A COP Case Study
By Wade Frazier
Even after finishing my site in 2014 and aligning my older essays with my new big one, issues will periodically arise that I want to address, and this essay addresses one of them. I want to broaden and deepen the information that I have presented regarding the LamCo-style heat pump that Dennis Lee sold. I have discussed the definition of coefficient of performance ("COP") here, and discussed the high COPs of the LamCo heat pump that Dennis stumbled into in the late 1970s here. The inventors of the LamCo heat pump cut its COPs in half in their promotional literature because they were being laughed out of engineering offices when they reported their heat pump's "impossible" and ridiculous COPs. While a COP of two was the industry standard back then, the LamCo heat pump regularly achieved COPs of seven and higher, and a COP of twelve was the highest that I heard of. Dennis was used to salesman's puffery of overstating what a product could do, but the LamCo heat pump's inventors were doing the opposite and understating its performance to maintain "credibility." Dennis quickly became the biggest thing to ever hit the LamCo heat pump milieu; he ended the practice of halving the performance and began stating what that heat pump could really do, not half of what it could do.
Those LamCo inventors spawned a fledgling industry, but it was scattered across the USA and nobody really knew how to sell them, at least until Dennis came along. A hundred companies came and went, investing large sums of money, to only go out of business because they could not sell enough to attain the economies of scale needed to become successful. Also, the local energy interests recognized the potential threat, and telling their customers that the LamCo heat pump was a scam and would not work was not confined to Washington's electric companies. Any LamCo heat pump company that achieved much success faced that problem, and some received the hammer of organized suppression activities. Consequently, those companies began to get their heat pumps tested at laboratories so that they could promote their "impossible" performance, and Dennis collected many of those test results over the years and used them in his promotional literature. While Ventura County officials' lying about one lab's results as a way to intimidate the lab (which worked) made that test perhaps the most famous one, it was not always the most famous test, and this essay tells the story of the previous most famous test. While that most famous test was performed in Arizona, that heat pump's greatest claim to fame was its performance in cold climates, and the previous most famous test was performed in Saint Paul, Minnesota, which is one of the coldest locations in the USA. The test was performed at Gannon's Restaurant, and the results of the first two weeks of that installation's operation are presented below.
The installation was in January 1983, and it achieved an average COP of more than five, and ranged between four and eight. It performs better in the daytime, as higher air temperatures, sunlight, and wind hit those panels and increase their heat exchange with the environment. The next month, it achieved an average COP of slightly less than five. At a 40% thermal efficiency at the electric plant, a COP of five meant that it produced twice as much usable energy as would burning that energy in a hot water heater (40% x 5 = 200%), and as discussed, various market forces and economies of scale could mean different market rates, but in general that heat pump saved 50% of the energy needed to heat water, in Minnesota in the winter.
When Jimmy Carter unveiled his strategy for his "war on energy," which looked remarkably like what Brian O'Leary developed for Mo Udall, the tax credit was especially designed for new technologies that took advantage of solar and wind energy. Heat pumps were already being sold in the USA, and Carter's tax credit was specifically denied to heat pumps, which only took advantage of heat in the air. The LamCo heat pump, however, took advantage of sunlight and wind to raise its heat exchange with the environment and its COPs. Accordingly, the LamCo heat pump had other terms to describe it, and "solar refrigeration" became prominent. As long as they did not call it a "heat pump," it qualified for Carter's tax credit, and Dennis built his ingenious market plans around that tax credit. Dennis presented the Gannon's data at U.S. Congressional hearings, to prove that it took advantage of environmental factors other than ambient air temperature. The Gannon's' heat pump got higher COPs in January than in February, which was a warmer month. Dennis submitted weather records for Saint Paul that showed that January 1983 was windier than February 1983, which was why it performed better in January, as well as showing how it performed better in daylight. It became key evidence for why the LamCo system should qualify for the tax credit. Dennis was even appointed to a committee of one to write some performance requirements for the tax credit, as almost all solar systems sold at the time were scams. They were little more than tin cans placed on people's roofs that hardly produced any energy at all, and were built solely to take advantage of the tax credit. The only performance requirement was that the contraption produced one BTU of energy, ever. The LamCo system is the world's best heating system that has ever been on the market, and was the very kind of innovation that Carter's tax credit was supposed to encourage. Predictably, the leading voices in the solar industry slandered and libeled the LamCo system whenever they could, as they badmouthed the competition and the only innovative technology during Carter's entire "war on energy" that really worked very well.
A couple of years after that Gannon's data was published, Dennis was in the midst of the biggest run ever made to bring alternative energy to the marketplace, and he had a unique opportunity. Because of all of its hydroelectric projects and historically cheap electricity, when the Whoops disaster hit Washington, everybody in the state was heating with electricity, so instead of saving 50% of the energy when replacing fossil fuels such as natural gas, the LamCo heat pump's replacing electric heating would save 80% of the energy used (a COP of five meant that the heat pump would leverage that electricity by a factor of five when acquiring environmental energy, and so get the same heat energy for 20% of the electricity used). In the Attorney General's phony lawsuit, they claimed that Dennis had not proven that his heat pump got a five in Washington, as he only proved that it could get a five in Minnesota in the winter. That demonstrated the kind of rationality that Dennis had to deal with from public official attacks. Heat pumps always perform better in warmer climates, so in Seattle, which was where Dennis made his big effort, the COPs should have averaged seven or so, and saved even more energy (1/7 = 14%, or 86% electricity savings). Those kinds of numbers Dennis later realized kept electric officials awake at night, as they saw electric companies losing billions of dollars of revenue. That was the reason why they called in all of their favors to wipe out our Seattle operation, and public officials in Washington lie about it to this day. Some of the best references for Dennis's heat pump to this day are Seattle installations from 1985, before his company was wiped out.
