Observing Energy Efficiency Day

Energy Efficiency Day will be observed Oct. 2, raising awareness about the benefits of energy efficiency in lowering consumer costs, alleviating demand on the grid and improving health.

Thermal security of homes is one focus of Energy Efficiency Day.

Buildings in the United States use nearly 40 percent of total energy, including 68 percent of electricity, and are responsible for nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is because one-third of homes are 45 years old or older. Many weren’t built with energy-efficient technology and need to be remodeled and refurbished with energy-efficient appliances to conserve energy.

Energy Efficiency Day Includes Utilities

No organization, group or force is better poised to advance energy efficiency than energy utilities, and as the technology evolves and the industry adapts ever faster, energy utilities will continue to be on the forefront of new energy efficiency innovation. The energy industry has already seen the impact of energy efficiency in improving demand flexibility and energy management.

Most utilities already have robust energy efficiency programs, including efficiency tips and literature, efficiency calculators, email and text alerts, rebates, energy audits, conversion and retrofitting assistance, recommended contractors and marketplaces.  However, a consumer survey by the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) of energy consumers’ engagement level with utility energy efficiency programs revealed that 40% are only “selectively engaged” and commonly made their most significant energy-related upgrade in response to an immediate need or repair.

Many consumers are familiar with the more traditional “point-of-sale” strategies that utilities deploy to promote energy efficiency programs–digital, print, retail kiosks, etc., but to engage the selectively engaged 40%, utilities could consider offering a repair service program. . A repair plan partnership with a service provider like HomeServe, energy efficiency upgrades and initiatives can be presented to customers when they are most likely to be receptive, at the “point-of-repair.” That’s when a network plumber/electrician is in the home, performing a repair. As an added benefit, this approach can also create positive attribution for the utility, in relation to these initiatives.

Repair Plan Partnerships

Repair plan partnerships can deliver additional benefits to utilities, such as royalties and corporate social responsibility programs that provide pro bono services for disadvantaged utility customers. HomeServe partners can also take advantage of the HomeServe App, which can be branded for the utility. The App enables customers to inventory home appliances via bar code scanning, allowing instant access to manuals and warranty and tune-up reminders, and can also serve as a push platform to communicate energy efficiency and other targeted messages. The App also enables communication of important messages regarding outages and public service announcements; establishment of programs to encourage conservation and efficiency; and identification of aging systems/appliances that might be eligible for rebate programs. These benefits are all available free-of-charge to the utility and its customers.

HomeServe is a leading provider of utility-sponsored home repair service programs serving over 4 million customers across North America. We enable utilities to offer additional services for residential energy customers that improve energy efficiency, enhance reliability and service, and increase customer engagement. HomeServe plans protect homeowners against the expense and inconvenience of HVAC, gas and electric lines, water heater and other home emergencies by providing affordable coverage and quality local service from rigorously-vetted network contractors. Customers with a plan are more likely to repair/replace inefficient systems and proactively address issues, and our solution promotes overall energy efficiency, reliability and safety. For more information, contact us.

Energy Infrastructure Impacted by Age

Most energy customers don’t think about the electricity and natural gas that powers their appliances and heats and lights their home – unless there’s a problem. Given the age and condition of our energy infrastructure, the problems compound every year.

Through the 1980s, significant power outages averaged fewer than five per year, but that number has done more than steadily climb – it’s begun to skyrocket. There were 76 significant outages in 2007 and more than 300 in 2011.

Erosion of Energy Infrastructure Has Significant Consequences

Age and condition of the energy infrastructure cause problems to multiply every year.

Some pipelines date back to the 1880s, with most natural gas pipelines being installed prior to 1980. Pipeline breaks and refinery outages cause supply disruptions, which, in turn, lead to higher prices. Reported spills have increased from 573 in 2012 to 715 in 2015.

These soaring numbers have begun to erode customers’ trust and faith in their energy utilities – and they’re looking to find their own solutions.

