RMI publishes report on consumer-centered home energy services

According to the Rocky Mountain InstituteYou are leaving WAPA.gov. a large gap exists between consumers’ interest in home performance and their actual investments in home efficiency improvements. Utilities have a tremendous opportunity to develop a new line of services, and RMI’s recent report, The Consumer Connection: A Consumer-Centric Approach to Delivering Home Energy Services, tells power providers how to unlock this market.

RMI researchers found a clear path that consumers follow from being interested in technology to purchasing it for their home. The report helps contractors, utilities and energy auditors understand the pathway and recognize how and when to engage customers, and who is the best messenger for the information. The report also explores the financing options that are most likely to spur residential customers to adopt energy efficiency upgrades.

The basis of the report is a survey RMI’s Residential Energy+ team conducted with 1,210 homeowners from all 50 U.S. states. In addition to learning what types of messengers, financing and timing make most sense to consumers, the team also uncovered other important findings around financing, what customers are willing to pay and what the main motivations are for energy upgrades.

Utility program managers will recognize the triggers that drive home energy upgrades—a new home purchase, a renovation done to sell a home or broken equipment—but the key takeaway is that consumers buy a product when they want it, not when the provider wants to sell it. The study also emphasizes that consumers do not necessarily want to speak to every stakeholder at each step of the process.

Learning which stakeholder is best suited to convey information can be an important marketing tool for service providers. Stakeholders should focus on what they do best and build partnerships with other stakeholders to fill in the gaps and provide consumers with a seamless selection and installation process.

In today’s utility landscape, power providers need a variety of strategies to maintain strong customer relationships and build an environment of trust and collaboration. A customer-centric program that increases homeowners’ investment in energy-efficiency improvements could contribute much to that goal, while supporting utilities’ load management plans.

Download The Consumer Connection for free from the RMI website.

Source: Rocky Mountain Institute Spark, 8/22/18

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.

New OSHA Regs for Confined Spaces Safety

New confined space regulations from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) taking effect Jan. 8, 2016, have significant implications for home performance companies and weatherization professionals.

This rule is designed to help prevent tragic situations like a recent one where a construction foreman died from asphyxiation after entering a manhole with an uncontrolled hazardous atmosphere.

Under the new rule (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA), permits to access specific confined spaces are granted by the general contractor or lead contractor on each job. There are numerous safe entry procedures that require the contractor to plan and prepare ahead of time. The rule will apply to any space that meets three criteria:

  • It is large enough for a worker to enter it
  • It has limited means of entry or exit
  • It is not designed for continuous occupancy

A space may be a permit-required confined space if it has a hazardous atmosphere, the potential for suffocation, a layout that might trap a worker through converging walls or a sloped floor, or any other serious safety or health hazard.

Employers will be required to train workers to ensure they know about the existence, location and dangers posed by each permit-required confined space.Report - Protecting Construction Workers in Confined Spaces

To help small businesses become compliant, OSHA has published The Small Entity Compliance Guide (pdf). This is plain language explanation covers all aspects of the Confined Space in Construction Rule, including how eliminating or isolating hazards can allow the contractor to reclassify a permit-required confined space as a non-permit confined space.

Learn more about the new regulations on OSHA’s Confined Space website, or check out The New Confined Spaces in Construction – The Big Picture, You are leaving Western's site. a free archived webinar from the National Association of Home Builders.

Also, if you have found a good resource for training energy auditors, customer program representatives and preferred contractors to comply with the new regulation, please share it with Energy Services. Safety always comes first!

Xcel offers extensive energy-efficiency programs

Xcel Energy 2010/2011 Program Portfolio Overview
Shawn White, Business Energy Efficiency Marketing Manager, Xcel Energy

Shawn White, energy-efficiency manager for Xcel’s residential sector (not the “Flying Tomato” of snowboarding fame) described the programs available to the utility’s Colorado customers.

He opened the presentation by stating that it was a very exciting time for energy-efficiency—that things had never happened so fast, there has never been as much money in the market or as much  consumer enthusiasm. For the first time, Xcel’s Colorado division has a dedicated energy-efficiency team and DSM goals are part of the CEO’s scorecard, “Which can be a mixed blessing,” White admitted.

Where DSM was once seen as a bargaining chip to expand generation, it is now being valued for its own benefits. However, White noted, energy-efficiency managers must make sure they bring along the entire organization. “Do your internal communications. Talk about cost effectiveness, positive regulatory treatment and barriers that DSM can ease,” he advised.

Residential programs
Xcel’s 2010 residential portfolio on the electric side includes home lighting and CFL recycling, as well as refrigerator recycling. The Saver’s Switch summer program focused on demand response control of air conditioners. Customers could choose to get a rebate for evaporative cooling systems. 

