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May/June 2009 Editorial: Saving Home Energy After the Stimulus

Posted by Alan Meier on May 12, 2009
May/June 2009 Editorial: Saving Home Energy After the Stimulus
The residential energy business is scurrying around trying to digest the billions of dollars thrown at us to weatherize and reduce the energy use of our country’s homes.  Few of us, even in our wildest dreams, could have imagined the scenario unfolding in 2009. In the midst of trying to spend this money wisely, we also need to consider what will happen to the efficiency industry after the stimulus? I don’t have a grand vision; instead I have assembled a wish list of modest actions that could begin now.

THIRD-PARTY EVALUATION OF ENERGY-SAVING PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. No institution has the mandate (or the budget) today to regularly verify the energy performance of appliances, materials, and services. Energy Star, some utilities, the Department of Energy and Consumer Reports, nibble at the edges of this problem but few of the results become public. The testing of CFLs is a perfect example. Many utility program managers are aware of which firms sell lousy bulbs, but this information never gets out. Why? Let’s create a national testing agency and shine a light on superior, energy-saving, products.

What is the typical energy use of that (fill in the blank)? You can’t manage what you haven’t measured. National energy policies are flying blind because we don’t reliably know how much the average refrigerator, water heater, hot tub, clothes dryer, or TV consumes. Regular people ask these questions, too. (We get these inquiries every day.) Congress could solve this question by simply legislating that DOE undertake a program of regular measurements of energy-using equipment in buildings to determine equipment usage patterns and energy consumption in each of their operating modes. Sufficient data should be collected so that the results can be confidently used to update energy test procedures, energy labels, and forecasts of national energy demand.

FIX THE LOADING ORDER BY ENSURING THAT COST-EFFECTIVE EFFICIENCY MEASURES ARE INSTALLED BEFORE RENEWABLES. Don’t get me wrong, I want PV on peoples’ roofs but only after they replaced that guzzling refrigerator, upgraded banks of incandescent lights, and so on. You can pour water into a sieve if you want but not with my tax dollars going towards incentives. California and other states require homeowners to undertake some conservation prior to receiving solar incentives; however, the regulations are frequently circumvented. This is a complicated problem which may require third-party certification.

Large energy savings won’t occur until we target middle and upper-class homes with aggressive retrofit programs. We have little experience there but you can be sure that wealthier homeowners and tenants will be much more selective about the products and services. At the same time, the efficiency industry won’t gain legitimacy until it satisfies this market. Let’s start with a national demonstration program of super-retrofits of these homes.

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING. The greatest weakness in the efficiency industry is indifferent quality or, worse, ignorance. The result is failed retrofits, diminished energy savings, and irate customers. Establishing the training and certification courses is a first step. In the long run, however, we need to create institutions that insist on higher levels of quality.

You may disagree about these actions– and I invite you to tell me—but I think you will agree that now is the time to transform the energy efficiency industry and prepare it for the long haul.

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