The problem isn’t enough energy – in fact, with the growth of renewables, more energy is being produced than the grid can often handle, which creates its own set of problems. The issue is the age of the system. More than 50 percent of our energy infrastructure was built prior to the 1970s, and another 20 percent was built in the 1970s and 1980s.

Blackouts have cost the country’s economy billions, but addressing outdated infrastructure will cost billions more – as it stands, the infrastructure, which is a privately owned piecemeal patchwork, may be worth $876 billion. Other estimates put it at between $1.5 and $2 trillion, with a complete replacement costing $5 trillion.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the infrastructure a D+ because so much of the system has aged beyond reasonable use. They estimate that tens of billions of dollars will need to be invested into the infrastructure to improve it. Department of Energy estimates show that more than $12 billion must be spent to maintain natural gas pipelines, stabilize the grid and provide the capacity to handle the influx of renewable energy.

Growth In Renewables Further Stresses Grid

The demand for energy has slowed significantly as homeowners seek out energy efficiency, often for its cost savings, but more and more frequently for its environmental benefits. Over the past decade, electrical usage has been flat, and total energy use has declined by 2 percent.

The lion’s share of innovation – and customer growth – will be in renewable energy. The aging grid isn’t set up to handle the integration of renewable energy, however. Energy can’t be stored on the grid, but in the form of coal, natural gas and nuclear materials. One way to improve the integration is to upgrade the transmission network, so energy from places such as Texas, where there has been heavy investment in wind energy, can be transmitted to places without inexpensive and environmentally friendly energy.

Many utilities face maintenance and upgrade costs while having rate increases capped by regulators, and upgrading transmission lines isn’t easy or inexpensive. An answer may lie in distributed generation and microgrids to upgrade the energy infrastructure.

A microgrid’s ability to operate independently of the main grid can reduce outages, acting essentially as back-up, and being flexible enough to cover anything from a single home or business to jails, hospitals, college campuses and entire neighborhoods. Microgrids also allow connections to distributed energy generators, such as solar panels and wind turbines – and tying into a local energy source will reduce transmission losses. In addition, during a cloudy day, the connection through the microgrid to the main grid allows continued function without a loss of power.

It’s estimated the global distributed energy generation market, driven by lowering costs, will reach more than $570 billion within ten years, and North America is an attractive market. Some utilities have already begun investing billions in renewables as coal plants either age out or the profitability of constructing new ones plummets.

Home wiring systems may need upgrades

This will mean more affordable and reliable energy for rate payers – as long as their service lines and interior electrical systems are in good working order. Like the grid, many home wiring systems have reached the end of their usable lifespans. HomeServe USA can provide affordable home warranty programs to protect rate payers from the expense of unexpected home repairs. For information on a partnership, contact us.

Utilities Strive to Improve Energy Efficiency for Future

Energy efficiency combines a variety of methods.

As more states commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and some, like California, have ambitious goals – to improve energy efficiency will be an important tool in meeting those goals. Additionally, as efficiency-as-a-service pioneers have demonstrated, energy efficiency can represent an added revenue stream. The technology continues to evolve, and, with it, how it’s perceived and utilized both on the supply side and behind the meter.

Here are five articles on the rapidly changing technology and role of energy efficiency:

Energy World: Committing to an Energy Efficient Future by Mohandas Mekanapurath

In India, energy demand is soaring – the energy-hungry market has become the third largest user of solar energy. Providers face a balancing act between the government’s commitment to lowering emission and meeting growing demand reliably. There’s no one magic bullet, but complimentary approaches, including renewables, improved storage, incorporating technology and increased efficiencies, will be key to meeting both needs.

“Comprehensive energy reduction requires implementation of energy-efficient measures that cut across all aspects of energy – generation, distribution and utilization within a facility. Such measures are typically complex to design and implement, especially if the regular operations cannot be disrupted during the implementation.”

Energy Manager Today: 11 Experts Predict the Future of Energy Management in 2019

As energy efficiency continues to realize potential as an energy management tool, demand for real-time information and automated management will soar. Likewise, the interest in investment will only increase as tools become available, making the results of such investments clearer.

The future of energy efficiency can include solar, wind turbines, and more.

