Energy Efficiency and Untapped Potential

Created:
Wed, 2013-05-01 07:30

As states continue to set aggressive energy-saving targets, utilities and other program administrators are challenged to deploy new technologies and design new programs to advance energy efficiency within their customer base. A new report released January 9, 2103 by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) indicates that there is potential for a 27% savings in forecasted electricity use by 2030. The report makes some points about the components of energy efficiency programs that will be critical to achieving and maintaining a high level of savings.

Targeted Marketing for Increased Participation

energy auditAccording to ACCEE’s research, market saturation in states with fairly new energy efficiency programs is low, meaning there are still opportunities to capture more savings through increased participation in existing programs. In more mature markets, greater savings can be achieved by reaching underserved or otherwise promising markets. In the residential sector, this includes multifamily housing where successful programs need to serve both owners and occupants. Incentives focused on the supply chain, including retailers, contractors, and manufacturers, can help increase the availability and use of energy-efficient products.

A study by the Shelton Group, “Utility Pulse 2013,” indicated that there is potential for improvement in customer awareness of utility sponsored programs. When asked which energy efficiency programs were offered by their utility, 20% did not know, and another 12% said their utilities don’t offer any programs. Utilities are challenged to obtain more data to better understand customers and design programs to properly target and engage more people.

Comprehensive Retrofits

Residential retrofit programs have been identified in ACEEE’s report as an area with continuing promise for energy savings, particularly in building shell improvements, including air and duct sealing. Findings indicate that to maximize savings, retrofit incentive programs need to target comprehensive improvements that utilize the house-as-a-system approach, including evaluation of the home envelope, rather than one-off installations of energy-efficient devices.

Comprehensive home retrofits can be expensive, which means rebates often are not a sufficient incentive. Programs may need to incorporate some kind of innovative financing options to ease the financial burden on the homeowner. Low or zero-interest loans, or energy efficiency mortgages, are crucial to driving participation in comprehensive retrofit programs. On-bill financing has become popular as a way for property owners to repay debt through a fee on their utility bill.

Identifying Qualified Contractors

ACEEE’s report found that identifying, training, and retaining qualified contractors continues to be a critical component in the success of energy efficiency programs. According to the report, “It will be important for program administrators to retain a cadre of qualified contractors to meet this demand. Ensuring that contractors are capable of consistently meeting program requirements while maintaining a good relationship with program administrators and homeowners is crucial for the long-term success of a home retrofit program. Many program administrators require contractors to acquire certifications from the Building Performance Institute (BPI) to meet this need.”

Technology

With the implementation of smart meters and in-home energy displays, information technology is increasingly becoming a part of energy efficiency programs. While these devices don’t directly save money, the information they provide can be a catalyst for changes in behavior. The USGBC announced late in 2012 that they are preparing to test this theory by developing an experimental concept for a real-time data display to be incorporated into LEED certified buildings. The “dynamic plaque” will indicate how a building is performing at any given time in terms of water use, energy, waste management, etc. The idea is to validate the effectiveness of green building features and increase occupant and owner engagement with building metrics to facilitate meaningful modifications in behavior. It is not clear when the concept will be fully developed.

Conclusion

When it comes to energy efficiency, the more we know, the better we can do. From contractors to homeowners and utilities, the availability of reliable information is critical to reducing consumption and cost. As a nation, are we prepared to continue our commitment to energy savings? If the President’s State of the Union address and related budget commitments are any indication, the answer is, undoubtedly, yes. For more information on acquiring skills and certifications to compete in the growing energy efficiency and home performance industries, check out Everblue’s Residential Energy Management Courses.

By Amy Malloy

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