Roseville customers get solar advice they can trust

Recognizing customer needs in the growing residential solar market, Roseville Electric Utility You are leaving WAPA.gov. has developed a program to help homeowners make sound decisions about installing solar systems and, in the process, is increasing customer satisfaction.Got solar questions? I've got answers. Connect with your Trusted Solar Advisor today at Roseville.ca.us/solar.

Solar installers are now marketing more aggressively to consumers who are definitely interested but want to be better informed before investing in a system. This creates an opening for utilities to become trusted energy advisors, said Alanya Schofield, a senior director at consulting firm E Source.

Schofield made her remarks at the American Public Power Association’s You are leaving WAPA.gov.(APPA) Public Power Forward summit in November and participated in a panel that included Roseville Electric Utility Director Michelle Bertolino. Public Power Forward is an APPA strategic initiative to help public power utilities prepare for a new era in electricity.

Seeing, meeting need
California passed a law in 2015 requiring utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030, increased from the previous goal of 33 percent by 2020. Many public power utilities in the state, however, have been proactively encouraging clean power and energy efficiency for years. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program is just the latest among many examples.

Roseville Electric Utility launched the program in April 2014, in response to the growing number of customers calling with questions about installing solar arrays. A promotional campaign and workshops followed to introduce the website to customers.

Educating first
The website provides a starting point for customers who are trying to figure out if solar is right for them. A solar calculator—the WattPlan created by Clean Power Research You are leaving WAPA.gov. —allows customers to make cost-benefit comparisons based on electricity use, generation, financing options and system size.

Visitors will also find frequently asked questions and information about rebates Roseville offers for solar installation. The Trusted Solar Advisor stresses the importance of doing efficiency upgrades first, and links to a DIY Home Energy Analyzer. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Install when ready
Once a customer decides to go forward with a solar installation, the permitting process begins. Roseville customers can download the residential PV packet and find links to residential and business installation and interconnection forms.

Rather than maintain an approved contractor list, the utility provides helpful resources. The website includes links to Go Solar California, You are leaving WAPA.gov. sponsored by the California Energy Commission, and the Contractor State Licensing Board You are leaving WAPA.gov. so that customers can ensure their contractors have a valid license.

Staying neutral and staying current are the keys to gaining customer trust, noted Energy Program Technician David Dominguez. “We focus on making sure we give our customers the most relevant and up-to-date information,” he said. “That allows them to come to their own conclusions.”

Dominguez, who handles the utility’s retrofit solar interconnections, is the Trusted Solar Advisor and he was answering customers’ solar questions before Roseville created the program. Some customers just feel more comfortable talking to a representative, or they may still have questions after visiting the website, Dominguez acknowledged. “But now, with the website, when people call, they often have a much better idea of what they need to know.”

Source: Public Power Daily, 11/29/16

Overton Power District plans to succeed

On the wide spectrum of utility policies that encourage customers to adopt renewable energy systems, Overton Power District 5 You are leaving WAPA.gov. (OPD) is on the ambitious end of the spectrum.

Desert Southwest Energy Services Representative Audrey Colletti pointed out the strategy in OPD’s most recent integrated resource plan (IRP). “I look for customer goals and achievements in their IRPs and alternative reports,” explained Colletti.

“For example, one customer hasn’t increased rates in over five years, while another is thinking of decreasing rates. Some offer renewable power that is less expensive than fossil generation, but it is unusual for a small customer to make such an aggressive push to add more renewables.”

Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to grow the renewable energy portion of its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)

Residential solar installations like this 10-kW array benefit from a net-metering policy Overton Power District 5 developed to increase the amount of sustainable electricity in its power portfolio. (Photo by Randall Ozaki, OPD5)

The Southern Nevada power provider is playing the long game with an eye on someday generating most of its own electricity through renewables. “But that day is a long way off,” acknowledged OPD General Manager Mendis Cooper. “Our current goal is to provide ways to help our customers.”

