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Have Energy Efficiency Experts Oversimplified the Solution?

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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“If our homes leak less heat, our cars burn less petrol and our washing machines use less electricity, it reduces energy bills, supply strains, fossil fuel imports and greenhouse gas emissions,” the International Energy Agency’s Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol and Denmark’s Minister for Climate, Energy and Utilities Dan Jørgensen commented.  Have experts oversimplified the solutions to inflation, climate change and decarbonization?  Supporters believe the technology is already ‘at out fingertips’ and others have some interesting examples of how to start implementing those technologies.  One example of rapidly reducing energy consumption by making buildings smarter is a local housing cooperative in Sonderborg, Denmark.  There they have successfully retrofitted 576 apartments with model predictive control systems.  The systems collects data and adjusts the supply of energy accordingly.  Apartments have sensors that allow artificial intelligence software to control the HVAC reducing energy use, utility bills and carbon emissions.     

Additional solutions suggested include using excess heat from supermarkets or data centers to heat homes and business, and helping industries to rethink their carbon neutral processes. Amory Lovins, energy writer, physicist, and former chairman/chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, says Germany, Sweden and Denmark, are leading the way for buildings, and Japan for industry.  “For speed of improvement, though not absolute level since they started so low, China is the undisputed champion,” says Lovins. 

In the U.S. several cities and states are teaming up with utilities and energy service companies to provide more options for residents and businesses.  The City of Boston was selected to team up with the Mass Save Community First Partnership to bring energy cost savings to the area. “The Sponsors of Mass Save are proud to offer no-cost energy assessments along with rebates and incentives for energy efficiency upgrades that save customers money and positively impact the environment by reducing energy use,” said Tilak Subrahmanian, Vice President, Energy Efficiency and EV Mobility at Eversource. “Through our partnership with the City of Boston, we will be able to expand our reach and help ensure our path to decarbonization is fair and equitable for all residents and businesses,” said Chris Porter, Director, Customer Energy Management at National Grid.  “These partnerships embody our commitment to investing in environmental justice and energy democracy,” said Mayor Michelle Wu.  

In Missouri, energy providers Spire and Evergy are jointly offering Pay As You Save (PAYS) for the first time.  "Energy-efficiency programs like PAYS can help customers afford energy-saving strategies and equipment upgrades for their homes while lowering their utility bills. And because there's no credit check, more customers can take advantage of important upgrades. A more energy-efficient home can mean not only savings, but a healthier and more comfortable place to live,” said Shaylyn Dean, Spire director of external affairs.  Brian File, director of demand side management and energy efficiency at Evergy said, "We've had great interest in the program thus far and believe partnering with Spire will create additional energy efficiency resources and opportunities for customers utilizing both electric and gas.”

Are experts oversimplifying the implementation of energy efficiency or have they overestimated the benefits? The results are to the contrary.  While implementation is no easy task, funding and policies that support energy efficiency programs are highly sought after.   What lessons has your utility learned from collaborations and partnerships to improve energy efficiency programs?

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