s Competitive Edge award for commitment to specific energy-efficiency or renewable energy projects or programs.

Iverson has worked with many Equipment Loan managers—Gary Hoffmann, Rich Burnkrant, Jim Bach—and, “They have all been great to work with,” he said.

The Energy Services staff feels the same way about Iverson. He was a true ambassador for the Energy Services program and for best practices in energy use. We have enjoyed working with him and learning from him with each loan. Darrel Iverson is the kind of person who makes us look forward to doing our jobs every day.

Tell us what you want from Energy Services

When Western’s Energy Services regional representatives get together to talk about the program, it is not a subdued affair. The five regions within Western are all different from each other, and each representative brings a different perspective on what customers in their service territory need. One thing we do share is a passion for serving our customers, so the discussions can get pretty lively. At the end of a good meeting, however, we walk away with new ideas, renewed determination and a better understanding of the challenges customers face in other regions.

That is a pretty good description of what happened at the annual “face-to-face” meeting Energy Services held at Western Headquarters in October. The meeting gives Energy Services representatives an opportunity to plan for the coming year and to let management, the marketing team and the Equipment Loan Program know what kind of support their efforts need. This year’s meeting was particularly crucial since Western recently parted company with Energy Experts. We are exploring ways to offer customers more relevant technical assistance to replace the resources of the online service provider.

Feeling changes
The utility industry is standing on shifting ground, and power providers across Western’s service territory are feeling the changes. Complying with new regulations, joining a regional transmission organization, competing with new technologies and services, planning for extreme weather and meeting renewable goals and mandates are only a few of the issues keeping customers awake at night.

As we talked (and talked!) about how we can help our customers manage these and other concerns, one word kept coming up: training. The old saying, “Knowledge is power,” is old for a reason. Understanding even just the basics about a situation gives you more control and more options for dealing with it.

Western is in a great position to deliver training, too, in part, thanks to its Electric Power Training Center. For years, EPTC has delivered the highest quality power systems operation training to diverse audiences from power plant operators to dispatchers to support staff who just want to learn more about the business. It  streamlines the process of enrolling participants and hosting workshops.

Creating new product
Energy Services would like to extend EPTC course offerings to other aspects of utility business, such as long-range resource planning, load management and renewables and efficiency integration. Our contacts at the departments of Energy and Agriculture, utilities, universities and professional organizations give us access to experts on a wide array of topics. Training could be offered as on-site workshops or webinars, depending on interest and subject matter.

Speaking of subject matter, this is where you, our customer, can help us. The regional representatives came up with a long list of potential training topics, and we need your help to prioritize it. Please look over the following topics and select your top five concerns:

Your input required
It is quite a list, and likely far from complete. Feel free to add your own ideas about training that could help you or your staff feel more prepared to deal with today’s challenges and the ones you see coming.

Send your suggestions for workshops (or publications, or other types of technical assistance) to your regional representative or to the Energy Services manager. Energy Services is, after all, your program, and we are eager to hear what you want it to be.

Proactive infrared inspections keep ED2 customers cool in desert summer

(Artwork by Electrical District No. 2)
(Artwork by Electrical District No. 2)

Keeping the lights on is a year-round responsibility for power providers, one that sometimes means braving extreme weather to make sure the distribution system can handle the strain of a peak. Whether it is January in central Minnesota or July in Arizona, you will find Western customers inspecting their lines with infrared (IR) cameras borrowed from our Equipment Loan Program to protect their customers from potential power outages.

Electrical District No. 2 Redirecting to a non-government site (ED2) in Phoenix, Arizona, is as “summer-peaking” a utility as they come, and each year since 2001, the maintenance department has borrowed an IR camera. “The loans probably go back further to the ‘pre-database’ times,” observed Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “Some of our customers are as consistent as the seasons when it comes to scheduling loans, and ED2 is one of those utilities.”

The linemen of Electrical District No. 2 in Pinal County, Arizona, are dedicated to the thorough inspection of their electrical system. (Photo by Electrical District No. 2)
The linemen of Electrical District No. 2 in Pinal County, Arizona, are dedicated to the thorough annual inspection of their electrical system. (Photo by Electrical District No. 2)

“Yearly inspections keep the malfunctions from piling up,” acknowledged Lineman Steve Heet, who recently took over inspections from Lineman Dewayne Hill.

Heet borrowed the Mikron 7550 thermal camera to inspect all of ED2’s overhead lines. “We pay special attention to the capacitor banks, regulator banks and switches, but basically, we are looking at everything,” he explained. “Underground transformers and bushings are on our schedule this year, too,” Heet added.

Crews take out the camera at night and inspect the line from a service truck, recording hot spots to be repaired during the day. And how hot do hot spots get in the desert in the summer? “I think 340 degrees is our record,” said Heet. “Typical hot spots are around 180 degrees and above.”