Keeping customers in mind
Happily, the steps OPD is taking to increase renewables in its portfolio are also good for its 15,000, mostly residential customers. Its generous net-metering policy for small renewable systems is a notable step. Customers who install renewable generators that comply with OPD policies are eligible to receive a rebate of up to $2,500 for homeowners and up to $5,000 for large commercial industrial accounts. Since OPD implemented the policy, 49 net meters have been installed.

Increasing energy-efficiency programs is also part of OPD’s long-range plan that benefits customers in the near term. Thanks to a power contract, OPD will soon be stepping up its efforts to move customers to more efficient appliances and water and space heating systems. “We see natural gas as a reliability measure, but the savings will help to finance more customer efficiency measures, too,” Cooper explained.

Piecing together affordable sustainability
Even with the high cost of tapping gas lines, low natural gas prices are a boon to OPD—for now. “In eight to 10 years, gas prices are likely to go up,” said Cooper. “The cost of renewable resources, which are getting more competitive all the time, won’t be rising.”

The transition to a sustainable power supply is challenging for a utility that must rely on other providers for both generation and transmission, as OPD does. Cooper would like to get more WAPA hydropower, but acknowledges that ongoing drought conditions make that unlikely. OPD now has 49 rooftop solar arrays on its system, but the utility is investigating the feasibility of and support for utility-scale development. “That is where our customers will really see the benefits of alternative energy,” the general manager observed.

OPD also offers customers rebates for wind turbines and ground-source heat pumps.

Using all tools
OPD’s comprehensive long-range plan presents other opportunities—and identifies challenges—for load management as well. A scheme to install low-impedance transformers and implement power factor correction promises to increase systemwide efficiency.

With spillover growth from Las Vegas expected to add load over the next five years, OPD is working to encourage Clark County to adopt high-efficiency building standards. Programs to rebate measures such as weather stripping, relamping, heat pump systems and window replacement are being considered for existing buildings.

Another, nearly inexhaustible resource—an engaged and energy-savvy customer base—factors into OPD’s plans, too. The IRP highlights the utility’s use of social media to educate its customers about building technology, appliance energy use, efficient equipment and systems and no-cost common sense behaviors.

It will take every tool at OPD’s disposal to move its portfolio toward clean resources and self-generation. But that is what long-term planning is for, notes Cooper. “The IRP keeps our goals at the forefront where we can’t forget about them, and it reminds us every day of the issues we have to address.”

New Better Buildings toolkit dives into training techniques

Utilities often struggle to educate contractors, staff and volunteers on building science; sales and marketing; program offerings and business development. To help residential energy-efficiency program managers plan technical, outreach and professional training, the Department of Energy Better Buildings Residential Network recently launched a Training Toolkit.

Eden Housing affordable housing developer in Alameda County, California, has partnered with the Better Building Initiative to reduce the energy intensity of its properties by 20 percent. Reduced energy intensity results in lower utility bills for tenants and building owners. (Photo by Eden Housing)

Eden Housing affordable housing developer in Alameda County, California, has partnered with the Better Building Initiative to reduce the energy intensity of its properties by 20 percent. Reduced energy intensity results in lower utility bills for tenants and building owners. (Photo by Eden Housing)

This toolkit—the fourth Residential Network Voluntary Member Initiative—includes tips, resources and examples to help you realize the value of providing training opportunities for contractors, staff and volunteers. A study of more than 140 energy-efficiency programs across the country found that contractor training activities led to more comprehensive upgrades, a higher assessment-to-upgrade conversion rate, improved program processes, improved quality control and increased revenues, among other benefits.

To achieve such results, program staff, volunteers and contractors must have a thorough understanding of building science; sales and marketing; residential energy efficiency program offerings and business development. In the Training Toolkit, program managers will discover training resources and opportunities, compiled and reviewed by Better Buildings Residential Network members, to build that expertise in-house.

