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 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

Better Buildings Through Partnership: An Update from Boulder County

Ann Livingston, Sustainability Coordinator, Boulder County

Boulder has received an EECBG grant for $25 million to replicate programs the city has been pursuing for years to reduce its carbon footprint through more efficient buildings.

In 2005, the city adopted greenhouse gas emission reduction goals that reflect the Kyoto Protocols and are more ambitious than the state goals. The target is a city with net zero waste and energy.

Prior to Xcel launching its home audit program, Boulder’s Residential Energy Action program subsidized energy audits for city homeowners. Post-audit counseling was offered to encourage audit participants to make recommended improvements. Consumers who now get audits from Xcel can still get counseling from Boulder.

Audit participants who did take action invested about $7,000 in upgrades on average. The city launched the Climate Smart loan program to add more funding for improvements–$3,550 for energy efficiency-only projects, and up to $13,000 for projects that encompass both renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The overarching program goal for BetterBuildings program is to provide a one-stop shop for energy efficiency that will overcome the traditional barriers to consumer’s investing in energy efficiency. The city aims to save $100 million annually and to create jobs with the program.

RFPs for the residential, commercial and joint contractor services have been awarded. The city plans a soft launch for the program from late October to December.

BetterBuildings will provide energy audits with focused one-on-on assistance, financial assist and ongoing support. Energy Corps, a local business, will do onsite air sealing during blower door tests. An “energy concierge” facilitates conversion by helping homeowner to find contractors, apply for rebates, microloans and other financing. The cost will be same or close to Xcel’s audit program.

Xcel, Boulder’s power provider, is assisting with some of the direct installs. The city has synched up call centers with Xcel. The target is to hit 10,000 homes in three years.

Boulder’s commercial program involves direct outreach through neighborhood sweeps to identify energy-saving opportunities in small businesses. Rebates are available to encourage business owners to do maintenance that would improve efficiency, or to change out old, inefficiency equipment and systems.

Program partners include Xcel, which assisted Boulder with the application, marketing and implementation, and the city of Longmont, which helped with program design. Contractors and labor helped in the application phase and will help with marketing.

In the next phase of BetterBuildings, the city will work on successfully engaging contractors to sell energy efficiency, and not just “granite countertops.” Bringing the programs to self-sufficiency in three years is another goal, as is continued job growth and a sustainable jobs market. For every federal dollar spent, another 70 cents of Boulder money was spent. Developing closer partnerships with utilities will smooth the way to the goals.

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.