Better Buildings fact sheets highlight top Peer Exchange Call takeaways

When it comes to energy-efficiency programs, each utility is in a different place: Looking for examples to help them get started, trying come up with a way to measure and improve the results of a first-time offering, figuring out how to take an established program to the next level and all the phases in between. Everyone could use a little help and the Better Buildings Residential Network (BBRN) is a good place to find it.

The Better Business Residential Network Peer Exchange Calls often focus on tips and strategies for choosing and working with contractors.
The Better Business Residential Network Peer Exchange Calls often focus on tips and strategies for choosing and working with contractors. (Photo by Better Building Residential Network)

Several times a year, members hold Peer Exchange Calls to compare experiences, analyze misfires, celebrate successes and discuss ways to increase the number of energy-efficient homes in America. As valuable as it would be for utility program managers to participate in this exchange, that is not the only way to benefit from it. BBRN publishes “greatest hits” fact sheets quarterly, summarizing the top takeaways from these calls. You can download this treasure trove of customer service and other tips from the BBRN website, or find Volumes 1 through 6 in the Energy Services fact sheet library.

We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to access these resources because they have so much to offer utilities. For example, here are just two takeaways from Vol. 6 of Lessons Learned:

  • Leverage HVAC upgrades to spark conversations about whole-home performance. Customers, who have put their trust in a contractor to complete their HVAC repair, might welcome the contractor’s expert efficiency advice.
  • Residential energy-efficiency customers have different backgrounds, needs, and motivations, which programs can use to tailor messages and services to different groups. EnergySavvy You are leaving uses cloud software to pair utility data with marketing data and create individual utility customer profiles to target energy efficiency messages.

The fact sheets includes links to full summaries of each call, complete with lists of participants and their locations, an agenda and presentations. Summaries to all past Peer Exchange Calls are archived at BBRN, in case you don’t want to wait for the quarterly fact sheets.

Of course, you can also find out what the leading practitioners of energy-efficient home improvements are talking about by participating in the Peer Exchange Calls. They are generally held on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time and are free with registration. The Return of Residential PACE – the Sequel (201) You are leaving is the topic of the July 21 call.

Source: DOE EERE Better Buildings Residential Network, 6/21/16

Standards, certifications meet consumer demand for quality energy-efficiency upgrades

Consumers are catching on to the value of home energy-efficiency improvements, and building contractors are following.

Last year alone, the Building Performance Institute (BPI), the national standard-setting and credentialing organization, issued 14,571 certifications. That’s an increase of 120 percent over 2010, and represents 63 percent of the total certifications issued from 2001 to 2010. More than 22,000 home performance contractors, weatherization assistance program providers, utilities, home inspectors and other residential service providers hold a total of 31,662 active certifications.

The number of building professionals seeking BPI certification has surged since 2008. This is partly because state and local governments and utilities are getting serious about their energy efficiency programs, observed BPI Marketing and Communications Director Leslie McDowell. “They are offering substantial incentives, rebates and loans to homeowners to have their homes upgraded for energy efficiency. The workforce is reacting to that demand,” she said.

The certifications BPI offers to contractors currently include:

  • Building analysis – Focusing on whole-home assessments that go beyond traditional energy audits to identify and correct problems at the root cause through building science.
  • Building envelope – Quantifying the building shell performance and prescribing improvements to help stop uncontrolled air leakage and optimize comfort, durability and HV/AC performance.
  • Residential building envelope whole-house air leakage control installation – Installing dense-pack insulation materials to reduce energy loss from air leakage, and reduce pollutants and allergens through air migration.
  • Manufactured housing – Applying house-as-a-system fundamentals to the specific needs of various types of housing technologies.
  • Heating – Optimizing the performance of heating equipment to help save energy and ensure occupant comfort, health and safety.
  • Air conditioning and heat pumps – Integrating these systems within the whole home, and diagnosing and correcting problems to achieve peak performance.
  • Multifamily housing – Diagnosing problems and improving the performance of larger, more complex residential structures.

Starting in June 2012, BPI is adding pilot exams for new Home Energy Professional Certifications for the four most common jobs in the home energy upgrade industry— energy auditor, retrofit installer, crew leader and quality control inspector. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is supporting the development of the new certifications and chose BPI as the certifying body.

The new certifications will meet the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 17024) accreditation—the international benchmark for personnel certifications across all industries. Under ISO 17024, each new certification is developed and administered using international best practices, such as cross-disciplinary peer review and industry validation of technical materials.

BPI’s goal for the new ISO 17024-accredited certifications is to provide home energy upgrade professionals with more opportunities for career growth, while building consumer confidence in the value energy-efficiency improvements. BPI expects to roll them out nationally in the fall of 2012.

On-bill financing moves to the mainstream

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series on overcoming barriers to energy-efficiency improvements, and originally appeared in the February 2012 Energy Services Bulletin.

