Part I: Energy Efficiency
Moving consumers and utilities toward a clean energy future is complex, and there are many pathways to achieve that goal. From renewable generation to transportation electrification, each approach has a necessary role to play. Energy efficiency is an essential, cross cutting, foundational tool that can be deployed with all other concepts to accelerate savings and bolster reliability.
Duane Baldwin, TRC’s Vice President of Advanced Energy discusses why no matter how society moves toward a clean energy model, energy efficiency will always be a front-line strategy to advance decarbonization and build resiliency.
Q: Why is energy efficiency so important?
A: Energy efficiency is probably the single most effective strategy for dealing with climate change. Consumers of energy can achieve significant savings by making small, incremental changes. Changing a lightbulb, buying an energy efficient appliance, upgrading your HVAC system all provide significant results. In addition to the energy savings, energy efficiency also lowers greenhouse gas emissions, decreases water usage, and creates jobs.
Q: Energy efficiency clearly has positive impacts for customers, but what does it mean for utilities?
A: Energy efficiency is a key part of a utility’s operation. Energy efficiency lowers electricity demand and decreases the need for investment in costly new generation and transmission infrastructure. It helps stabilize electricity prices and makes the market less volatile. It is a lot more cost effective for a utility to work with its commission or regulatory body to fund energy efficiency initiatives than to go through the approval and development process of a new power plant.
“The power of energy efficiency is that it works in conjunction with other decarbonization initiatives to amplify results.” – Duane Baldwin
And while there are a lot of other initiatives utilities can undertake to improve reliability and resiliency and to lower emissions- namely wind, solar, battery storage and other renewables projects- energy efficiency really goes in conjunction with these to amplify the solution; it’s the pillar or cornerstone everything else is built on. For example, you may have homes or businesses that are 100% solar powered. But you also need efficient equipment and products inside, so you still use less energy. That doesn’t mean you don’t need solar, but energy efficiency is going to take that solar power further.
Q: How can we improve energy efficiency programming and gain more impactful savings?
A: While so many advances have been made, there is more we can do to be better and move faster. We should continue to invest in energy efficiency, including building partnerships between industry and customers to make energy efficiency options available to utility rate payers. We need also to educate consumers on the benefits of efficiency, continue to incentivize efficient technology, and work with manufacturers to push for more efficient solutions.
Q: How is TRC helping clients improve energy efficiency?
A: We’re managing energy efficiency program delivery in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors for a range of utilities, power authorities and communities across the country. Our job is to solve problems, and we take pride in understanding a client’s challenges and developing a unique approach to address them. We guide clients through every step of the clean energy transition- from program planning to design, implementation, customer engagement, engineering support, evaluation and continuous improvement.
Q: Can you give us some specific case studies or examples of the impact that can be made with these types of programs?
A: We know firsthand how energy efficiency helps customers save money and achieve their sustainability goals. Only a fraction of all the existing buildings in the U.S. have been retrofitted for more efficient lighting, HVAC, and other electricity-using building systems – there is still a massive amount of energy that can be saved through technology upgrades.
In Southern California, we helped a utility client achieve permanent load reduction through energy efficiency, in order to replace essential power plant capacity that had been retired. We recruited large commercial customers, like hospitals, with good opportunities for long-term energy load reduction. One hospital in Long Beach CA, was an ideal candidate. By retrofitting the facility’s lighting systems to LEDs, we were able to achieve permanent load reduction. The project has yielded big energy savings for a single facility, providing a quarter of a megawatt of grid relief for the utility, and saving the hospital over 2 million kWh of energy savings per year.
In residential settings, equipment replacement is equally important. In Texas, we’re working with a utility to replace gas-powered water heaters with electric-only versions. These heat-pump water heaters are not only more efficient, but they have a decarbonization component, since they remove fossil fuels from the mix. By replacing enough water heaters across the state, we can help reduce strain on the grid during peak electricity demand and increase resiliency. This is especially important during the critical Winter Peak in Texas.
“We can often help facility managers achieve 60-70% decrease in energy use, with short paybacks of 2 or 3 years, through efficiency upgrades.” – Duane Baldwin
It’s key to invest in technology and stay on top of building upgrades. We can often help facility managers achieve 60-70% decrease in energy use, with short paybacks of 2 or 3 years, through efficiency upgrades. And for homeowners and renters, we are always looking for new technologies to reduce energy bills and improve comfort and safety in the home.
In summary, we look at market transformation as a way to scale up energy efficiency and deepen the impact. For example, how can we educate end-use customers and equipment retailers, and give them the tools they need, so they can take energy efficiency initiatives and run with them? Training programs are so important to get the right technology into the home at the point of purchase. Our MassSave program, for example, works with the Home Depot and Lowe’s to train staff on efficient products like HVAC appliances and pool pumps, and engage with customers right in the stores. This is really important for program adoption and success – face time with customers, and positive human interactions. At the end of the day, energy efficiency is a win-win for customers, utilities, and communities as a whole – everyone benefits. We reduce emissions, we create jobs, we save money, and we make our buildings more comfortable and cleaner.
In part two of this conversation, Duane discusses the concept of energy equity and how utilities- and TRC- are advancing programs that help level the playing field in the communities we serve.