More than one way to improve window efficiency

Window replacement strictly for energy savings carries a big price tag that can be well out of range for many homeowners. Fortunately, there are several lower-cost options for reducing energy loss through windows that utility program managers might consider adding to their incentive offerings.

Window coverings can offer surprising energy benefits at a lower cost than window replacements, making them a good candidate for utility rebate programs.

Window coverings can offer surprising energy benefits at a lower cost than window replacements, making them a good candidate for utility rebate programs. (Photo by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)

Reflecting on film
Window films help block against solar heat gain and protect against glare and ultraviolet exposure. According to the International Window Film Association, You are leaving WAPA.gov. professionally installed window film can block 30-60 percent of all energy being lost through window glass throughout the heating and cooling seasons. IWFA also claims that window film in commercial buildings can deliver seven times the energy saving benefits per dollar spent compared with installing replacement windows.

DOE’s Energy Saver blog explains that reflective films work best in climates with long cooling seasons, because they also block the sun’s heat in the winter. Other factors that impact the effectiveness of window films include:

  • Size of window glazing area
  • Window orientation
  • Building orientation
  • Whether the window has interior insulation

Incentives for professional installation of window films could be a winner for utilities serving low-income areas in warmer climates. Homeowners and businesses in such regions might welcome an affordable alternative to window replacement. Check with your state energy office You are leaving WAPA.gov. to see if it offers any tax incentives you can piggy-back on your program.

Drawing on curtains, shades
Carefully chosen window attachments can also save homeowners energy for less than the cost of window replacements. The Attachments Energy Rating Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. is a good place to begin exploring options. The two-year-old organization is working with DOE to provide credible and accurate information about the energy performance of residential and commercial window attachment products.

For an overview of AERC’s work, download “Window Attachments: A Call to Action,” the Council’s updated brief. AERC is holding its annual meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, May 22 to 24.

Efficient Window Coverings, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a guide supported by DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is another valuable resource for evaluating different window products for energy efficiency. Website visitors will find a calculator to help them choose the best covering for their circumstances and a comparison chart to see how coverings stack up against each other. These functions can help utilities identify a range of options to appeal to different customer segments.

Phase out residential lighting programs? Not so fast…

LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs have become a major market player in recent years and can be expected to grow when new lighting efficiency standards come into effect in 2020. Utilities might be tempted to think that there is little of this “low-hanging fruit” left for residential efficiency programs to pluck. Before utility program planners sunset this portfolio mainstay, however, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy You are leaving WAPA.gov. suggests you take a closer look at the particulars of your program.

Well-designed lighting programs will likely continue to garner savings for utilities through 2019, but the outlook gets more complicated on January 1, 2020. For one thing, regional differences play a role in how lighting programs perform after the standards are raised. LED adoption varies from state to state and even within states. In most of WAPA’s territory, LEDs are between 20 and 30 percent of the light bulbs purchased. That leaves plenty of room for an effective program to grow the market.

Sales data indicates that lighting programs and retail support are strong drivers of LED adoption. Also, preliminary evidence from New York and Massachusetts indicate that LED adoption drops when programs end. So utilities would be premature to start scaling back their lighting programs—certainly where LED sales are low, and even in states like California where LEDs represent 40 percent of light bulb sales.

ACEEE identifies several program options that could continue the progress in lighting efficiency, even after the standards go into effect.

  • Underserved markets: Lighting programs can find additional savings by targeting rural, elderly and low-income market segments that have been slower to adopt LEDs.
  • Specialty lamps: LED versions of popular specialty lamp styles are now available, including decorative, candelabra, globe and reflector lamps. Yet these styles sell significantly fewer units than general-purpose LED lamps, suggesting that consumers need more education about the products.
  • High quality lamps: Programs should continue to promote high-performing ENERGY STAR-branded products, rather than “value” LED lamps that do not meet ENERGY STAR standards.
  • Controls: Dimming and occupancy controls offer significant additional savings opportunities. Lighting programs can help connect consumers to quality control solutions that are easy to install and operate.

While residential lighting efficiency programs still have plenty of savings left to tap, the technology’s increasing efficiency will eventually end their usefulness. It is not too soon for utilities to start considering the next opportunities for helping customers control and reduce their energy use.

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 4/9/18

Customer engagement comes first, energy savings follow

Artwork by City of Colton Electric Utility

In a state that many consider to be synonymous with energy innovation, the City of Colton Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. must balance two competing challenges that will sound all too familiar to rural power providers across the nation. On one hand, San Bernardino County, California’s oldest electric utility has a fierce summer peak; on the other, a significant population of low-income customers struggles with each month’s electric bill. In true public power spirit, Colton Electric’s “Spring into Summer” campaign seeks to manage its peak by putting the needs of its ratepayers first.