“As energy becomes increasingly on-demand, energy data management needs to do the same. ‘With more and more of our partners and customers, waiting for a monthly invoice to take action on energy management is too late,’ says Tim Porter, Director of Partner & OEM Sales at Urjanet. ‘As energy management moves into 2019, we expect to see more energy managers taking advantage of whole building interval data and submeter data to make real-time decisions and get proactive with their strategy.’”

Stanford University: Future of Energy: Efficiency by Amy Adams

The brightest engineering minds of the next generation are exploring ways to reduce energy usage and re-use energy in new and creative ways. This series examines Precourt Energy Efficiency Center projects that look to increase efficiency, including using rooftop reflectors to cool buildings and wireless recharging for electric cars. The cutting edge technology of today soon will be the expectation of tomorrow.

“Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering who works on energy efficiency as well as improved batteries, said he started thinking about heating and cooling when he looked at where most energy goes.

‘We spend 30 percent of electricity to cool and heat the building, which is about 13 percent of total energy consumption,’ he said. ‘The estimation is, if you can change the set point of air conditioning by 1 degree Celsius, you save 10 percent of energy use in the building heating and cooling.’”

AEE: Pioneering a Performance-Based Future for Energy Efficiency, California Utilities Are Creating an Opportunity for Innovation Not to Be Missed by Matt Golden

As providers and states work together to meet new renewable and emissions standards, energy efficiency will be an important part of ensuring demand flexibility. This will include increasing the availability of pay-for-performance programs in households and small businesses, beyond the commercial and industrial markets, removing barriers to energy efficiency programs and reaching disadvantaged communities.

“Combining pay-for-performance with time and locational meter-based savings represents a major leap forward for energy efficiency, enabling it to compete as a true distributed energy resource.

‘Our focus in this process is the customer and how do we put the highest quality programs at their fingertips,’ says Matthew Braunwarth, Manager of Energy Efficiency Program Procurement at PG&E. PG&E’s RFA is designed to invite innovation and broaden the pool of potential applicants by minimizing the barriers of entry to submit new program ideas that deliver value for building owners and the electric power system.”

Utility Dive: Integration is the Next Step in Demand Side Management: Here’s How Three Utilities Are Pursuing It by Robert Walton

The article explores how PG&E, Con Ed and Eversource are using energy efficiency and demand response as part of Integrated Demand Side Management. IDSM is allowing these utilities to defer infrastructure investment, engage customers in demand response programs and be proactive with energy efficiency projects.  

Mary Ann Piette, senior scientist and director of the Building Technology and Urban Systems Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, also spoke on the webinar and reminded utilities that ‘many building owners don’t really understand the nuances of the electric system and the different programs, but they understand their bill.’

These customers want technology in their buildings that can ‘help them both increase energy efficiency and reduce peak demand, and respond to demand response events,’ Piette said.”

Whether a provider uses energy efficiency programs to improve customer engagement– which improves customer satisfaction and ROI – or pursues it as an additional revenue stream, we have only begun to explore how it can change the energy industry.  

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home protection programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information visit www.homeserveutility.com/energy-efficiency or contact me

Energy Efficiency – The Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Benefits

Energy efficiency has become a buzzword, especially among politicians who vow to increase efficiency alongside renewable resources. But what does it mean for energy utilities and their consumers?

For consumers, the benefits are clear – a lower electric bill with cost fluctuations having less of an impact, and a reduction in their carbon footprint, something that’s particularly important to younger ratepayers, including Millennials.

Trust and Energy Efficiency

As Daniel Fisher writes for Ecosphere+ in “The Millennial Consumer: A Driving Force for Corporate Sustainability,” This has all led to a world where trust has become a form of currency. Alongside this new currency and this generation’s collective concern and desire to act, leaning more heavily towards environmental initiatives than ever before, businesses are feeling the pressure to adapt their social and environmental practices. 

For example, recent studies show that ‘more than 9 in 10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause,’ and that millennials are ‘prepared to make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about, whether that’s paying more for a product, sharing products rather than buying, or taking a pay cut to work for a responsible company.’”

