Last week I took a survey by AESP as they are gathering a pulse on where hacks like me think the trends are heading. This coincided with last week’s rant regarding the end of lighting, and I essentially gave AESP a special edition rant in the survey, for free! Unfortunately, I didn’t save my responses so I will just redo them.
In my responses, I used parallels between energy efficiency and diet and health. They are amazingly comparable. Much of energy efficiency is akin to diet soda and low-fat ice cream. The masses assume that, like doing a lighting retrofit, consuming diet soda and this, that, and the other low calorie crap will make oneself better off than they otherwise would be. The following is my view on diet soda, and I am not a conspiracy nut: consuming diet soda makes people ravenously hungry. Although I can count on one hand the times I drink a diet soda in between meals in a year, about an hour after doing so, I need a triple bypass Whopper and a pound of fries with a birthday cake and a bucket of ice cream to tamp down the ensuing hunger pang. Consumers would be better off drinking corn syrup and skipping the feast to follow.
Energy efficiency, like diet and health, must include the right consumer choices, a permanent lifestyle (behavior) adjustment, knowledge, and measuring the bottom line to be successful over the long term.
I already mentioned that lighting and other widget retrofits are the fat free, sugar free Twinkie of energy efficiency. All else equal, they will make you better off than you would otherwise be. However, all else is usually not equal. People start to consume more of this crap and more other crap. Moreover, the bottom line is the energy bills and the bathroom scale, not how many kWh saved on this or calories saved on that.
Successful, lasting energy efficiency requires making changes that move in the right direction, and not sloughing off in other areas. It requires constant monitoring of the bits and pieces of energy consuming devices and most importantly, monitoring the bottom line energy consumption.
The biggest barriers I see for the permanent EE lifestyle are lack of expertise and lack of time on the consumer side. I am talking about commercial and industrial customers here. I don’t know whether it is the three or four dollar gasoline, utility-delivered-energy price volatility, competition, public image, or other things, but interest in energy efficiency at the customer level is several fold greater than it was 10 or 12 years ago. On the flip side, staff levels are down across the board for public and private facility management. Many customers, when provided with sound information, the right follow-on services, financial impact data, and services like verification of energy BILL savings, will buy on.
This article from the Shelton Group was published on the same day I received the AESP survey, and it further beats my drum. Everyone thinks they are saving energy, while at the same time they say their energy bills are going up. This is clearly the diet soda effect. The article discusses ongoing nudges, reminders, warnings and such about rising energy bills related to certain activities. That’s all good, but as I said months ago, the consumer has to give a damn or they will tune out this noise. This is why in the AESP survey I said, “Residential programs are going to take a pounding in coming years because of a combination of codes and standards for appliances and lack of damn giving by this customer segment.”
I forecast that, in a way, the energy efficiency industry is going to parallel trends in the US economy over the past decades. The industry will become more service and information based and less so on hardware and equipment. Like manufacturing, hardware and equipment will always be a vital component to energy efficiency, but the big money and impacts will come from systemic top to bottom attention to energy efficiency detail.