Stellar Energy Efficiency Programs Cut Costs and Pollution

Even as climate change indicators grow increasingly ominous, with 2018 marking the fourth-warmest year in a row on record, you needn’t look further than actions you can take in your home or business to combat climate change. That’s the conclusion of a new report saluting dozens of state and regional utility customer-funded energy efficiency programs for their innovative, cheap, and effective efforts that conserve resources, reduce emissions, and save customers money.

What is the good news?

As we continue to hear harrowing news about the state of our climate, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report brings us solutions that can help stave off that impending doom while helping all customers--including low-income, rural, and small businesses—meet their everyday energy needs at lower costs.

Energy efficiency—the cleanest, quickest, and cheapest way to cut pollution—is a crucial strategy to solve our climate and affordability crises. From more than 100 programs submitted to ACEEE, “The New Leaders of the Pack: ACEEE’s Fourth National Review of Exemplary Energy Efficiency Programs” highlights over 50 high-performing programs reaching a variety of customers across the nation. These programs focus on bringing new technologies to market, novel techniques to help home and business customers cut their energy waste, and tried-and-true programs (like replacing your lightbulbs with more efficient versions). 

iStock Martiapunts

What’s more, when ACEEE published its first national review of exemplary programs in 2003, gas and electric utilities in the United States were spending $1.4 billion per year on energy efficiency programs. Utilities now invest more than five times that amount, surpassing $7 billion per year. 

With that growth has come substantial results, cutting the amount of electricity waste equivalent to 6 percent of U.S. annual electricity consumption. Plus, these programs are often carried out by non-utility organizations on behalf of the utilities, providing jobs and opportunities to companies large and small—with ripple effects that stimulate local economies.

Dennis Schroeder, NREL

What are some good programs?

The report highlights many ways to cut energy waste carried out by a variety of entities across the nation, including utilities, government agencies, third-party independent administrators, non-profits, or combinations. Furthermore, program designs are evolving to reach more customers and to find new savings as tightening building codes, as well as lighting and appliance standards, lower the amount of energy savings that are available for programs to capture. While codes and standards are critical since they are the cheapest way to cut energy waste and provide good jobs, it is also important to find ways to capture savings not covered by requirements. The following approaches highlight how utilities and other entities are doing just that by:

  • Serving harder-to-reach customers. With the ever-increasing affordability crisis across the nation, energy efficiency programs can help reduce the extreme energy burden customers face whether living in rural or urban areas. Entergy Arkansas’s Energy Solutions Manufactured Housing, for example, includes a comprehensive list of efficiency measures and pays incentives for heating improvements based on energy savings, which makes implementers more motivated to ensure the savings are real. Oncor’s Multifamily HVAC program replaces electric resistance heating systems with high-efficiency heat pumps, using marketing targeted to property management companies, HVAC companies, and multi-family contractors, mainly in high-need rural areas.

  • Providing one-stop-shops. Figuring out the right path to take action can be so difficult that customers may give up and miss out on the substantial benefits of energy efficiency. To combat this, programs employ a “one-stop-shop” to guide customers along their energy efficiency journey. For example, the Bay Area Regional Energy Network in California contracts with a number of local non-profits to implement a multi-family comprehensive upgrade program in PG&E’s territory. The program provides a single contact to offer no-cost consulting that includes onsite energy audits; scope development; project cash-flow analysis, procurement and construction oversight; post-construction verification, and referrals to other relevant incentive and financing programs. The program’s energy experts work with property owners and property management staff to identify natural gas and electricity reduction measures in units, common areas, and central systems.

  • Collaborating. By working together, utilities (e.g., gas, electric, and water), government agencies (e.g., state energy offices and local governments), and non-profits can more effectively meet the needs of their customers. For example, SoCalGas and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have formed a partnership for rebate programs, installation of efficient technologies at low to no cost, outreach, and research and development coordination, as well as delivery. A number of New Hampshire utilities partner with the state to expand the reach of federal low-income weatherization programs.
  • Targeting specialty customers. Gone are the days of a “one-size-fits-all” program. ACEEE recognizes programs that address the need to tailor to certain segments, such as New Jersey’s PSE&G’s Hospital Energy Efficiency program that helps complete large capital-intensive projects specific to the needs of healthcare facilities. The CenterPoint Energy Minnesota Foodservice program focuses on training small and large food service customers, as well as the trade-allies that work within foodservice, to make sure they are aware of the most efficient equipment and how to receive rebates to lower the cost of purchase and installation.

These are only a few of the dozens of exemplary programs that ACEEE details in its report appendix.

Where do we go from here?

While there is a lot to tout, more can be done. Thankfully there are still additional opportunities out there—including lighting programs—and experts are exploring ways to modernize how we value energy efficiency to ensure that decision makers are prioritizing it as the lowest-cost resource even when renewable energy costs are dropping. Efficiency is also critical for so many more reasons than just cheap energy. It provides substantial job opportunities, increases comfort, reduces mold and other health hazards, and lowers the costs of energy so customers don’t have to choose between food and keeping the lights or heat on. 

Plus, in a time of seemingly unstoppable bad news about our fight against a warming planet, energy efficiency is one of the most affordable things each one of us can do to take action. Look up your local opportunities by searching on your utility website for ways you can upgrade the efficiency of your home or business. Collectively, these programs cut an enormous amount of pollution and save you money, all while stimulating the economy and helping to halt the impacts of climate change.

About the Authors

Lara Ettenson

Director, Energy Efficiency Initiative, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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