Utility Benefits

For energy utilities, the benefits may not seem as obvious, but energy efficiency allows utilities to step away from large investments on the supply-side, including building new plants.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory publication, “The Future of U.S. Electricity Efficiency Programs Funded by Utility Customers,” noted that energy efficiency flattens load growth, impacting investment in infrastructure. It is expected to do so into 2030.

Electricity savings from these programs, and from complementary policies such as equipment standards and building energy codes, have contributed to modest or even no growth in electricity loads in many states in recent years. That affects the need for investment in new electricity infrastructure, across generation, transmission and distribution systems, and the impact of such investments on rates.”

“The Cost of Saving Electricity Through Energy Efficiency Programs Funded by Utility Customers,” another Berkeley report, notes that the cost to the utility per saved kilowatt-hour ranged from 5 cents to less than 2 cents, while the levelized cost to generate a kilowatt-hour for a gas-fired plant is 5 to 8 cents, and up to 15 cents for a coal-fired plant. The greatest savings were seen in residential programs, especially lighting programs.

“The continued cost-effectiveness of the aggregate portfolio of efficiency programs—and thus the magnitude of the efficiency resource and where those savings can be acquired—depends to a significant degree on continued low cost and substantial savings from residential consumer products. Technological changes can enhance lifetime savings on a per measure basis.”

The decoupling of profits from usage and performance incentives isn’t new, but it does allow utilities to pursue efficiency programs without cutting into their own profits. 

Wide-Ranging Benefits

As Martin Kushler, Dan York and Patti Witte note in a report for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, energy efficiency addresses construction costs, uncertain cost recovery for new plants, public opposition to building new generation and transmission facilities and growing concerns about the environment. They acknowledge that the traditional model of profits reaped from kilowatt hours sold is the opposite of energy efficiency, so decoupling and incentives allows more frequent rate changes to meet necessary financial goals.

The authors of, “Aligning Utility Interests with Energy Efficiency Objectives,” explain that, “Experience to date suggests that the results from enacting either of these regulatory mechanisms has generally been very positive, with the utilities or other program providers governed by such mechanisms often demonstrating strong commitment to meet or exceed established goals for their energy efficiency programs. With the rapidly increasing interest in expanding energy efficiency as a utility system resource, we expect, and recommend, further adoption of regulatory mechanisms to address the utility financial concerns regarding energy efficiency.”

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers through the promotion of energy efficiency and other beneficial programs. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home protection programs with efficiency initiatives, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage our marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers on important utility programs through a variety of channels. For more information on our work with utilities, contact us

Furnace Tune Up: Better late than never, but right now is even better!

Furnace Tune Up: Better late than never, but right now is even better!

It might not feel like it right now, but colder weather is right around the corner. That makes it the perfect time to make sure your customers’ heating systems are prepared to handle the inevitable – plummeting winter temperatures. Waiting until the first cold day of the season is not the right time to find out if a heater is functioning properly, so it’s time for furnace tune up services.

Did you know that, on average, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems together run over 2,000 hours each and every year and that replacement of either a heating or cooling unit can cost thousands? That’s why we are working to promote National Tune Up Day, a yearly reminder that scheduling an annual furnace tune up takes just a few minutes but can save a whole lot of money and hassle in the long run.

During a tune-up, a competent technician typically goes through the following important check-list of system tasks:

  • Check safety systems and controls
  • Check/adjust thermostats
  • Check/adjust burners
  • Check/clean pilot
  • Check/clean gauge and flush low water cut-off
  • Check filters and belts
  • Check flue pipe and chimney draft
  • Check oil motors and pumps
  • Check/clean blower assembly
  • Check condensate line if applicable

While many Americans don’t expect to have to deal with a home emergency, over half of the respondents in a 2018 HomeServe survey reported having a home repair emergency just in the past year – and furnace tune up and HVAC repairs topped the list. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To learn more, click here.