The campaign, which runs from March 20 to June 20, encourages customers to upgrade certain items in their homes to energy-efficient products prior to the start of summer. The utility notifies customers about the program on their utility bills, Facebook, Instagram and the electric website. Flyers are also placed in city hall, the electric office and community centers.

Artwork by City of Colton Electric Utility

Customers can take advantage of increased rebates for box fans, ceiling fans, swamp coolers, room air-conditioning units and air-conditioning system tune-ups, as well as whole-house systems. “We want to give all of our customers a chance to save,” explained Environmental Conservation Supervisor, Jessica Sutorus.

Utility programs for saving energy often focus on big measures like entire home cooling system replacement because those retrofits provide the best results, for both the customer and the power provider. However, low-income customers can rarely afford major home improvements, even though they need the savings as much as, or more than customers in other demographics.

Different demographic, different goals
Even so, the “Spring into Summer” promotion is as much about customer outreach as it is about energy efficiency. “You have different expectations than when you are marketing to more affluent customers,” Sutorus acknowledged.

In that respect, “Spring into Summer” has been successful, increasing participation in the cooling rebate program by 40 customers annually, a 43 percent increase in participation. “Obviously those aren’t huge numbers, but we have only 16,000 residential customers and most of the participants are investing in the smaller-ticket items,” said Sutorus.

So while the savings to the customers may be meaningful, the program has not made much of a dent in Colton Electric’s summer load. Many Colton families pass their homes from generation to generation and don’t have the resources to make the kind of deep retrofits that are useful for load shaping. A lot of those houses are several decades old and still have the original windows, Sutorus noted. “Our residential programs are about serving the community,” she explained. “We have other plans to meet state goals for energy savings.”

Part of bigger picture
Colton has recently begun to install smart thermostats throughout city facilities, and to replace old air-conditioning systems with Ice Bear high-efficiency cooling equipment. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The measures are part of the Climate Action Plan the city adopted in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is where California’s progressive approach to climate change is helpful to the small “Inland Empire” city. The state’s Title 24 Building Standards Code requires developers to build housing that is highly efficient and solar- and electric vehicle-ready. This is good news for a city that is finally beginning to feel the effects of the economic recovery. “We are expecting new residential development, but industry is our fastest growing load,” Sutorus observed.

Colton Electric offers a menu of commercial customer rebates, including automated online energy monitoring analysis, lighting rebates and time-of-use rates. Support for commercial customers can help grow local industry and bring more jobs to the area. More jobs mean a stronger economy, and that, too, will be good for ratepayers.

Upcoming deadlines

SEPA issues ‘state of market’ report for electric vehicles

The market for electric vehicles is growing quickly, and utilities can expect to play a central role in minimizing the potential grid impacts of this new load and increasing access to charging infrastructure. With that in mind, the Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. has surveyed more than 480 utilities about their EV programs to create the industry’s first ever state-of-the-market report for EV programs.

Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value couldn’t come at a better time, with many industry EV adoption forecasts being revised due to exponential growth. Bloomberg New Energy Finance You are leaving WAPA.gov. predicts that electricity consumption will grow from a few terawatt-hours a year in 2017 to around 118 TWh by 2030. Many utilities may be unprepared for this sudden change in load growth. SEPA has collected information and tools in this report that can help utilities and their partners find a path forward.

The report includes:

  • A first-of-its-kind analytical framework for establishing the maturity of utility EV programs
  • Fourteen types of utility EV programs and activities categorized into early, intermediate and late stages
  • An overview of regulatory decisions regarding utility investments in EV charging infrastructure
  • Recommendations for strategic utility planning on EVs
  • Regulatory analysis and regional trends from over 70 EV-related regulatory dockets

A detailed analysis of the collected data revealed that 75 percent of utilities were in the earliest stages of EV program development. Time is not on the utilities’ side and they must begin now to work with peers and others in the industry to develop a robust EV strategy and identify ways to leverage EVs as a grid asset. Preparation today will equip power providers with the knowledge and technologies they need to unlock value in this new load.

You can download Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value for free. SEPA members can gain access to the dataset by logging in to the SEPA EStore. The dataset includes the list of utilities included in the analysis, the total number of programs and activities identified by stage for each utility and the identified utility stage.

Electric vehicles potentially offer many benefits—as a distributed energy resource with the ability to modulate charge or even dispatch energy back into the grid—along with many unknowns for utilities. Use this report to introduce yourself to the promise and pitfalls of a load that could change our industry.

Source: Smart Electric Power Alliance, 3/15/18

Utility Dive releases annual survey report

Unpredictability has become the new normal for the power industry as Utility Dive’s fifth annual State of the Electric Utility Survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. makes clear.

