There's a new store near Washington's riot corridor selling solar energy hardware. There are plumbers and computer experts renaming themselves energy consultants. There are inventors getting fast patent action on energy-related devices, and there is money being made all over the place.
American capitalism has discovered the energy crisis.
Gasoline companies have been spending millions to describe the situation and promote their views on how to resolve it. Automobile makers want consumers to see cars as energy savers rather than energy spenders. Whole new horizons of profit have opened up nationwide, for large and small businessmen in old and new enterprises:
The boom has nothing to do with President Carter's "moral equivalent of war" on energy waste. Instead, it is related to the American dream of saving money.
"Moral suasion doesn't hit people," said John Mahesr, an executive in the Washington office of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. "They believe that if they can save money, then maybe there's a reason to save energy."
The belief has spawned a new generation of conartists as well, fast operators who all but promise that their product or process will save enough energy to make the meter run backward.
Energy awareness has brought new opportunities to the home-building industry. "Home builders are promoting anything that saves energy," Maher observed. "They boost the savings, not really selling any products, but the natural result is that you buy insulation, put in storm windows, different lighting, wiring and so on. They're selling a lot of staff."
So much, in fact, there is a nationwide insulation shortage, with planned production allocated three years in advance. "That means a lot of marginal operators are selling untreated cellulose or making outrageous claims," said Bob Reich, head of the Federal Trade Commission's new energy task force.
"The problem with insulation is that the customer rarely knows if he got a good deal. It's hard to tell if an installer did the job right, or if the changes were really needed . . . It's a perfect circumstance for ripoff artists," he added.
The Justice Department cracked down last August on a Kansas City operation in which men posing as federal officials told homeowners they needed $1,000 worth of insulation, and guaranteed them nonexistent tax credits. "Most insulation people have all the business they can handle and don't go out looking for it," warned Jay Vivari of the Justice Department. "We're getting reports from all across the country of fly-by-night artists."
There are new energy schull saving devices and old devices with new energy-saving dressing. The U.S. Patent OFfice set up a special energy priority list in 1973 to expedite processing of energy-related inventions, and has issued 223 patents of that sort since then.
Some of the recent ones were a removable fireplace heater, a recirculating system for exhaust gas, a high-efficiency solar collector and a fuel-vaporizing system for internal combustion engines, a patent office spokesman said.
Richard Field of Gaithersburg, a mechanical engineer and Department of Energy employee, is a example of the part-time entrepreneurs who are entering the energy business. A year ago he found Solpub to print and distribute a design manual on solar heat and hot water that he wrote while working for the Navy.
"We have 3,000 copies out.We offer cassettes, slides and some other publications . . . and I have two inventions I'm trying to patent," he said.They involve window panels to insulate at night and gather solar heat by day, and drapery liners that do the same thing, heating a room for a few hours after sundown. He said he had a part-time secretary and two friends helping out on a volunteer basis, and nothing more.
Another bootstrap operation, slightly bigger, is a solar energy hardware store called The Sky Is Falling at Sth and M streets NW. "I was in computers for 10 years and got interested in this. Now there are three or four more in the country like us - Boston, New Hampshire, Southern California," said owner Petter Boe. He is busy renovating the temporarily closed store in an old Victorian mansion, and said financing has been a problem.
"The Small Business Administration deson't even know how to talk to me. If you have all kinds of financial track records and projections and a nice suite, you're OK . . . We financed ourselves. It's the ghetto here and nobody wants to go in here, first, and second they don't know anything about solar energy."
Nevertheless, sales have gone from [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in December, 1976, to $20,000 a month last August, Boe said, and demand is rising for his solar heating and hot-water systems and parts.
Established firms like International Business Machines and Sears Roebuch are gearing old products to the new energy awareness. Microwave ovens use 75 per cent less electricity than regular ovens, said Sears in a recent magazine advertisement. Amana is building a new foam-insulated refrigerator that costs more than its other models but is supposed to save on utility bills.
IBM has developed a computer program to survey the energy use of a business and recommend ways to cut it down, and has sold it to 600 companies, according to spokesman Bill Shaffer. "Energy management is a totally new concept. It's not only good citizenship, it's good business, for the same reason lowering any cost makes you more competitive," he said.
"Energy used to be considered a fixed cost of doing business, like rent or capital machinery . . . but now we see it as a raw material that can be manipulated."
The hunt for information on energy has itself spawned new businesses. "Freelance writers are cashing in on it," said Jean Carper of the Washington Independent Writers group. "An awful lot of it is telling people how to save money - how to pick insulation, what R-value is (an insulation quality rating), energy-saving tips . . . all the magazines are buying pieces like that."
An October survey by Publisher's Weekly found that 60 publishers had put out 90 energy-related book titles in 1977. "I imagine there are many more since we asked 300 publishers and didn't get answers from most of them," said associate editor Robert Dahlin. A score of those books dealth with solar energy, he said.
All of them wound up at the District News Co. "I got more energy books than I can handle, but no new magazines that I've noticed," said Joe Gonzalez, assistant manager of the distribution company. "People want stuff on insulation more than anything else."
Groups that organize meetings find more of them relate to energy than previously. "There were two big ones back-to-back here in June, another one in January and little ones all over the place," said Beverly Walcoff of Information Transfer.
Reddy COmmunications, Inc., runs seminars for utility executives on nuclear power issues, and a recent three-day seminar by Solar Outlook newsletter, itself a new publication, drew more than 200 fuel oil dealers, plumbers, swimming pool contractors, bankers and other businessmen to Washington to discuss the topic, "How to get into the solar business - successfully."
There is a new demand for private consultants with energy expertise. "Lots of people are calling themselves energy engineers now who are basically heating, ventilating or air-conditioning engineers or even electrical contractors," said Jim Baroff, an electronics expert who has profitably turned private consultant in Washington.
Established consulting firms have set up energy departments to meet the demand, he said, supplying advice to businesses on ways to cut their energy bills, use new technology or comply with new regulations.
Law firms are assigning one or more persons to handle energy-related cases, many relating to customers who think they were defrauded or endangered by some of the new products.
The new "energy engineers" who want to avoid suits by the new energy lawyers are presumably signing up to take a new correspondence course offered by the Department of Energy in maintenance and installation of solar heating and cooling. It begins in January.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission began looking at some of the more questionable devices last year and is now working on a set of standards for gas-burner equipment on sale for private homes.The commission warned in February about possible fire or suffocation danger from automatic dampers to close off gas furnace [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and other products are being tested.
The energy crisis has not penetrated the awareness of one major population group, however, children. "I don't think it's something the kids relate to," said Ted Erickson, public relations director for the Toy Manufacturers of America.
The trade association represents 250 toymakers who do 90 per cent of the nation's business in playthings. With Christmas buying in full swing, none of that money seems to be going to raise energy consciousness among the young.