When I was with Dennis in Boston, Seattle was not someplace where he could take installation tours without risking his life, so he organized installation tours for his salesmen to his installations on the East Coast, and when I was Dennis's partner, they took one of those tours. I clearly recall the euphoria of those salesmen when they returned, as they witnessed installations on homes where the homeowners gushed about the equipment and considered Dennis the best friend they ever had. During my years with Dennis, I saw enough installations myself, with ecstatic customers, to know full well how amazing the LamCo heat pump was. When people such as Mr. Skeptic arrived on the scene many years later to dismiss the heat pump and lie about it, it was an effort to not laugh at their stupidity, which I later learned was actually dishonesty, and may well have been because they were being compensated for telling their lies.
When we were flying high in Ventura, just before they lowered the boom on us, the man who owned the company in Minnesota that installed and maintained those LamCo systems attended our show that Mr. Deputy also attended, and I talked with the man for some time. I still have his business card, and he also gave us a video of an installation tour that he took in Minnesota, and probably the most ecstatic customer on that tour lived in Hibbing, which is considered about the coldest place in Minnesota, and that is saying something.
So, there was a pretty high hurdle to overcome, to credibly make the case that Dennis's equipment would not work in Seattle. But as I later discovered, public officials can just make it up as they go, the media broadcasts the lies, and that is enough to scare off everybody who might be interested.
A couple of weeks after I began working for Dennis in Seattle, a local TV station reported on the talk that Dennis gave the day I met him. Until that day, the only media report on Dennis's speech was a Canadian TV station, and it was the only positive TV coverage that I ever saw of Dennis. In the USA, it was always a smear campaign. We heard that the TV station would report on us, we actually had the TV on in the office, and Dennis and crew crowded around the TV set to watch. I think that Dennis knew what was coming, but I was the new kid, and those few minutes became my first inkling that maybe the media was not about telling the truth to the public. The reporter came on, and the few minute "investigative" segment I later learned was almost all lies, but what sticks with me to this day is a Big Lie that the reporter told. She interviewed a customer who applied for the tax credit while calling the LamCo unit a "heat pump," and he received the standard response from the IRS that the credit was denied for heat pumps. All customers who ever bought that heat pump were instructed very carefully about how to describe the equipment so that they would qualify for the credit, and they always did if customers followed the instructions. So, one customer, perhaps even intentionally, did not follow Dennis's explicit instructions and was initially denied the credit, and he became the centerpiece for that entire segment, which stated that Dennis's heat pump did not qualify for the tax credit (which by that time had already expired anyway, as it expired on December 31, 1985). I eventually realized that that approach was standard for the media and "skeptics," as they ignored the thousands of success stories to present the one that failed, and then claim that there were only failures and no successes. People may have to see that in action to believe it. I initially had a hard time believing that they could get away with such blatant lies, too, but it is standard procedure in those "professions."
The Gannon's story is not finished, however. In Ventura, as Dennis began flying high again, a whole new crop of people became involved, and the same rounds of due diligence of newcomers happened, and those happy customers received another wave of people checking their heat pumps out. In the spring of 1988, some of Dennis's new dealers went to Gannon's to see that famous installation. The panels were prominently displayed on an outside wall of the restaurant, sitting in the sunlight, and the restaurant had recently changed owners. The new owner did not know anything about the heat pump, and when asked by those new investigators, the owner said, "You mean those crappy panels outside the restaurant? They never worked that I know of. Could I sell them to you?" The investigators then examined the installation and replied, "Then how do you get hot water? We do not see anything that could heat your water other than the heat exchanger from that heat pump." The new Gannon's owner gave them a stunned look, and the investigators were invited to check out that "crappy" system. They measured a COP of nine. A few months later, Dennis was passing through as he investigated some alleged free energy technology (most claimed as such do not really work, but some do) and ate lunch there with Mr. Researcher. I have also eaten at a restaurant that had its hot water provided by one of Dennis's heat pumps. The lies and denial coming from people such as Mr. Skeptic would be amusing if lies like his did not easily gull naïve free energy activists, and his lies were not prominently used in several national TV shows that smeared Dennis. Predictably, when Dennis was finally run out of the USA, Mr. Skeptic quietly folded his tents, which provided more evidence that he was being compensated during his crusade against Dennis that lasted for nearly two decades.
As I wrote this essay, I was not going to use Gannon's name if it was still in business, as those happy customers eventually became weary of all the investigators and gawkers who arrived, and I got a little surprise when I looked into it. Public health officials drove Gannon's out of business in 1990, just as Dennis was trying to resurrect his business, specifically over the hot water issue, and the Gannon's owner was eventually given a large award for being driven out of business that way. Coincidence? It could be, but there have been far too many "coincidences" like that on my free energy journey.
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