Artwork by Utility Dive

The survey of nearly 700 electric utilities in the U.S. and Canada indicated that their commitment to lower-carbon energy resources remains strong even as concern over market and policy uncertainty grows. Other top takeaways include:

  • Expectations of load growth – Since 2008, utilities have faced stagnant or declining demand for electricity, but this year, utility professionals see that trend changing.
  • Uncertainty, particularly in regard to federal regulation – Nearly 40 percent of utility professionals named uncertainty as their top concern about changing their power mix — almost twice the level of concern expressed about integrating distributed energy resources (DER) with utility systems.
  • Cybersecurity fears – For the second year running, participants placed cybersecurity at the top of their list of concerns, with about 81 percent rating it either important or very important.
  • Justifying emerging grid investments – Utilities see the need to invest in grid intelligence to manage electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, DER, storage, analytics and cybersecurity. However, demonstrating the return on such high-tech investments to regulators, ratepayers and even their own organizations is complicated.
  • Traditional cost-of-service regulation falling from favor – Utilities are ready to adapt their business models to take advantage of new technologies and market opportu­nities. Around 80 percent indicated they either have or want a regulatory proceeding in their state focused on reforming utility business and revenue models.

Perhaps the most positive message to be taken from the results of the 2018 survey is how many utilities are willing to rethink the traditional business model in the face of changes in the industry. The report has a laundry list of other important insights on rate design, DER ownership, the increasing popularity of EVs and more. Whether you participated in the survey this year or not, it is sure to make for interesting reading.

You can download the 86-page survey report for free, or read a rundown of the top results with graphs. Utility Dive also hosted a sneak-peak webinar on the results at the end of January, which you can listen to for free.

Source: Utility Dive, 2/27/18

New report explores ways to help low-income customers

(Artwork by DEFG)

Management consulting firm DEFG recently released their EcoPinion Consumer Survey Report No. 31, The Long Struggle Continues: Improving Service to Low-Income Customers in the Utility SectorYou are leaving WAPA.gov.

The report draws on data from more than 1,000 Americans to yield 534 respondents with household incomes below $50,000. Members of the Low Income Energy Issues Forum, a diverse working group seeking innovations to make utility service more affordable, collaborated on the survey.

Even as the economy continues to grow stronger, many Americans still struggle to pay their utility bills. The number of low-income respondents who reported trouble paying their utility bills in 2017 increased 7 percent over the previous year. Also, 20 percent of respondents had applied for energy assistance.

Contributing to the general anxiety of trying to provide for their families, low-income customers experience uncertainty about the utility bill itself, the complexity of applying for energy assistance and confusion about how to control costs. Utilities seeking to improve service to this demographic might offer a range of voluntary options that customers could choose according to their lifestyle.

Consumers who are intensely focused on their daily budgets need more convenient choices. Simplifying tariffs, facilitating energy assistance through social service agencies and offering individualized “energy counseling” are among the services that could provide greater control to customers with limited financial means.

The findings also indicated that the low-income segment is far more engaged with their energy consumption than utilities believed. A majority of survey respondents have taken action on their own to save money on electric or heating bills. Consumers are eager for more information to save even more.

Perhaps the challenge is not consumer engagement but the entire construct of utility programs and policies to assist these customers. For example, a key metric used by advocates is “energy burden,” referring to the percentage of a household’s income required to pay utility bills. Yet, when asked, low-income customers understood “burden” somewhat differently; they focus more on eliminating uncertainty and getting help when they need it (situational awareness). This is an important distinction.

The 2017 survey points to the long struggle to improve service to low-income customers, beginning with utility program developers being willing to listen more carefully to customers themselves. We must be prepared to let go of the assumptions that undergird programs and assistance measures intended to help these customers, and develop offerings that more closely match their needs.

You can download EcoPinion Consumer Survey Report No. 31 and other reports and articles from EcoPinion Publications. Registration and login is required. You can also sign up to receive email updates.

Source: DEFG EcoPinion, 2/12/18

Ideas wanted: Submit your proposal for RMUE presentations

Deadline: March 16

The Advisory Committee is now accepting session proposals You are leaving WAPA.gov. for the 12th Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange. Presentations that address this year’s theme, “United We Understand,” as it relates to utility end-users will receive preference. The theme leverages concepts from the recent Shelton Group EcoPulse Report.You are leaving WAPA.gov.

This is your opportunity to share your experiences collaborating with other utilities and other departments within your own utility to achieve greater impacts in residential, commercial and industrial end-use applications through a customer-oriented approach.
The event will explore case study best practices and lessons learned about customer-facing programs related to energy (gas and water) efficiency, strategy, issues and integration with renewable energy, demand response and more.

