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EMI Consulting Insights
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  • Posted 7.11.14 by A.J. Howard, Director
    What to do about plug loads?

    "As home envelopes and lighting become increasingly energy-efficient, the electricity use from “plug loads” (all the other stuff plugged into your home, including appliances and consumer electronics) becomes increasingly important. The EIA now attributes over 28% of residential electricity use to home appliances and consumer electronics. Many small products contributing to plug loads are notoriously difficult for utilities to cover with energy efficiency programs because of their small energy use and small per unit savings potential. What’s a utility to do?   

    Come to my presentation at the ACEEE Summer Study and learn about an innovative midstream pilot program we’re working on with Pacific Gas & Electric.  We are attempting to create evaluation baselines for these products based on the sales-weighted unit energy consumption of all models sold at retail. If successful, this program will help utilities leverage their program dollars to earn cost-effective energy savings from plug loads."

  • Posted 10.3.14 by Ellen Steiner, Director of Customer and Market Research
    Warm Homes + Savings = Happy Mainers: Comprehensive Results from a Heat Pump Evaluation

    We invite you to read our newly filed Emera Maine Heat Pump Pilot Program Evaluation, filed on September 30, 2014 with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

    Even though heat pumps are the fastest growing segment in the U.S. HVAC market, significant questions still remain regarding their true energy savings potential. We recently conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Emera Maine’s Heat Pump Pilot Program that starts to answer these questions. This work spanned two years from pilot conception to transition of the pilot to Efficiency Maine Trust for a full program rollout. This research combined in-depth up-front program planning, quantitative and qualitative market research, formative process evaluation, and in-depth impact analysis and was designed to provide both interim feedback to help Emera Maine make mid-program adjustments, as well as a traditional impact, market effects, and process summative evaluation report. 

    Our impact evaluation results show that heat pumps can save customers money. Based on data from 64 households where we installed sub-meters at the circuit breaker level and collected a year’s worth of data on fuel oil and electricity consumption both before and after the heat pumps were installed, we found that fuel oil savings exceed heat pump operating costs. However, perhaps just as important, are the findings related to contractor and customer education that are essential to maximizing energy savings including training contractors and educating customer on effective placement of heat pumps and educating customers how to effectively manage multiple heating sources in their homes. 

     

     

     

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Jeremy Kraft, Associate Director
    Evaluators as a Partner, not an Auditor

    In our evaluation work, we come across two kinds of requests from utilities and public service commissions. The first kind is the classic summative evaluation. A program has been running for a year or two and the utility needs someone to come in and assess its performance. At the end of the day, the evaluators provide recommendations for program improvements and realization rates to apply to reported savings. The second kind is when a utility is looking for a long-term evaluation partner. Someone that can sit at the table up-front and help the program administrators understand the programs they are running before the summative “evaluation” begins.

    Recently, we’ve been playing this role with clients more frequently and the benefits are tangible. We’ve vetted savings calculation methodologies prior to approval of large custom projects and double-checked application materials against TRMs to avoid realization rate surprises. We've created process flow maps to identify implementation bottlenecks before they occur instead of identifying them retroactively via complaints from participants during a telephone survey. We've conducted web usability tests to understand how trade allies interact with a new portal before it’s launched to maximize uptake and participation with the new offering. 

    In every case, we’re using our skills as evaluators to solve problems before they occur. We still play our critical M&V role – verifying that savings are real and that programs are efficient – but we help programs run better in the meantime.

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Jess Chandler, Managing Consultant
    Your Savings May Vary with Operating Hours

    Savings from commercial lighting programs are highly dependent upon the hours of use (HOU) estimated or assumed for the lights. The HOU are either deemed or customized for the facility. Deemed HOU means that often just one number is applied to the various facility types covered in a typical commercial lighting program. However, EMI Consulting research has found that HOU varies widely across facilities and facility types and correlates well to the reported facility operating hours.

    We combined metered lighting HOU data collected from over 4,000 commercial spaces and found that annual reported operating hours for a facility were a good predictor of lighting hours of use except for special cases. In these special cases, facility contacts were able to identify spaces or lights that operated on different schedules than operating hours.  (Some of these examples are shown in the figure.)  Estimates of savings may be more consistent with actual energy savings if the type of facility, combined with the reported operating hours, are used.