The toolkit provides resources on three types of training:

  1. Technical training – Covering building science, energy assessments, technologies and techniques
  2. Outreach training – Covering promotion of program offerings, sales training and customer engagement
  3. Professional training – Covering business development and management for participating contractors

Additional resources at the end of the toolkit include more details on the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center. This online collection of resources and lessons learned concerning training and other topics is based on years of on-the-job experience in residential energy-efficiency programs.

Get involved
The Better Buildings Residential Network connects energy-efficiency programs and partners to share best practices and learn from one another to increase the number of energy-efficient homes. Several Western customers, including the cities of Fort Collins, ColoradoYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Palo Alto, CaliforniaYou are leaving WAPA.gov. participate in the initiative.

Members of the Residential Network join with other energy-efficiency programs and partners to identify and address common challenges and market opportunities through voluntary initiatives that result in the development of new tools and resources. Your feedback concerning this toolkit and your training efforts help the network improve its resources and identify new issues.

Contact the Residential Network for more information about joining or participating in the next voluntary initiative.

Source: DOE Better Buildings Initiative, 3/25/16

Seminars cover California building code changes

California utilities have benefitted from strong building efficiency codes that have helped keep energy use constant in the state for decades. Power providers also appreciate the challenges building owners and developers face in complying with the toughest efficiency codes in the nation. Green Technology Training is offering a seminar You are leaving Western's site. that can help construction and real estate professionals, as well as utility key account staff and program managers, get up to speed on the latest revisions.

2016 Building Efficiency Standards: Changes and Challenges will cover the Title 24 changes that go into effect January 2017 for both residential and commercial buildings, from high performance walls and attics to lighting and lighting controls. With each round of revisions, the state’s Energy Code moves closer to the goal of zero net energy for all new construction. Staying up to date with its evolution will help utilities as they design new efficiency programs, update preferred contractor lists and advise commercial customers on retrofits.

For convenience, Green Technology is offering the seminar on multiple dates at locations throughout the state:

Attendees will be eligible to receive five Health, Safety and Welfare Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from the American Institute of Architects You are leaving Western's site. and .5 International Code Council You are leaving Western's site. CEUs for the course. Sessions will also offer Build it Green CEUs (one credit per hour) and Construction Management Association of America You are leaving Western's site. renewal points (one per hour). All registrants will receive a certificate of participation.

This training is a good opportunity to prepare your staff to support customers as they work toward creating the most efficient building stock in the country. Knowledge is power, and knowledge of the California Building Code is the power to become an indispensable resource your customers can rely on.

In-home events jump-start outreach, says DOE Better Buildings program

Keeping customer outreach programs fresh is a challenge for even the most customer-oriented utility. The Marketing and Outreach Handbook from the Energy Department’s Better Buildings Program recommends using in-home events to show customers the real-world benefits of energy-efficiency upgrades.InHomeProvenPractices

Unlike remodeling projects, the benefits of a home energy upgrade are generally not immediately visible to the casual observer. Strategies that demonstrate tangible benefits from upgrades can help customers understand the value of such projects and motivate them to invest in improvements.

Utility-sponsored house parties and demonstration homes help make energy efficiency real by showing potential customers what a home energy assessment or upgrade entails. In some cases, the hosts of these events were interested or satisfied customers—trusted marketing sources—who invited friends and neighbors to their homes. Utility program staff and contractors were typically on hand to walk the guests through an assessment of the house or to point out the efficiency measures in upgraded homes, and to answer any questions.

