Report, tools seek to boost building efficiency

Utilities have a vested interest in working with homeowners and businesses to accurately estimate and control energy costs. It is not only good for load management goals, it is also good for the local economy. A new report from Rocky Mountain Institute  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (RMI) and tools being developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can help utilities and cities move toward a more efficient building stock.

Changing real estate conversation
According to the online real estate platform Redfin, You are leaving WAPA.gov. energy bills can add as much as 40 percent to annual housing costs in some parts of the country. An MPG for Homes: Driving Visible Value for Home Energy Performance in Real Estate, the RMI report, makes the argument for incorporating energy use data into the total cost of homeownership calculations.

The authors emphasize, however, that making home energy use data more accessible is part of a greater vision. True market transformation will require a change in both homebuyer behavior and policies and approaches across several interconnected industries. The real estate, finance, home improvement and—yes—utility industry would all play a part and could all benefit in the long run from improving home performance metrics and making the data more transparent and accessible to homeowners.

RMI notes that the “green real estate” movement is already starting to catch on with online real estate portals featuring home energy scores on property listings. Partnerships between the Zillow Group You are leaving WAPA.gov. and UtilityScore, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Estately You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Clearly Energy and Redfin and Tendril You are leaving WAPA.gov. are aiming to make home energy scores a bigger consideration in buying decisions.

Recent home purchases drove 26 percent of home renovations in 2015, and preparation for resale led to 13 percent of renovations, according to Houzz and Home: Overview of Renovation. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Moreover, 67 percent of study respondents cited improving energy efficiency as an important reason for making a renovation. Clearly, renovation projects offer utilities an opportunity to promote energy-efficiency measures and programs to a receptive audience. Establishing relationships with housing professionals in the community could pay off for utility program managers in a big way.

Tools analyze home, infrastructure projects
Once you connect with customers who are interested in making energy-efficiency improvements, the next challenge is determining what upgrades will save them the most money and energy. The ResStock analysis tool from NREL provides detailed information on the technical and economic potential of residential energy-efficiency improvements and packages for 48 U.S. states.

By combining large data sources and statistical sampling with detailed building simulations, the program achieves unprecedented accuracy in modeling the diversity of the single-family housing stock. The ResStock software leverages DOE’s open-source building energy modeling platforms OpenStudio® You are leaving WAPA.gov.  and EnergyPlus You are leaving WAPA.gov. so you won’t need a supercomputer to run the program. Contact NREL to find out more.

On a larger scale, NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility is working on a demonstration project that is developing a buildings and district energy modeling tool, URBANopt. The demonstration integrates URBANopt with grid modeling software, OpenDSS, to analyze the projected dynamic energy consumption of a planned 382-acre mixed-use development. The Denver, Colorado, site includes corporate office space, retail space, multifamily dwellings, a hotel and parking and street lighting. This project will result in several tools that others can use to replicate this project across the country, including an enhanced version of URBANopt and a developer’s handbook.

Smart messaging inspires Glendale Water & Power customers to save energy

Talking to customers about controlling their energy use can make utilities feel like parents—you repeat yourself like a broken record and you suspect your audience is just rolling their eyes and tuning out your words of wisdom. Facing summer peaking season and historic drought, Glendale Water & PowerRedirecting to a non-government site (GWP) was determined to find fresh ways to engage its customers.

Fans cool people, not rooms. Please turn them off when you leave the room.

Participants in GWP’s customer engagement program see messages like this in an In-Home Energy display digital picture frame. The display also gives homeowners real-time energy use data to help them save energy and money. (Artwork by CEIVA Energy)

Partnering to reach goals
Home energy management supplier CEIVA EnergyRedirecting to a non-government site helped GWP develop a campaign that drew on communications techniques from none other than Disney Studios. Dean Schiller, who runs the company, is a former Disney executive. He recently shared several tips for successful story telling with Smart Grid News,Redirecting to a non-government site which included advice on being practical, topical, clever yet accessible, and relevant to consumers of all ages.

