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The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Energy Efficiency and the Promise of a Carbon-Free Grid

November 21st, 2016 · No Comments · Energy

seanoBy Sean O’Leary – NW Energy Coalition

If “energy efficiency” were a brand, it would have to fire its advertising agency and hire a new one because, compared to wind, solar, and other renewable resources, energy efficiency is almost invisible. That’s partly because, while wind and solar offer spectacular visuals of turbine-dotted horizons and acres of solar panels, the stuff of energy efficiency is mostly hidden behind walls and ceilings. And, while wind and solar hold out the promise of abundant, low-cost, emissions-free power, the phrase “energy efficiency” smacks of sacrifice and having to do without.

Yet, as we race to create an emissions-free electric grid and stave off the worst consequences of global warming; technology, economics, and politics dictate that energy efficiency must play a key role by lessening the lift required of renewable generation resources. That’s probably why the recent NW Energy Coalition Pay for Performance Energy Efficiency workshop drew an overflow crowd of technologists, public interest advocates, utilities, service providers, regulators, and academics.

In a daylong series of presentations, experts discussed recent methodological advances and the newest tools in the practice of “whole-building energy efficiency” and announced the results of major pilot projects in the Northwest. These were a few of the key insights:

The promise is real. Initial results from pilot programs in Seattle and Portland are demonstrating that reductions in electricity demand of more than 20% can be achieved even in new, comparatively energy efficient buildings.

Measurement tools and techniques have advanced to the point that building performance can be continuously measured. That’s important because improved measurement facilitates ongoing fine-tuning and enables the development of financial performance incentives that motivate building owners, investors, and utilities to maintain their commitment to energy efficiency.

Whole-building energy efficiency isn’t for all buildings . . . yet. Treating a building as an organism whose various systems have to be maintained and harmonized is a detail-focused and time-consuming effort, which means that, while we await further technological advances, whole-building energy efficiency won’t be feasible for all buildings.

We still have to figure out how to create financial incentives to adequately motivate key players. The challenge begins with the fact that utilities make money by selling more electricity, not less. So, how can they be given a stake in energy efficiency? Meanwhile, building owners also need better incentives. The financial benefits of energy efficiency are realized over decades, but the average duration of building ownership is only about seven years, making it difficult for owners to see a suitable return on their energy efficiency investments.

Despite the challenges, progress is being made on all fronts. Measurement and controls technology are improving rapidly. Meanwhile, Groups such as the MEETS Coalition are working with utilities, legislators, and regulators to test financial models that provide interested parties with the necessary incentives. And work is beginning to adapt the practice of whole building energy efficiency to structures, including single-family houses.


You can learn more about these trends at the NW Energy Coalition Pay for Performance Workshop webpage where you can view all of the day’s presentations. They include:

1. Pay for Performance: A different approach to incentives (Stan Price, Northwest Energy Efficiency Council)
Stan compares Pay for Performance to traditional efficiency incentive approaches and discusses advantages and challenges.

2. M&V for Pay for Performance Approaches: Updates, Resources, and New Developments (David Jump, Ph.D., P.E. , kW Engineering)
David discusses the practice of measurement and verification and its accompanying risks. Then he describes the emerging world of M&V 2.0 and the tools and applications that are driving it forward.

3. Seattle Performance-based Pilots (Lori Moen & Dave Rodenhizer, Seattle City Light)
Lori and Dave summarize the findings of five Seattle PFP pilot projects ranging from historic multi-family and commercial properties to modern commercial properties.

4. Pay for Performance – Commercial (Sam Walker, Energy Trust of Oregon)
Sam describes the 1000 Broadway Building Pay for Performance pilot program in Portland, Oregon and its planned expansion in 2017 to additional commercial properties.

5. M&V Insights from the Field: Whole Building and Bottom Up (Chris Smith & Kevin Campbell, Energy 350)
Chris and Kevin provide an engineer’s ground-level view of the challenges associated with assessing, modeling, upgrading, and ultimately optimizing energy efficiency using a whole-building approach

6. M&V 2.0 Modern Measurement: Residential Case Studies (Jake Oster, EnergySavvy)
Jake draws discusses M&V methodology as it relates to residential properties and draws on case studies from around the nation to describe how M&V 2.0 can support incentive-based energy efficiency for residential neighborhoods.

7. Metered Energy Efficiency: A new Path to Deep Energy Retrofits (Rob Harmon, MEETS Coalition)
Rob presents a financing and transactional model that tackles the challenge of providing effective energy efficiency incentives for investors, service providers, building owners, utilities, and building tenants.


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