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How the Pandemic Is Affecting EE

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The widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everything in our world, including the energy efficiency industry, with both positive and negative outcomes.

Halted Projects

One of the negative outcomes is a loss of jobs, according to an E&E News article, which points out that the energy efficiency sector is “the nation’s largest source of energy jobs.” It explains that the sector “is experiencing mass layoffs from the coronavirus as utility and state programs shut down across the country.” Unfortunately, the need for social distancing is preventing the in-person work required for many energy efficiency installations and related work, like energy audits.

The same is true for programs initiated by utilities. For example, states E&E News, “Utilities Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Arkansas Oklahoma Gas stopped work on a joint program that has weatherized 15,000 duplexes, town homes and other single-family residences.”

However, some utilities are using creative methods for overcoming these obstacles. According to the American Public Power Association, “Energy New England (ENE)…is offering a remote home energy assessment option to customers.” Following stay-at-home orders, “ENE quickly transitioned over to a remote home energy assessment experience…by using the video feature on iPhone or Android phones.” Given the positive response to this method, ENE will likely offer the remote option into the future.

Government Relief

To help mitigate some of the job losses, the industry is seeking federal assistance. The Paycheck Protection Program is available to businesses with fewer than 500 employees to apply for low-interest loans to keep workers employed. This program may provide short-term relief, but industry representatives are pushing for more permanent solutions.

For example, according to E&E News, “In a March 20 letter to Congress, E2, the clean energy advocacy group, called for an expansion of energy efficiency tax credits, increased funding for the Energy Department’s weatherization and research and development programs, and resurrection of a $3.2 billion efficiency and conservation block grant program from the 2009 stimulus.” Whether Congress will act on this request in future relief packages remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, a previous emergency bill did include other types of EE assistance. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which supports weatherization services and helps households experiencing low incomes to pay for their monthly energy costs, “will receive an extra $900 million in stimulus money.”

DIY Tips

Like the remote energy audits, DIY fixes are helping residents and businesses move forward with EE initiatives. For instance, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), “Arkansas electric cooperatives are encouraging their consumer-members to take on relatively simple, low-cost energy efficiency projects around the house.” They include cleaning condenser coils, replacing HVAC filters, adjusting smart thermostats, and retrofitting recessed lighting. The association has produced brief videos showing people how to perform these tasks. Other utilities are providing additional tips, from unplugging electric devices to closing garage doors.

Like many other industries, the EE sector is taking a big hit from the pandemic. While there is no way to sugar-coat job and financial losses, some good may come from the situation as EE service providers and utilities find creative and cost-saving ways to address customer needs that may last well beyond constant hand washing, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders.

How has your work in EE been affected by the pandemic? Please share in the comments.

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