News - energy efficiency

Get Fire Out Of Our Buildings

There is some debate among scholars over when humans first learned to control fire. A large body of evidence suggests people have been using it for around 600,000 years, but recent discoveries have pushed the date back to as far as 1 million years ago. Regardless of when exactly it started, there is no question that controlling fire has changed the course of human evolution. Fire allowed our ancestors to cook food, fend off predators, and venture into harsh climates. It encouraged people to gather together in groups and stay up into the night, and for millions of years it has made our dwellings warm and comfortable. But as amazing as it’s been, using fire is not without problems, especially as our population gets larger and environmental concerns grow.

Will Data Save Home Performance?

Having a good way to measure efficiency is valuable to the home performance industry for many reasons. Easy to obtain, low cost, accurate savings data can be used to better educate consumers, close sales and help crews use their time more effectively when installing upgrades. Accurate data enables rebate programs to maximize every dollar spent on incentives. Good data can help legislators understand the real value of energy efficiency in order to pass regulations to support it. As accountants have said for years, in order to manage something, you have to be able to measure it. Perhaps that’s where the phrase “watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” comes from.

Advocacy Update: EM&V 2.0

The conversation at the CPUC this month has been focused on Evaluation, Measurement, and Verification or as it is more commonly referred to EM&V.

Consider the process of designing an incentive program, the basic idea is you are giving out money to achieve a desired result. Typically you make some forecasts of how things will work (referred to as ex-ante forecasts) and then review the actual results after a period of time.

Now that your program is up and running how do you tell if you are achieving the desired result? This is where EM&V comes in. You evaluate the situation, measure the results, and verify they are true.

Advocacy Update: September 2017

Third Party Programs
Typically I don’t focus on incentive programs as part of our advocacy efforts. Rebate program conversations can take up precious bandwidth with meager outcomes. This month I am taking exception and would like to discuss the radical new changes happening to rebates in the near future.
 
First off I need to mention that California is well on the way to having a residential performance based rebate program. PG&E has a Pilot Pay-For-Performance (P4P) program in the works and we should see it roll out any day now. Paying rebates on measured performance is a fundamental change in how things are done. We will keep a close eye on this one.
 

The Latest Trend in Home Performance: Why You Should Be Concerned

For the past couple of years there has been a lot of conversation in the industry about indoor air quality and the health benefits of home performance upgrades. Even the certification folks have jumped on the bandwagon, offering special certifications for home inspections that focus on health and indoor air quality. There is no question that energy upgrades can improve the indoor environment of a home or building; this has always been one of the non-energy benefits of home performance upgrades. The real question is, does this warrant a change in messaging for the home performance industry? Should we be driving the industry to focus on promoting health benefits as a way to stimulate growth and potentially spur market transformation?

Advocacy Update: August 2017

Residential Pay-For-Performance is gaining traction in California. PG&E is close to launching a Pilot program and hopefully will have it in place by the end of the year. The other three IOUs (Investor Owned Utilities) are watching closely.

Running the current Energy Upgrade California rebate program is expensive and by most accounts is not sustainable. How expensive? Check out this chart I created from the recently released CPUC report on EE portfolio costs.

Fiscal Year 2015 - Energy Upgrade California - CPUC Program Expense Report

The True Value of an Energy Audit

Residential energy efficiency, or home performance, has historically been based on measured results. A contractor physically goes to the location, performs a variety of tests and takes all kinds of measurements and then determines a plan of attack to improve the home using building science principles. After the work is complete, the contractor performs the same tests again to validate or verify the results. This “test-in/test-out” process provides measurable and repeatable outcomes.

Advocacy Update: July 2017

Stuck on the “Three Prong Test”

The California Public Utility Commission uses the 3-prong test to allow fuel substitution on projects with incentives. For energy efficiency contractors this represents a barrier that is limiting the switch from natural gas appliances to electric heat pump technology.

In it’s simplest form the 3-prong test requires projects to meet the following criteria:

1. Must not increase source-Btu consumption, using CEC-established heat rates

2. Program/measure/project must have both TRC and PAC benefit-cost ratio ≥1.0

3. Must not adversely impact the environment, using most recently adopted values for avoided costs of emissions.

Will ZNE Transform Energy Efficiency?

There is a lot of conversation these days about making buildings Zero Net Energy (ZNE). The basic idea is that a ZNE house or building produces as much energy as it uses in a year. Early adopters have been interested in ZNE building for years, but its only recently that technology has gotten to the point where it’s possible to make ZNE a reality at a large scale. The combination of a continued reduction in the cost of solar panels along with advances in energy efficiency technology means that the potential for ZNE is growing by the day.

It’s Time to Stop Using Fire in Our Homes

At some point in time man gained control over fire. Fire was very useful: it could be used to cook food, provide light, and its heat allowed us to survive in hostile environments.

Thousands of years later, some things haven’t changed much. Whether we have a natural gas or propane furnace or (in some parts of the country) an oil fired boiler, most of us still rely on fire in some form to heat our homes and our water. Many of us use open flames for cooking as well: the gas cooktop is a favorite of many culinary experts.