A recent inspection uncovered a couple very hot substation blades that could have resulted in 1,000 customers losing power. “A short, scheduled outage for repairs—even in the summer—is much easier for customers to manage than an unexpected event,” Heet stated.

Avoiding surprises is, after all, the whole point of a proactive maintenance program. Don’t wait for the next hot summer day to find out if your system is cooking up an unpleasant surprise. Contact the Equipment Loan Program at 720-9627420 to borrow an infrared camera. A few minutes of quick inspection can save hours of headaches for you and your customers.

In-depth IR workshop a hit with NPPD members

[Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the January 2013 Energy Services Bulletin.]

It can be difficult to get busy utility professionals to take any time off for training, but a two-day infrared workshop sponsored by Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) recently drew 16 participants—and rave reviews.

Training utilities need

NPPD partner Southern Power District hosted IR for Weatherization and Energy Audits Nov. 28 and 29 at its headquarters in Grand Island, Neb. “A few contractors and representatives came from government agencies, but most of the trainees were our wholesale partners,” said NPPD Business Partner Consultant Roger Hunt, who organized the event.

The idea for the workshop originated with Hunt, who credits NPPD’s strong relationship with its member utilities for uncovering the need. “We knew a lot of our partners had purchased IR cameras, but they weren’t familiar enough with the technology to get the full value from their investment,” he said. “I’ve been through Level I and II IR certification, so I know how important it is to get the right training.”

Hunt chose The Snell Group to present a class aimed at energy auditors, weatherization contractors and home inspectors. He had once attended a similar workshop sponsored by the Nebraska Energy Office, and felt the focus on residential audits would be most useful to NPPD utilities.

Learn your camera

The course covered all models of thermal imaging equipment and included many hands-on simulations and exercises. “Since Snell doesn’t represent any camera manufacturers, the class was equipment-neutral,” said Western Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “The instructors could explain the capabilities and limitations of different cameras.”

That was good news for Wade Rahn, Customer Service Coordinator at Butler Public Power District, who brought along the utility’s ToughCam from IR Cameras, Inc. “I took the workshop to get better acquainted with using the camera in audit situations,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of the workshop if the material focused only on the most common models.”

Having worked with IR cameras and  taken several classes, Hoffmann was very impressed with the course content. It offered more background on thermodynamic theory than other workshops he had attended, Hoffmann observed, and he really enjoyed the exercises. For one demonstration, participants were told to point their cameras at a quarter on a hotplate and adjust the focus so they could read the date on the coin. “It was a fun way to familiarize ourselves with our cameras,” Hoffmann observed.

The IR workshop was a first for Tim Ellis, the new Energy Services representative for the Rocky Mountain Region, so the camera exercises were particularly helpful to him. “It was a great opportunity to learn how to work the camera, where settings were, what they did and how to adjust them,” he said.

Audit practice

The longer workshop provided participants with the chance to do a real energy audit on the home of a Southern Power District employee. “The house had a couple of cold rooms, so the homeowner got a free energy audit in return for letting the class practice what they’d learned,” said Hoffmann. “The employee joined us to analyze the IR pictures after the inspection, even though he wasn’t enrolled in the workshop. It was a good deal for everyone.”

infrared picture of heated nickel
One camera control exercise involved adjusting the focus so the operator could read the date on a heated quarter.

 

The audit included visual and thermographic inspections inside and out, a blower door test and a lot of what Hoffmann termed “audit etiquette.” Nicki White, customer service representative for Cuming County Public Power District, found that part of the training extremely helpful. “It was surprising to learn how much background information auditors need before they go into a home,” she said.

Ellis appreciated the reminders about common courtesy and professionalism. “It’s important to remember that you are in someone’s home,” he said. “Auditors need to make sure the homeowner feels comfortable and confident about the inspection.”

Tips included everything from not trampling gardens to turning off gas water heaters so the blower door doesn’t suck carbon monoxide fumes into the house. Hunt reminds himself to turn the water heater back on before he leaves by putting  his car keys on it..

For Ellis, the audit served as a refresher course in building science and the physics behindheat movement through a building shell. “It gave me a chance to apply what I know to problem-solving at the consumer level,” he said. “This would be excellent training for utilities at any stage of developing a home audit program.”

Worth the time

The course would also be good research for utilities that are considering buying a camera, Ellis added, or for professionals looking for a crash course in residential building science. Participants take a written test at the end and receive continuing education credits, another reason to make time for training.

Hoffmann declared that it was the best IR workshop he had ever attended. “We covered a ton of stuff over in two full days,” he said. “It was really interesting and never felt like we were rushing through the material.”

If your utility is interested in sponsoring an in-depth workshop on infrared thermography or other auditing skills, contact your Energy Services representative for more information.