"We got a building here built back when energy was cheap, back before our Far East problem. I'm gettin' electric bills as high as $35,000."
"A year?! Hell no, baby, a month. I'm tellin' ya, you get one of those, you look at it, and you say 'goddamn.'"
Goddamn. Who's talking here like his meter's out of joint? The name's Charlie Weaver -- same as the old guy on TV who lived in a rocking chair.This one's a certified property manager and third-class engineer with a leisure suit as blue as the sky.
He's the "professional manager" at 1800 North Kent St., Rosslyn, Va. Twelve stories, 130,000 square feet. And 1,000 tenants, most of them "subject to controlitis."
"You walk around my building and you'll see the thermostat covers on upside down. I went up to Delta Airlines and one thermostat was set at 85 and another 15 feet away said 55. But now we're takin' the human hand the hell out of it. Now the computer will control their temperature."
Computer? You heard the man right. Name of HP 1000, this computer sits down in Atlanta, Ga., determining the temperature in an office building, would you believe, in Rosslyn, Va. HP controls the thermostat in 65 other office buildings, too -- five of them right here in D.C.
HP belongs to International Energy Conservation Systems (IECS) of Atlanta. Outfit with a long, slick name like that, you know they're into hardware, software, all kinds of ware. "We're one of the more established companies in this field," says one of their people. "We've been in business since 1974."
All IECS does is lease a phone line, plug HP into one end, and go out looking for folks like Charlie to pick up the other. They tell him, "Look, we can knock 10, 15 percent off that fat fuel bill." Sold.
How much does it save? Charlie sucks in some air, reaches for a Kool and the Zippo. "Guesstimated now -- around $35,000 a year."
So how's it all work? HP's down there in Atlanta next to a teletype, reading weather reports from cities hundreds, even thousands, of miles away: temperature, wind, sun, humidity, you name it. HP thinks it all through and comes up with these "strategies," which can be changed every half hour if need be.
"Hypothetical situation," says Charlie. "Thirty degrees outside. Now here's my sun comin' up over this side of the building." Charlie reaches his arm down below his desk, and you wonder if it's coming back up with a sun on it. "Now this side here's callin' for more heat. Over there, my sun's takin' care of about five or ten degrees. So instead of turnin' on my big toasters upstairs and takin' care of the whole building, my computer will tell me I need more heat over here and less over there. The computer will be the governing factor."
Charlie'll take you up to the roof to see his toasters if you want. They can take 1,600 amps of juice. He's got a pair of 400-ton chillers up there, too, and water pumps as big as buffaloes. He's got three fans that'll knock you over if you get in front of them.
You can hardly hear yourself think up there with all the machinery. Step into this small room, though, and you've got some quiet. "Here's the heart of it," says Charlie. This is where that Atlanta phone line comes in and separates into 36 switches, each controlling some piece of equipment.
In about one of every four large American office buildings there's some kind of electronic setup like this running the show and it may be four in four sooner than you think. Computer costs are dropping like lead, say the folks at IECS -- and fuel costs heading the other way just as fast. If costs keep on like they have been, it'll be more than just office buildings that HP and his sort will be seeing to. They'll be watching over restaurants, high schools, the local beauty salon.
So one day in 1989 when you trudge home through the snow feeling like an extra in Dr. Zhivago and you say to the Mrs., "Hon, think I'll turn the thermostat up a degree or two," don't be surprised if a voice comes at you from clear across the country and politely but firmly says: "Sorry, forget it." Like the man said, they're taking the human hand the hell out of it.