Alternative Energy Sources Inaccessible to Many Low Income Americans

Alternative Energy Sources Inaccessible to Many Low Income Americans

Solar panel prices have seen a sustained drop – more than 70 percent since 2009 – but it costs approximately $15,000 or more to have a solar array installed, or $7 to $9 per watt produced. This expense puts one of the most popular alternative energy sources out of reach for low income Americans, who would most benefit from the long-term savings.

Single family homeowners are using their roof space to install relatively inexpensive solar panels, but many low-income Americans live in either apartment or rental properties and don’t have permission to install the panels.

Consumers Benefit from Alternative Energy Sources

A small-scale, on-site power source, or distributed generation system, has seen a dramatic increase in interest and implementation, especially in the solar energy field, increasing globally by 50 percent in 2016. Customers using distributed generation systems connect to the electrical grid for power when their solar panels aren’t producing enough energy to meet their needs, and to sell energy back to the utility when their systems produce excess energy. Energy net metering, or the process of selling excess energy back to a utility, could result in even further utility cost reductions for low-income Americans.

The cost per watt has come down from $76.67 in 1977 to 60 cents, but the upfront costs are still not affordable for low-income Americans. Eighty percent are estimated to want solar power, but can’t install panels on their homes.

Industry Aid

Other groups are working to make alternative energy sources, such as solar energy, accessible to low-income Americans through group discount programs, leasing and community solar gardens.

Some organizations are using greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade – taking the funds factories and power plants use to buy carbon credits – and reinvesting them in clean energy, such as GRID Alternatives. Solarize, founded in 2009 in Portland, Ore., collectively bargains on behalf of groups of home or business owners to lower the cost of installations, reducing the upfront costs for solar energy.

Solutions that Fit

Solar gardens are a community-owned solar array using energy net metering, and are an alternative to installing panels for those who are low-income or who live in a heavily shaded area. Solar gardens pool the costs and the benefits, making it an attractive option for those who can afford to buy-in or “subscribe.” The upfront costs can be raised through crowd funding or through a third-party financier power purchase agreement.

Solar gardens require a lot of groundwork, however, and cooperation between communities, legislators and utilities. A garden manager should be designated to oversee the sale of shares and the operation and maintenance of the solar garden, in addition to the upfront costs.  A utility can also handle this responsibility if a community partners with a utility.

Leasing Options

PoisGen is a solar panel leasing company – unique for focusing on low- to middle-income homeowners – operating in Louisiana and New England. Generally, a solar panel lease works like any other. A homeowner agrees to lease the panels for a period, usually between 10 and 20 years, and to purchase energy from the leasing company. There may be a down payment, and the leasing company is responsible for the care and maintenance of the system.

However, those who lease their solar panels usually miss out on federal tax credits and state incentives for those installing their own panels, including the ability to sell Renewable Energy Certificates to electric utilities. If a homeowner sells their home, they must either transfer the lease to the new owners or pay to terminate the contract. Leases also are primarily available in sunny states with generous incentives.

Innovators are finding new and creative ways of harnessing solar power as solar energy becomes more popular. Xcel Energy has partnered with the Colorado Energy Office to develop community solar gardens for low-income households as part of a settlement. The Obama administration proposed installing enough solar panels on federally subsidized housing to generate 300 megawatts of electricity by 2020, and third-party owners are leasing skyscraper rooftops in urban areas to build solar farms.

Safe Infrastructure

Another important factor in ensuring low-cost, safe energy in low-income households is up-to-code electrical wiring in good repair.  While there are programs such as Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush of Kindness and USDA Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants, such programs have income, age or area eligibility requirements. Many citizens lack the savings for an emergency repair, according to HomeServe USA’s Biannual State of the Home Survey Summer 2017 edition. Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed didn’t have any money set aside for an emergency – and not all of those will qualify for repair assistance programs.

HomeServe offers low-cost warranty programs for interior and exterior electric lines as well as other systems in the home. HomeServe utility partners may qualify for royalties that can be applied to low-income assistance or renewable energy programs. Contact us at businessdevelopment@homeserveusa.com or call 1-888-777-1175 to find out more about how our program can benefit your customers.