The handbook offers case studies of successful home tour programs across the United States. A few proven practices that make upgrade benefits visible include:

  • Show how assessments work
    Energy Impact Illinois used “house parties” to build momentum for energy assessments and upgrades. Trusted neighbors hosted contractors who showed guests where energy was being wasted and explained ways to improve comfort while saving energy.
  • Hold house tours
    New Orleans, Louisiana Worthwhile Investments Save Energy gave open house tours in the upgraded homes of happy clients. Signs highlighting completed work were posted throughout the house, and the upgrade contractor was present to talk about the associated energy savings. These showcase events produced high-quality leads who were likely to undertake projects.
  • Invite the whole neighborhood
    ShopSmart with JEA, You are leaving Western's site. a Florida utility rebate program, threw a Home Energy Makeover: Block Party to raise community awareness about its rebate opportunities. Homeowners who had received home energy assessments from a local energy professional hosted block parties for their neighbors. The energy professional reviewed the assessment and upgrade process, discussed rebate options and answered questions from friends and neighbors who attended.
  • Make efficiency personal
    The California Center for Sustainable Energy You are leaving Western's site. provided demonstration tours in homes that completed upgrades in Chula Vista, California. Potential customers could learn about their neighbors’ experiences, ask questions of the home performance professionals who installed the upgrades and sign up for an energy assessment of their own home for less than $50.

Start here for success
You will find more residential energy-efficiency outreach tips, step-by-step instructions and program examples in Marketing & Outreach – Develop Implementation Plans to jump-start your outreach program. If you haven’t used the Better Building Residential Program Solution Center, take a tour through its resources for key lessons and best practices drawn from the experience of utilities, energy organizations and their partners.

Source: DOE Better Buildings Program, 8/25/15

Electricity savings bear results for Holy Cross consumers

Out-of-date lights at Bear Paw Lodge Redirecting to a non-government site in Beaver Creek, Colorado, were eating up not only electricity, but also staff time to replace burned-out bulbs. To tame the lighting system’s bruin-sized appetite, the managers of the luxury home and condo resort turned to Holy Cross Energy Redirecting to a non-government site for help.

Over the last nine years, the cooperative’s We Care energy-efficiency program has helped hundreds of businesses and households in the Roaring Fork Valley upgrade to more efficient systems and equipment.

Retrofit delivers lower costs, less maintenance
The slope-side resort invested in high-efficiency LEDs for the common areas, parking garages, stairwells and ski lockers. The Bear Paw homeowners’ association can expect savings on their energy bill of about $23,000 per year. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, also provide better light and last significantly longer than conventional lamps. Tim Schwartz, chief engineer for the lodge, said he is looking forward to working until retirement without having to change a single light bulb.

Replacing conventional lighting with efficient LED lamps not only reduced the electricity bills for Bear Paw Lodge, it also made life a little easier for Chief Engineer Tim Schwartz. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Replacing conventional lighting with efficient LED lamps not only reduced the electricity bills for Bear Paw Lodge, it also made life a little easier for Chief Engineer Tim Schwartz. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

A rebate of $31,500 from Holy Cross, plus $2,500 from Energy Smart ColoradoRedirecting to a non-government site made Bear Paw’s total project investment a lot easier to swallow. The lower, out-of-pocket costs give the whole project a payback period of less than three years.Results like Bear Paw’s prove that energy efficiency is good business sense. Member-owned Holy Cross Energy is working to help more of its business and household consumers realize similar paybacks.

Savings pile upHolyCrossSideBar
Seeking deeper energy savings from its We Care program, the utility set a five-year goal in 2013 for its consumers to save 33,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year by 2017. That equals all the electricity used annually by 2,457 homes in the Holy Cross service area, which spreads across Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties.

In 2014 alone, more than 1,000 energy upgrades done by 829 Holy Cross consumers will save 10,106 MWh of electricity per year, according to Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross.

“This is on top of 6,241 megawatt-hours of annual savings from projects done in 2013, so we are halfway to our goal in the first two years,” Wiener said. “These savings will continue for years into the future,” she added.

Consumers get on board
To encourage residential and commercial consumers to make energy-saving upgrades, Holy Cross Energy provides expert help and rebates. “We understand that people appreciate getting help to make smart decisions, and the rebates show our consumers that we are their partner in energy efficiency,” said Wiener.