Those tips sound like a recipe for getting dialogue going with customers, which is what GWP had in mind when it formed the partnership with CEIVA Energy two years ago. Funding for the program came from grants GWP received from the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commissions to help fund the utility’s modernization programs.

Glendale Public Benefits Coordinator Atineh Haroutunian explained that the municipal utility had three goals for the program. “We wanted to increase our residential customers’ engagement and satisfaction, improve their awareness of energy and water use, and encourage conservation and shift use to off-peak hours,” she said.

Pilot program changes behavior
GWP launched the program in early 2013, deploying the platform in about 90 residences. The Homeview system collects data directly from the home’s digital meter, analyzes the information and converts it into compelling messages and visuals. The cloud service then dispatches these conservation messages to the homeowner on several platforms including a “glanceable” In Home Display in a digital picture frame.

The real-time energy-use data and conservation messages got the participants to take notice—and make changes. The information convinced one family that it was time to retire their energy-hog space heater. Another customer told Haroutunian that she placed the display near her children’s room to teach them about energy use in a concrete way.

GWP engaged an independent research company to evaluate the program. They found that 74 percent of customers recalled the conservation messages, and 88 percent of those who remembered the message liked it. Among program participants, awareness of hourly electricity costs grew by 85 percent after the deployment. After joining the pilot program, 83 percent of respondents said they changed their behavior to reduce energy and water use. Also, participants overwhelmingly reported that installing Homeview was easy, a critical but sometimes overlooked factor in program success.

Time to grow
Numbers like that spell success and persuaded GWP to expand its customer engagement program earlier this year. Using newsletters, direct mail and a little help from the local media,Redirecting to a non-government site GWP’s conservation team recruited 500 new customers to install the Homeview platform.

Conservation messages also remind customers that wasting water can cost as much as wasting electricity, (Artwork by CEIVA Energy)

Conservation messages also remind customers that wasting water can cost as much as wasting electricity, (Artwork by CEIVA Energy)

The utility worked with CEIVA Energy to craft conservation messages that align with its current priorities, such as saving water or managing air conditioning use. Throughout the day, customers see the messages as part of their picture rotation, along with information about how much energy they are using. GWP reinforces these messages by distributing them in social media and community outreach newsletters.

A new feature in Phase Two is the integration of a programmable thermostat with the Homeview display. “By tying specific heating and cooling behavior directly to energy use, we are giving customers one more tool to understand their habits and make changes that will reduce their energy costs even more,” Haroutunian said.

Benefits for all
The beauty of a successful customer program is that it is good for the utility that provides it, too. CEIVA Energy offers additional utility services that GWP can use to improve its operations and make future programs more effective. The Entryway smart meter integration software allows GWP to analyze home energy use, monitor home energy management devices and deliver residential demand response. Product licensing, implementation, integration, training and ongoing maintenance and service are part of the package, as well.

The most valuable outcome of the partnership, however, may be finding the “magic mix” of technology and message that inspires homeowners to be conscious of their energy use. Instead of feeling like it is scolding its customers about turning off the lights, Glendale Water and Power will now be having a conversation with informed partners. And that is something worth talking about.

Gamifying Energy Use: Observed Trends From SXSW Interactive

When it comes to energy and the environment, most people want to do the right thing. But how many people actually contribute to improving energy use and environmental impact is another story. Ben Holland of Rocky Mountain Institute knows this better than most. As project manager for RMI’s Project Get Ready, Holland works with cities and industry leaders to promote electric vehicle integration and adoption.

He recently gave a presentation on his work at South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, the annual arts and technology conference in Austin, Texas. Initially, Holland was unsure about discussing the seemingly unrelated topic of observed barriers to electric vehicle adoption. But it turns out that the SXSW crowd is ahead of the curve on the subjects of environment and energy use.

“Gamification” and “Big Data” were two buzzwords frequently heard at SXSW earlier this month. The two closely related concepts, when combined, could have significant implications for energy use. Applying principals of gaming to non-game applications may encourage people to change their behavior. Mobile app developers have had great success doing this by incorporating location-based awareness data into their products. What if you could do something similar for energy? Read more. Source: RMI Outlet 3/26/12