Gas customers can get rebates for insulation, high-efficiency heating, water heaters and efficient showerheads. For gas/electric customers, combination programs included school education kits, home energy audits, Energy Star for New Homes (for shell and heating and cooling systems) and Home Performance with Energy Star whole-home makeovers.

Programs for business
Business customers, too, have an extensive menu of programs to choose from. White divided the offerings into three categories: Loss-leaders, small changes like CFLs that make people think about the opportunities; prescriptive programs that give customers rebates for measures that reduce energy use, and custom programs, “Where we don’t know how much energy the customer can save until we start investigating,” said White.

Hybrid programs, a fourth category, tailor prescriptive measures to customer needs. Industrial processes are a good target for these measures.

Lots to learn
With so many programs, the lessons Xcel learned were equally diverse. Among those was the discovery that getting customer buy-in on the programs took longer than they expected.  Recovery programs were also slow to roll out. The economy continues to affect the customers’ willingness to replace or upgrade equipment, but that was improving as systems reached the point where they had to be replaced. Energy Star for Homes, however, is popular in spite of the economy.

White recommended using incentives to attract trade allies, and said that having a staff member dedicated to working with contractors was very helpful.

Communicating with the customers
Marketing is an important piece that Susannah Pedigo, Xcel’s Community Energy-efficiency manager, promised would be addressed in future sessions.

While the utility does do consumer outreach and coaching, White acknowledged that so many programs could be confusing to the customer. And, of course, there is a gap between the energy leaders and the slow adopters. “Some customers are simply more aware than others and they are the ones who will demand more innovative programs,” said Pedigo. “Those utilities who want to be innovative must pay attention to social media.”

She added that the next generation of customers is more sophisticated about energy use.  However, White said that those customers are not yet 50 percent of the market.

And the winning CUE Exchange sessions are…

Thanks to all the readers who let us know which sessions of the Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange they want Breaking News to cover. On Thursday, Oct. 14, the morning sessions are Focus on Residential Energy Efficiency and Focus on Commercial Efficiency.  Here is the schedule you selected: 

8:30–9:00 a.m. Utility Commercial Program Snap Shots
Five-minute highlights of utility program activities presented by the session co-chairs and other participants. 

9:00–9:30 a.m. Creating a Compelling Home Energy Audit (res.)
Learn about a pilot project by Xcel Energy and Apogee Interactive, Inc. to study the accuracy and performance of a web RESNET certified software modeling tool. 

9:30–10:00 a.m. Driving Scale and Adoption in the Hard to Reach Small Business Sector (com.)
This presentation focuses on an effective, high-touch, tiered program that drives energy education and energy-efficiency adoption in San Antonio, Texas.

10:30–11:00 a.m. Existing Home Efficiency – Covering All the Bases (res.)
Learn how Fort Collins developed the standards, training and quality assurance aspects of installing insulation, air sealing, windows and HVAC measures and get a progress report on the first 10 months.

11:00–11:30 a.m.  Residential Audits to Homeowner Action in One-Step: How Oklahoma Gas & Electric Is Driving an Innovative Bundled Energy Audit & Residential DSM Effort to Produce Surprising Results (res.) 
This overview of OG&E’s new bundled residential energy-efficiency audit and DSM program covers the program’s innovative use of technology such as real-time scheduling and staff coordination, paperless and tablet-computer driven home audit process and more.

11:30 a.m.–noon  Home Energy Audit Software Selection for Kansas and Utah (res.)
Presentation of home energy audit software selection for two different programs (Kansas and Utah) with similar but distinct objectives.

The themes of the afternoon tracks are Focus on Technology and Focus on Partnerships:

1:00–1:30 p.m. Partnership Snap Shots
Five-minute highlights of utility program activities presented by the session co-chairs and other participants.

1:30–2:00 p.m.  Select HVAC Joint Program Implementation (tech.)
The Select HVAC, a joint utility program developed by Poudre Valley REA and Platte River Power Authority, provides educational opportunities for qualified HVAC professionals and requires a commitment to proper installation practices and commissioning. 

2:00–2:30 p.m.   CARE Program (part.)
Poudre Valley REA has started a CARE program to bring energy efficiency to 50 homes in its service territory.  This program is providing funding for energy audits and improvements on participants’ homes. 

2:30–3:00 p.m.  Moving Beyond Savings: Exploring Techniques for Determining the “How” and “Why” Behavioral Program Success (part.)
Learn how to collect the information utilities really need  to move beyond cookie-cutter intervention models and get to the next level of success. 