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Lisa Perry, Managing Consultant
    How far can energy efficiency financing take us?

    Financing programs should be seen as a valuable complement, not replacement, for traditional utility programs.  Financing programs are one of today's fastest growing types of energy efficiency program, in part because they offer policy makers and utilities the tantalizing possibility of replacing taxpayer and ratepayer funding with private capital. This was an argument I heard applied from states as diverse as Connecticut to Ohio at the 2014 ACEEE Finance Forum.

    The challenge with the idea that financing programs can replace traditional utility programs is that financing by itself does not overcome all of the barriers that traditional utility programs target through rebates, marketing, and education. Take rebates, for example. While financing can help overcome customers’ barriers related to high first cost and lack of capital, these are not the only reasons utilities offer rebates. Rebates can be necessary when a project that is not cost-effective for an individual customer is economical for the utility. This can occur because customers make decisions about efficiency project payback based on their current energy rates, while utilities' cost-effectiveness is based on the higher marginal costs of investing in additional supply or generation. By helping align customers' payback with the value of efficiency for the utilities, rebates can be an important tool to help utilities meet demand at the lowest cost possible. Financing programs do not address the underlying differences in the economics of efficiency for customers and utilities. 

    Of course, money isn't everything. The growing field of behavioral programs is showing us just how much factors other than payback matter to customers. At least as currently designed, financing programs do not provide customers with information, education, and non-financial motivators that utility programs have found can drive efficiency. 

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Sean Ong, Senior Engineer
    Why it doesn’t pay to use payback for solar

    We live in a world where energy efficiency and renewable energy projects are often measured by their payback period – the number of years it would take to “pay back” the initial investment.  When shopping for an expensive energy upgrade or purchase (such as a rooftop solar system) it’s natural for consumers to wonder how long it will take to recoup the money spent.

    The reality, however, is that using the payback metric for solar is rarely appropriate and often hides its economic attractiveness. The reason is that the vast majority of rooftop solar systems today are installed using innovative financing structures such as solar leases and power purchase agreements. In several states over 80% of all residential solar installations use these third-party owned arrangements. Under these arrangements, solar customers could have zero upfront costs and realize immediate savings from the first day. That’s essentially a “zero” payback! Yet, traditional payback calculations would still indicate paybacks exceeding ten or twenty years. That’s enough to stop customers from further investigating and participating in utility or public solar programs.

    In an age when solar companies and utilities are getting into the zero-down rooftop solar business, it’s best to use the more robust breakeven calculation, which takes into account the lifetime costs and benefits (net present value.) This method answers a simple customer question: “Will I break even if I purchase this system?”  Breakeven conditions, or even a slight cost above breakeven, may be enough to motivate customers to go solar if they have a preference for clean energy.

  • Posted 10.21.14 by Kristin Goodsell, Consultant
    When Age Matters: Impact on Appliance Recycling Savings

    Appliance Recycling programs may achieve energy savings by removing older, relatively less efficient products from the grid. Recycled units may vary by unit type (i.e. refrigerator, freezer), configuration (e.g. side-by-side refrigerator, chest freezer), age, and other characteristics. Some of these characteristics significantly impact the amount of energy consumed by the recycled appliances. In particular, appliance age can be a significant factor in energy consumption. This may especially be the case when considering appliance age relative to the Federal Standards for appliance energy use, which have led to a decrease in average annual energy consumption of appliances [see graph]. Recent metering studies have found that year of manufacture relative to the 1990 Federal Standard is a key determinant of appliance energy consumption.

    Therefore, it is important to track the characteristics of units recycled across program years, as these characteristics may change. Savings may change as a result.  For instance, if the age of collected appliances decreases over successive years of a program, the result may be diminishing savings. Tracking these changes in characteristics may be important for understanding the current and future savings achieved through Appliance Recycling (or Early Retirement) programs.

    Data Source for Energy Use: http://www.appliance-standards.org/sites/default/files/Refrigerator_Fact_Sheet_Aug_25_2011.pdf