Of all the factors preventing consumers from upgrading the inefficient systems and equipment that run up their utility bills each month, financing may rank as Number 1. It’s certainly hard to argue with a lack of money—if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. Moreover, the people who could benefit most from energy-efficiency improvements often have the least available cash to pay for them. One solution that  many utilities around the country are exploring is on-bill financing.

How it works
This financing mechanism rolls the loan payment for the energy-efficiency measures into the customer’s monthly utility bill. Utilities may service the loan themselves or partner with state energy offices, financial institutions or other third-party providers. The sources of capital, program design, target market and implementation strategy vary widely, depending on the utility’s specific situation and goals.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently published a report listing many advantages to on-bill financing:

  • The loan is secured through an existing relationship with the utility, instead of a (potentially unfamiliar) financial institution.
  • Monthly utility bills decline, even though the loan payments are included.
  • The customer’s payment history can be used to establish creditworthiness.
  • Utility bills showing reduced energy use create a clear link for participants between their energy-efficiency investment and the resulting savings.
  • Rebates and incentives available through the utility can be bundled with the financing to improve the terms of the loan.
  • Capital investors see on-bill programs as a more secure investment since they are based on an established payment relationship.
  • Loans can be tied to a rental property’s meter, so the renter benefit from lower utility bills and greater comfort while occupying the unit, and landlords benefit from increased property values.

Of course, when a program has so many moving parts, it is difficult to pin down the precise elements that are most likely to ensure success. Utilities launching a first-time program will also have to deal with administrative challenges such as:

  • Identifying or setting aside capital to use for loan funds
  • Up-front costs if billing systems need to be modified
  • Diverse utility and regulatory structures
  • Specific needs of different communities
  • Differing state and regional legal regulatory landscapes

What’s in it for utilities
In spite of the challenges and drawbacks, the number of utilities exploring on-bill financing programs is growing. Just as no two programs are alike, the reasons utilities offer them are just as diverse.

Case studies from the ACEEE report show an early on-bill program in Wisconsin saving 1.8 GWh and 93,000 therms over the life of the investments. According to KW Savings, a South Carolina nonprofit, its significant investment in an on-bill pilot offset the cost of building additional generation to meet current demand. Clean Energy Works Oregon uses on-bill repayment not only to reduce energy waste, but also to create green jobs and make efficient technologies more affordable.

As far back as 1997, Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) was using on-bill financing to move its customers from expensive propane heat to geoexchange heat pumps. First with the Co-Z Energy Plan and now with its Geothermal Loop Tariff, DMEA has been building its electrical load while improving its customers’ comfort and saving them money.

Midwest Energy created How$mart in 2006 to convert energy audits into actual energy-efficiency improvements and to reach the underserved tenant market. To date, 650 customers have taken advantage of the program to fund measures in the program’s free energy audits. The utility estimates that measures implemented under How$mart have saved 2,000 kilowatt hours annually for electric projects and 260 therms per year for natural gas.

Want to know more?
Obviously there is much for a utility to investigate before undertaking an on-bill financing program: capital sources, administrative logistics, local regulations and legislation, technical support, consumer protection, and program design. But for all of the complexity and potential risk, on-bill financing offers utilities a way through one big barrier to energy efficiency improvements.

Western would like to help our customers explore this tool. If you would be interested in participating in a workshop or webinar on on-bill financing, contact Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman at 720-962-7419. Also, if your utility has explored or implemented a program, share your experiences with Energy Services Bulletin.

Congress passes Home Star Act

The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act cleared a major hurdle today when the House of Representatives passed the bill 246 to 161. The bill would authorize $5.7 billion over two years to provide rebates for homeowners to make energy-efficiency improvements. An additional $600 million would be available to states for programs to make mobile homes more energy-efficient. Some 3 million households would be expected to take advantage of the program.

There are two components to the bill:

  • The Silver Star program offers rebates of between $1,000 and $1,500 for each improvement installed, or $250 per appliance. Benefits do not exceed $3,000 or 50 percent of total project costs. Covered measures under Silver Star include air sealing; attic, wall and crawl space insulation; duct sealing; window and door replacement, furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters and appliances.
  • The Gold Star program provides $3,000 to consumers who conduct whole-house energy analyses and install technology that improves their overall home energy efficiency by 20 percent. They could receive an additional $1,000 rebate for each additional 5 percent improvement, to a maximum of $8,000. The rebate is limited to 50 percent of the total project cost.

The Home Star initiative differs from the tax credit in last year’s economic stimulus bill that paid up to $1,500 for energy-efficiency improvements. That tax credit expires at the end of this year.

President Obama called Home Star a common sense bill that will create jobs, save consumers money and strengthen the economy. Supporters say it would create almost 170,000 jobs in the construction industry and reduce home energy costs by almost $10 billion over 10 years.