3:30–4:00 p.m.  Why Utilities Should Add Geothermal To Their Service Offering (tech.)
Case studies summarize the demand and energy reductions from geothermal heat pump installations across the country and highlight innovative approaches that rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and investor-owned utilities are using to accelerate the deployment of these systems.

4:00–4:30 p.m. Energy Efficiency Incentives That Motivate Home and Business Owners (part.)
Discover best practices and lessons learned from leading utilities, municipalities and manufacturers that partner with installation contractors to design and deliver rebate and financing incentives.

4:30–5:00 p.m.  ENERGY STAR HVAC Quality Installation Program (tech.)
The ENERGY STAR HVAC Quality Installation program goes beyond traditional equipment incentives to deliver energy savings from proper installation of high efficiency HVAC equipment. In addition to realizing the full energy-saving potential of these systems, this new approach can increase customer confidence in their contractor and utility.

Visit the complete agenda for last minute additions to the program. If you see a session that really strikes a chord, let us know. We  encourage guest contributors, and we’ll try to enlist attendees from those sessions to fire off reports in their own words. And of course, we look forward to hearing from you, our readers.

Report: Home size is declining, energy efficiency a factor

According to a report from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the size of new U.S. single-family homes completed in 2009 declined, and consumer awareness of energy consumption may be one the reasons. Recently released U.S. Census Bureau data indicated that new single-family homes were almost 100 square feet smaller in 2009 than they were in 2007, reversing the trend of the past three decades. One reason for the drop, NAHB noted, was homeowners’ desire to keep energy costs in check. The association said this growing energy-efficiency consciousness is likely to continue.

Despite the tendency towards a smaller footprint, overall energy use has been growing, possibly owing to the spread of air conditioning. Census Bureau data show that less than half of all new single-family homes completed in 1973 had air conditioning while nearly nine out of ten new homes were air conditioned.

Residential Energy Consumption Survey” (pg. 3, PDF 51 KB), a U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) report released in 2005, confirms that while both floor size and overall energy consumption have been trending upwards for decades, energy consumption per square foot has been dropping. The survey shows that new households were smallest from 1970 to 1979, averaging 1,863 square feet. They steadily increased through 2005, according to the EIA report. However, even as residences have grown, the amount of energy used per square foot has declined from a high of 89 cents per square foot during the 1970-79 era to 68 cents per square foot in structures built from 2000 to 2005. [Source: DOE EERE News Network, 7/21/10]

DOE’s Pollock opens Utility Energy Forum

The Utility Energy Forum kicked off today with keynote speaker Ed Pollock, residential team leader for the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Program.

Pollock told the audience about DOE’s Builders Challenge residential energy program with its goal of getting net zero energy homes into the market by 2020. The DOE launched Builders Challenge two years ago to build on the pass/fail system of Energy Star for Homes.

The program addressed the “obvious” measures first, tightening building envelopes, retrofitting windows and putting efficient equipment and appliances in new and existing homes. Vampire loads are the next challenge in this phase, said Pollock. “They can’t be addressed in construction,” he noted. “We have to educate consumers to buy the most efficient appliances and monitor their energy use.  Utilities can encourage consumers with time-of-use rates and demand response programs.”

Another area of focus is equipment that can easily be adapted to retrofits to help bring up the efficiency standards in existing homes. Improving energy consumption in the nation’s 110 million-plus existing homes represents a tremendous opportunity for energy savings. Utilities’ experience in retrofit programs could be very helpful in shaping this aspect of Builders Challenge. 

The program will unveil more stringent requirements in 2011. Bringing consistency to the various standards in the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) and other rating programs is necessary to gain consumer acceptance, Pollock said. “If one rating method says a home is efficient, and another rating  says it is not, consumers don’t believe any rating and they don’t make any upgrades.”  

Pollock hopes that utilities will offer feedback on metrics that would be valuable from their perspective. Builders made it clear that the cost of energy is the most important marketing point, so Builders Challenge labels now display that information. The program is working to make it easy for builders see what they need to do to make their product more competitive. A series of 10 homes that exceed program standards have been built, and builders who joined the program early on are finding that their homes are selling better in the slow market.

While consumers and the building industry are gaining appreciation for the value energy efficiency adds to a home, banks have yet to factor it into their appraisals. HUD is hoping to change that by developing a “green” appraiser certification to teach real estate appraisers to value efficient features.

Pollock expects that there will be a lot of activity in the area of home performance rating in the next couple of years. Money is flowing to sponsors and prospective sponsors of energy-efficiency programs, he said, and utilities’ demand-side management programs may qualify for funding. The issue is also on legislators’ radar, with a bill for the new Federal Home Star program making its way through Congress this week. Home Star could release a new round of rebates for both individual measures, and whole house upgrades.