In 2014 alone, Holy Cross paid out more than $1.1 million in rebates to consumers to offset a portion of their investments in efficiency. Funding for the rebates comes from a 2-percent surcharge added to electric bills.

Holy Cross energy coaches visited more than 200 homes to provide complimentary home energy assessments, and the cooperative helped pay for 68 Energy Smart Colorado home assessments. A total of 592 households made energy upgrades in 2014, said Wiener.

“LED lights and recycling old refrigerators were by far the most popular upgrades,” she said. “People also replaced leaky windows, switched to programmable thermostats, swapped out their old holiday lights for LED strings and installed heat tape timers.”

Holy Cross also continued its partnership with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Redirecting to a non-government site (NWCCOG), which offers a home weatherization program to income-qualified households. In 2014, the NWCCOG crew used a $46,000 contribution from Holy Cross to make upgrades for 22 households.

LED lighting is project of choice
Bringing the benefits of efficiency to businesses and multi-family housing properties is a challenge for all utilities. Holy Cross partnered with Energy Smart Colorado to offer free building walk-throughs and energy coaching to this hard-to-reach market. Locally administered by the Community Office for Resource EfficiencyRedirecting to a non-government site Clean Energy Economy for the Region Redirecting to a non-government site and Walking Mountains Science CenterRedirecting to a non-government site Energy Smart Colorado provides program services to help utilities and municipalities meet energy-efficiency and carbon reduction goals.

Because businesses and lodging use so much more electricity than individual homes, projects at 177 businesses and 51 multi-family properties delivered 93 percent of the total electric savings from 2014 projects.

LED lighting was the project of choice—not surprising, given the added benefit of reduced maintenance. “LED lighting is the hot ticket for businesses, lodges and condos,” said Wiener. “These projects deliver immediate energy savings and rapid payback on your investment. We expect to see a lot more lighting upgrades in 2015 as people see the superior quality of these new LED fixtures and bulbs.”

Installing LEDs in public spaces, like the parking garage at Bear Paw Lodge, offers businesses a quick return on investment. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Installing LEDs in public spaces, like the parking garage at Bear Paw Lodge, offers businesses a quick return on investment. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

More rebates for 2015 projects
So why would a utility want its consumers to use less electricity? “Because it actually saves Holy Cross money,” explained Del Worley, Holy Cross CEO. “In fact, we expect the savings from this year’s efforts to save Holy Cross $1.8 million dollars in power costs over the next five years.”“Energy conservation means we don’t need to invest in costly new power plants, and it reduces the peak demand charges we pay our supplier. Conservation is the most cost-effective investment we can make,” he said.

Holy Cross Energy members agree, and have expressed support for these programs. They can expect more rebate funding from Holy Cross this year to help them invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Source: Holy Cross Energy, 3/12/15

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.

Webinar showcases technologies for high-performance homes

May 21, 2014
1 P.M. MDT

The Washington State University Energy Program for Emerging Energy Efficient Technologies (E3T) is presenting a free webinar on systems, strategies, equipment and appliances to reduce electricity use in residential buildings.  

Next Step Homes & Passive HouseRedirecting to a non-government site is scheduled for May 21 at 1 P.M. MDT. Speakers from the Northwest Energy Efficiency AllianceRedirecting to a non-government site and Passive HouseRedirecting to a non-government site will discuss their individual approaches to whole-house integrated energy efficiency. 

Next Step HomesRedirecting to a non-government site and its parent nonprofit organization, Next Step Network, Inc., work to increase the supply of affordable housing options and put sustainable home ownership within reach of more lower-income families nationwide. Passive House is committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. An E3T Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of regional and national high performance residential building experts are currently identifying, ranking and scoring technologies for their potential to reduce energy use in residential buildings in the Pacific Northwest.

Following the presentations, attendees may participate in a question and answer session. The webinar continues for TAG members only for another half hour.

Participation is free but registration is required.

Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sponsors the monthly E3T Showcase webinars with support from Western. The events offer the latest information about  promising energy-efficiency technologies and practices that BPA is considering for future research opportunities or focus areas.

All webinars are recorded and available on the E3T websiteRedirecting to a non-government site and ConduitRedirecting to a non-government site.

Residential window treatments focus of next free Emerging Technologies webinar

Free webinar
June 19, 12 p.m. PDT 

Replacing windows—even with the latest technology—is not necessarily the most cost-effective way to manage what is basically a hole in the building envelope. The “Emerging Technologies Showcase” webinar series tackles the subject of residential window treatments June 19, at noon PDT.

Learn what’s new in window films, cellular shades and window panels, as well as storm windows. Experts will discuss and compare insulating properties, benefits, drawbacks and potential savings of different options. Presentations will highlight current research and offer a glimpse of the future.

Minimizing heat loss and gain through windows without spoiling a home’s view or décor presents a challenge to homeowners and utilities alike. Register today Redirecting to a non-government site for Residential Window Treatments to explore new solutions to improve comfort and reduce energy use for your residential customers.

This presentation describes window treatments such as window films, cellular shades, window panels, and storm windows, their insulating properties, benefits and drawbacks, and potential energy savings in the Pacific Northwest. Discussion also highlights current research and what to look for in the future.  A question and answer session follows the presentation.

The next Showcase in the series will be on July 17, 2013 at 12:00 p.m PDT.

Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sponsors the Emerging Technologies Showcase series with support from Western Area Power Administration. These monthly webinars bring you the latest information about some of the promising energy efficiency technologies and practices that BPA is considering for future research opportunities or focus areas.

All webinars are recorded and available on the E3T website Redirecting to a non-government site and Conduit Redirecting to a non-government site.

Finding, cultivating qualified retrofit contractors getting easier

Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series on overcoming barriers to customers implementing energy-efficiency improvements.

The key to successful energy-efficiency upgrades—and, therefore, to happy customers—is proper equipment selection, installation and user orientation, if needed. All of which require a qualified contractor who is committed to saving customers energy. While finding enough such vendors to support an energy-efficiency program continues to be a challenge, utilities now have more resources to help them cultivate trade allies.

As with project financing [link to story re-posted on Breaking News], the strategy a utility uses to develop a contractor pool depends on specific factors—the size and population of the service territory, local regulations, the measures a utility chooses to promote. No one size fits all (yes, that phrase again), but the number of utility program models is growing, along with educational programs to train the next generation of contractors.

Utility examples

Many utility programs require customers to hire contractors from a list of preferred vendors, though the qualifications for being included on the list vary greatly. Contractors doing work for Midwest Energy’s How$mart program must simply sign an agreement to install the utility-prescribed measures according to local building code. Fort Collins Utilities’ Home Efficiency Program requires contractors to attend orientation and specialized training, maintain Better Business Bureau accreditation and meet certain insurance requirements. Utilities generally contract with a third-party business or nonprofit organization to provide training.

Where there is a large and diverse labor pool, utilities may allow customers to hire their own contractors to install prescribed measures, but follow up with an inspection by a certified provider. That’s how Platte River Power Authority on Colorado’s Front Range operates its Building Tune-up program for commercial buildings. An approved retrocommissioning service provider identifies ways to improve a building’s efficiency and oversees the projects implemented by contractors the customer chooses.

Platte River takes this approach because retrocommissioning is a specific skill, but post-installation inspections also provide quality assurance—an important step in successful energy-efficiency projects. A knowledgeable utility employee or another third-party energy services professional may perform the inspection. 

Growing the skills

Even in a metropolitan area, however, energy services experts and contractors experienced in energy-efficiency measures don’t grow on trees. That is slowly changing, thanks to programs emerging around the country to train and certify contractors in energy-efficient building practices.

Volunteers participating in the Community Energy Exchange mentoring event at Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village in Empire, Colo., prepare to do a blower door test on a camp cabin. The event taught basic energy auditing and weatherization skills while improving the efficiency and safety of camp buildings. (Photo by Community Energy Exchange)

Nonprofit organizations like Affordable Comfort Inc. (ACI) and Electric & Gas Industries Association (EGIA) offer a full menu of webinars and workshops highlighting best practices in the home performance industry. They work with the Building Performance Institute (BPI), the nation’s standards setting and credentialing organization for energy efficiency retrofit work, to raise the bar in home performance contracting.
 
Regional, state and local groups often team up with these national organizations to put on training and networking events in their own territories. Partnering offers local businesses, utilities and educators a way to increase their reach and resources while addressing the issues specific to their own situation.

Community colleges, with their focus on job readiness, are finding a niche with “green building” programs. Given California’s leadership in energy efficiency, it is not surprising that Los Angeles Community College boasts a cutting-edge sustainable building program. Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colo., is building a green collar workforce with degree and certificate programs across a range of sustainability disciplines. Even in Utah, where energy prices are relatively low, Salt Lake City Community College’s Green Academy offers a lengthy list of certificates in renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies.

On the private side, Everblue Training Institute, a nationwide continuing education institute, partners with BPI, Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council and several universities to advance green building skills. Colorado-based Lightly Treading targets both consumers and contractors, offering energy services to the former and training and exam proctoring for BPI certification  to the latter. This two-pronged approach is one way to make sure that you have qualified contractors to meet your customers’ needs.

Local nonprofit organizations are another avenue for developing the building performance workforce. Sustainable Ideas has partnered with many of the industry associations, schools and businesses noted above to design mentoring and training programs, and do some good in the community in the process. Through its Community Energy Exchange, auditors and contractors have sharpened their skills on projects that improve safety and energy efficiency in low-income housing and nonprofit facilities.

But first, demand

Of course, contractors won’t sign up for training unless they see a consumer demand for energy efficiency. That requires nothing short of market transformation, a seemingly glacial process. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act moved the ball forward by funding state and local programs that raised consumer awareness about energy-efficiency measures, and created a demand for contractors to install them.

Energy Upgrade California is one of those stimulus-funded programs. Local governments, municipalities and utilities created an umbrella initiative to help homeowners make energy-saving improvements, and to give local contractors the opportunity to learn new skills. All contractors participating in Energy Upgrade must complete mandatory orientation session workshops and hold a Whole-House Home Energy Rating System Certification. Over the year that the program has been in operation, 507 contractors have fulfilled the requirements to become Energy Upgrade vendors.

The Home Energy Makeover Contest is a good tool for raising both consumer and contractor awareness by showing how energy retrofits create a positive cash flow. Winning homes are selected for their potential to show how efficiency upgrades can reduce energy consumption. Delta-Montrose Electric Association in Colorado pioneered the promotion, and BPI now sponsors contests with utilities around the country. The contests have helped to increase awareness of home performance assessment and retrofit services, which in turn contributes to more people earning BPI certification—currently at about 22,000 individuals.

Before the contest takes place, BPI recommends that sponsors conduct contractor outreach and training. Contractor networking events like the Rocky Mountain Contractor Exchange might be held as a precursor to a makeover contest, or presented as an annual regional event to build interest and momentum.

No standard certification

The last piece of the puzzle is developing nationally recognized professional certifications, so customers can make informed decisions when hiring contractors—a challenge that won’t disappear any time soon.

More than 100 organizations nationwide are working with the home performance industry to establish guidelines for quality work, effective training and professional certifications. Unfortunately, like building codes, every jurisdiction has its own unique needs and its own ideas about what is important. Expect this challenge to be with the industry for some time to come.

That being said, utilities that have, or want to launch, a retrofit program should get to know what kind of skills exist in the local contractor pool and start building a network. The resources in this story only scratch the surface so there is no need to wait to reap the benefits energy-efficiency upgrades offer customers, power providers, the economy and the environment.