Special consideration will be given to presentations that highlight:

  • Consumer engagement and unifying messages
  • Gas, electric and/or water utility programs cooperating across departments or service territories to improve the customer experience
  • New energy-efficiency and demand management technology, storage and electric vehicles
  • Energy-efficiency and renewables programs collaborating with local and regional efforts on carbon action or greenhouse gas goals
  • Strategic on-site energy and distribution system management

The conference provides general and breakout session interaction as well as networking opportunities. Proposed presentation formats may include:

  • General or breakout sessions up to 20 minutes long with Q&A
  • Snapshot panel talks of up to five minutes
  • Poster discussions during the Wednesday evening reception
  • Friday morning workshops or round table discussions two to four hours in length

The Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange is an intimate forum for networking and professional development that takes place at Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado. Around 150 utility and government organization staff and trade allies attend, giving everyone the chance to learn about utility customer programs and services, and products to support them. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 19-21.

For professionals who have not previously attended the RMUE, a limited number of scholarships are available. See the FAQ sheet for details and to download an application.

ACEEE releases third, final video in ‘Health and Environment’ series

Energy Retrofits Clear the Air in Pittsburgh, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the final installment in a three-part video series from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), is now available to watch online.

The videos share the stories of homeowners in three eastern states, and the effect energy-efficiency upgrades have had on their lives. The theme running through the series is that reducing energy waste lessens the need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Those cuts deliver big gains in health, because pollutants from burning fossil fuels contribute to four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease and stroke.

The series is part of ACEEE’s new Health and Environment program, launched last year to research the linkages among health, environment and energy efficiency, and to educate policymakers. Later this year, ACEEE will release a series of reports that will further explore the health and environmental benefits of saving energy.

A two-day Conference on Health, Environment & Energy ACEEE is planning for December will showcase the research and promote others’ work in this growing field. Utilities are welcomed to attend the conference in New Orleans to add their voices to this critical conversation.

Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2/6/18

Warm up with DOE’s winter home tips

Energy Saver is the U.S. Department of Energy's consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home. Check out the website, blog and Energy Saver Guide for consumer education material.

Energy Saver is the U.S. Department of Energy’s consumer resource on saving energy and using renewable energy technologies at home. Check out the website, blog and Energy Saver Guide for consumer education material. (Photo by DOE Energy Saver program)

Around this time of year, we are all getting fed up with cold weather and the high utility bills that come with it. Your customers might appreciate some suggestions for saving money and keeping warm over the next few (or, in some places, several) weeks. The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has just the thing for your website or bill stuffer.  Here are simple steps we can all take to stay warm.

1. Spruce up the fireplace
Before you build that cozy fire and settle in with a good book and a hot beverage, give your fireplace some love.

Replacing your inefficient wood-burning fireplace with a more efficient wood stove or gas insert can turn your pretty–but high–maintenance—fireplace into a viable way to heat your home. Converting your fireplace will not only save you on monthly heating costs, it can improve air quality in your community. It could even put money back in your pocket—some states offer rebates or tax credits for upgrading your inefficient fireplace.

If you aren’t ready to update your fireplace, try adding glass doors with a heat-air exchange system. Make sure your fireplace is cleaned and your flue damper properly sealed. Also, try to keep the fireplace damper closed when you don’t have a fire burning to keep heat from your furnace from going up the chimney.

2. Reverse your fan
The same ceiling fan that helps to keep you cool in the summertime can also help circulate warm air in the winter. Look for a little switch on the motor housing to reverse the direction of your fan, pushing warm air down and recirculating it through the room. How do you ensure that your fan is spinning in the correct direction? When you look up, the blades are spinning clockwise.

3. Protect your lawn so it can protect you
Properly planned landscaping can save you energy and increase your home’s comfort. Windbreaks can help keep your heating bills under control by blocking the cold winter wind around your home. A wall or fence, evergreen trees and shrubs planted on the north, west and east sides of your home can be most effective in creating a windbreak and reducing heating costs.

Especially in some parts of the West, wet spring snowfall can snap branches that provide cooling shade during the summer. Worse yet, a broken branch could fall on a power line and cause an outage in the neighborhood.  Use a broom or a mop to shake the heavy snow off tree branches and relieve some of the weight.

4. Air-seal then insulate
Reducing the amount of air that leaks in and out of your home is one of the most cost-effective ways you can cut heating and cooling costs, improve durability, increase comfort and create a healthier indoor environment. Caulking and weather stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less

5. Windows, windows, windows
Your windows do more than provide a view of snow-covered yards. They also provide a barrier to the cold. Windows with low-e coating reduce heat loss and even reflect back part of the room’s heat. Installing storm windows can also reduce heat loss through windows by about 10 to 20 percent.

If replacing windows is too big an investment, return to Step 4 and put some fresh calking around the panes and sill. Choose window coverings designed to help improve the performance of old windows. As a bonus, your home will get a little spring facelift to help you through the last dreary weeks of winter.

Read more about sustainability and implementing energy upgrades within the home on DOE’s Energy Saver blog, a great resource for customer education material.

Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy