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New and Notable

March 01, 2013
March/April 2013
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Installed Price of Solar PV Continues to Decline

The installed price of solar-PV power systems in the United States fell substantially in 2011 and through the first half of 2012, according to the latest edition of Tracking the Sun, an annual PV cost-tracking report produced by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The median installed price of residential and commercial PV systems completed in 2011 fell by roughly 11–14% from the year before, depending on system size, and in California, prices fell by an additional 3%–7% within the first six months of 2012. These recent installed-price reductions are attributable, in large part, to dramatic reductions in PV module prices, which have been falling precipitously since 2008.

The report indicates that nonmodule costs—such as installation labor, marketing, overhead, inverters, and the balance of systems—have also fallen significantly over time. “The drop in nonmodule costs is especially important,” notes report coauthor Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division, “as these costs can be most readily influenced by local, state, and national policies aimed at accelerating deployment and removing market barriers.” According to the report, average nonmodule costs for residential and commercial systems declined by roughly 30% from 1998 to 2011, but have not declined as rapidly as module prices in recent years. As a result, nonmodule costs now represent a sizable fraction of the installed price of PV systems, and continued deep reduction in the price of PV will require concerted emphasis on lowering the portion of nonmodule costs associated with so-called business process, or soft, costs.

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Download the report Tracking the Sun V: An Historical Summary of the Installed Price of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 2011, by Galen Barbose, Naïm Darghouth, and Ryan Wiser.

The report indicates that the median installed price of PV systems installed in 2011 was $6.10/W for residential and commercial systems of less than 10 kW, and $4.90/W for commercial systems of 100 kW or more. Utility-sector PV systems larger than 2,000 kW averaged $3.40/W in 2011. Report coauthor Galen Barbose, also of Berkeley Lab, stresses the importance of keeping these numbers in context, noting that “these data provide a reliable benchmark for systems installed in the recent past, but prices have continued to decline over time, and PV systems being sold today are being offered at lower prices.”


Changing Energy Behavior

Apogee Interactive, Incorporated, a 20-year leader in providing online energy education and analysis applications for utilities, recently announced the results of three studies conducted over the past two years investigating the impact of energy education and competitions on energy use. Researchers set out to document changes in usage where the Apogee online energy education tools are integrated into the utility’s billing and/or metering system. Results were an impressive range of energy reductions, from an average of almost 4% for users of online bill analysis self-assessments to over 20% when competition and social media were included. These studies, conducted by industry visionary Joel Gilbert, P.E., and lead investigator Lei Wang, used the industry standard methodologies to calculate their results. The first study sought to determine whether customers performing an online energy audit use less energy as a result. This study, conducted with a major East Coast investor-owned utility and confirmed as accurate by the utility’s measurement and verification (M&V) consultants, produced some eye-opening data. It analyzed hundreds of thousands of billing records for more than 10,000 customers, comparing a control group to the treatment group of customers using Apogee’s online audit.

Conclusion: Across all sizes of customers, savings realized by performing an online energy audit were almost 4%. A related and interesting finding of this study—one that has major implications for utilities with energy efficiency or demand-response programs—was that users of the online energy audit were 5 times more likely than the general population to participate in the utility’s energy efficiency programs.

According to study director and Apogee Chief Software Architect Joel Gilbert, these findings merit serious consideration as utilities contemplate programs intended to balance cost-effectiveness with impact. “The slogan goes, ‘An educated consumer is your best customer,’ and that is what our research confirms. The cost of a self-audit is pennies compared to hundreds of dollars for an in-home visit by a professional auditor,” explains Gilbert.

The second study, performed with a large investor-owned utility in the Southeast, quantified impacts resulting from in-home energy audits conducted on-site with professionally trained energy auditors. In this case, annual energy use before and after the audit was compared quarterly for a period of one year following the audit. Progress reports showing the impact of changes that customers made to their home or behavior postaudit were mailed to customers. On average, these changes resulted in a 7% reduction in energy use. The last study, performed with a municipal utility in the Southeast, looked at a school-to-school competition to reduce energy use in the school through behavior alone. This two-year competition, using interval meter data for the 13 schools, enabled students, teachers, and administrators to consistently track an astonishing 12% year-on-year weather-adjusted reduction in kWh using nothing more than behavior—students and teachers turning things off when they were not needed. The three best-performing schools topped 20% energy savings. Prize money was computed as a portion of the energy cost savings produced for the school as a result of lower energy bills.

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Get more information on Apogee Interactive, Incorporated, and on these studies.

Overall, Gilbert and Wang found that energy education, fueled by inexpensive communication and accelerated by competition, is the low-hanging fruit of the energy efficiency challenge. In an age when dependence on foreign oil threatens our national security, and escalating energy costs weaken customers’ ability to pay their bills, it is imperative that utilities do all they can to leverage low-cost and effective means of changing customer behavior.


Set Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement

Fifteen industry-leading multichannel video providers and device manufacturers that deliver service to more than 90 million American households are launching an unprecedented Set Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement that will result in annual residential electricity savings of $1.5 billion or more as the commitment is fully realized, the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) recently announced.

Participating companies include providers (listed according to number of customers) Comcast, DIRECTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon, Charter, AT&T, Cablevision, Bright House Networks, and CenturyLink, and manufacturers Cisco, Motorola, EchoStar Technologies, and ARRIS. Through the voluntary five-year Set Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement, which went into effect as of January 1, 2013, these companies made the following commitments:

  • At least 90% of all new set top boxes purchased and deployed after January 1, 2013, will meet EPA Energy Star 3.0 efficiency levels. Based on market projections for set top box deployments, this will result in residential electricity savings of $1.5 billion annually as the agreement is fully realized.
  • For immediate residential electricity savings, light-sleep capabilities will be downloaded by cable operators to more than 10 million digital video recorders (DVRs) that are already in homes. This year, telco providers will offer light-sleep capabilities, and satellite providers will include an automatic power down feature in 90% of set top boxes purchased and deployed.
  • Energy-efficient whole-home DVR solutions will be available as an alternative to multiple in-home DVRs for subscribers of satellite and some telco providers beginning in 2013.
  • Deep-sleep functionality in next-generation cable set top boxes will be field-tested and will be deployed if it proves successful.

“Providing American consumers with innovative services that deliver great video content and reduce in-home energy costs is win-win for customers and participating companies,” says Michael Powell, NCTA president and CEO. “Multichannel video providers and device manufacturers are proud to participate in this unprecedented initiative, and we will continue to pursue even more ways to reduce the overall energy footprint of our services.”

According to EPA, set top boxes that are Energy Star qualified are, on average, 45% more efficient than conventional models. The new energy conservation initiative will produce more energy savings overall, and five years earlier than originally anticipated by DOE in its most recent review of set top box energy conservation issues. Prior to this agreement, 2018 was the earliest date that any DOE set top box standards would have been implemented.

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Download the PDF of the Set Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement.

Companies involved in the new Set Top Box Energy Conservation Agreement will meet regularly to review and update energy efficiency measures, and to host ongoing discussions with DOE, EPA, and other interested government agencies and stakeholders on new technologies and equipment. To create accountability and support transparency, the terms of the agreement include detailed processes for verification of set top box performance in the field, annual public reporting on energy efficiency improvements, and posting of product power consumption information by each company for its customers.


REVISED green guides from the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued revised “Green Guides” that are designed to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and nondeceptive. The revisions reflect a wide range of public input, including hundreds of consumer and industry comments on previously proposed revisions. They include updates to the existing guides, as well as new sections on the use of carbon offsets, green certifications and seals, claims concerning renewable energy and renewable materials.

“The introduction of environmentally friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them,” says FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated. The FTC’s changes to the Green Guides will level the playing field for honest business people, which is one reason why we had such broad support.”

In revising the Green Guides, the FTC modified and clarified sections of the previous guides and provided new guidance on environmental claims that were not commonly made when the guides were last reviewed.

Among other modifications, the guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly,” because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Very few, if any, products have all the attributes consumers seem to expect when they see such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.

The guides also

  • advise marketers not to make an unqualified degradable claim for a solid-waste product unless they can prove that the entire product will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal;
  • caution that items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so marketers should not make unqualified degradable claims for these items; and
  • clarify guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled-content, and source reduction claims.

The guides contain new sections on certifications and seals of approval; carbon offsets; free-of claims; nontoxic claims; made with renewable energy claims; and made with renewable materials claims. The new section on certifications and seals of approval, for example, emphasizes that certifications and seals may be considered endorsements that are covered by the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, and includes examples that illustrate how marketers could disclose a material connection that might affect the weight or credibility of an endorsement. In addition, the guides caution marketers not to use environmental certifications or seals that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification, because such seals or certifications are likely to suggest environmental benefits.

Finally, either because the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or because it wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates or contradicts the rules or guidance of other agencies, the guides do not address use of the terms sustainable, natural, and organic. Organic claims made for textiles and other products derived from agricultural products are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic program.

learn more

Download a PDF of the Green Guides.

The FTC has brought several actions in recent years related to deceptive recyclability, biodegradable, bamboo, and environmental certification claims, as part of its overall effort to ensure that environmental marketing is truthful and substantiated.

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