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Next Big Thing: From LEDs to HVAC

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Tilak Subrahmanian's picture
Vice President Eversource

As Vice President for Eversource, Tilak Subrahmanian leads a team that is focused on scaling energy efficiency, peak demand management, storage and electric vehicles to develop the clean energy...

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-04 - Innovation in the Power Industry, click here for more

Energy Efficiency has long enjoyed bipartisan support – after all, it’s about reducing waste and saving money.  Against the backdrop of a new administration with strong climate goals, program administrators throughout the country are facing a monumental market transformation that will change how we help customers optimize their energy use and reduce their carbon footprint. LED lighting has been a major driver of savings for the past decade, but is now so ubiquitous and affordable that no one needs to be convinced of its many benefits. This is exactly the type of market transformation we hope to drive. However, once we reach market saturation, program administrators suspend incentives for those measures. In the fight against climate change, the next big opportunity for market transformation is to address how we heat and cool our homes and businesses.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), is a major culprit in keeping greenhouse gas emissions and energy bills high. For example, an analysis of our Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customers found that HVAC accounts for 53% of energy usage in office buildings; and the Massachusetts Residential Baseline Study from March 2020 found that 57% of existing natural gas furnaces and 76% of existing natural gas boilers in Massachusetts have less than 90% annual fuel utilization efficiencies (AFUE) – in other words, they’re wasting a lot of energy.

What does this mean? It means that there are substantial opportunities to upgrade heating systems to more efficient condensing equipment. And, there is money to be saved; the EPA states that on average high efficiency heating equipment can save a household $115 a year. That means if all occupied housing units in Massachusetts upgraded their inefficient natural gas furnaces and boilers to ENERGY STAR-qualified equipment, over $116 million could be saved per year. Customers who heat with oil, propane or other delivered fuels could see savings from switching to heat pumps. These devices provide efficient cooling in summer and heating in winter, even in colder climates such as the Northeast.

However, simply shifting focus from LEDs to heat pumps likely won’t get us all the way to carbon reduction goals. For one thing, to maximize savings from heat pumps, we’ll need to pair them with increased insulation and other weatherization measures. That means expanding participation to reach more customers, from all demographics and in all types of buildings, particularly those that have been historically hard to reach, in order to maximize the savings achieved from weatherization and heating upgrades.

Additionally, in the coming years, we need to help C&I customers see the value of shifting from piecemeal projects to comprehensive energy optimization that will allow customers to reap the most energy and cost savings. To do so, program administrators will need a higher level of customer engagement to drive deeper and more complex measures, such as manufacturing process improvements, retro-commissioning and controls tuning, which can generate big carbon savings.  It’s worth noting that these deeper measures like controls tuning can lead to electric, gas and water savings in addition to carbon savings. Program administrators such as Eversource will need to help educate customers not only about how to best optimize their energy efficiency upgrades, but also help them connect the dots to their overall sustainability goals.

I am encouraged by the innovative and creative approaches and technologies I’m seeing out there, and am confident that we can meet this challenge. But, it won’t be easy and will require program administrators to rethink how they structure their programs, engage customers, and engage business partners.  Eversource is all-in on this transition.

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Kevin  Myers's picture
Kevin Myers on May 5, 2021

Great article!! Here at our electric utility we offer on-bill financing for complete residential retrofits through our Help My House program.  We educate our members about kWh consumption and energy savings through conservation. We offer our member-owners bill credit incentives for word of mouth sign ups. 

Please visit our site to discover more ways that we are bringing low-cost, reliable, power to the people through innovative technologies. 

 

https://www.santee.org/help-my-house

Andrew Peschman's picture
Andrew Peschman on May 7, 2021

Can you speak to how much have the word of mouth incentives have increased engagement in the programs?

William Ellis's picture
William Ellis on May 6, 2021

Great article, I can feel the passion through the words.  I agree, greater focus on heating and cooling will be needed to drive deeper savings in the future.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 6, 2021

Absolutely, not to mention the cruel irony that the more we fail to act on these energy saving opportunities today, the more we'll be contribute to a changing climate that is making extended and more intense weather extremes more coming-- therein making heating/cooling demand become even greater!

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