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Driving Ms. Free Rider Daisy

By August 28, 2017November 6th, 2021Energy Rant

Sitting on high levels of energy efficiency program design and evaluation provides a wonderful perspective and results in some astonishing epiphanies.

Warning – data-backed bluster straight ahead.

New Construction Programs

We study the performance of new buildings all the time, whether it is for evaluation or looking for great retro-commissioning opportunities. Nothing provides a better opportunity for retro-commissioning than a stock of new buildings, whether they filtered through a new construction program or not. The chart below features energy performance of new buildings that went through a new construction program.

We implement, and we evaluate projects nationwide (don’t bother guessing from where these data came). I simply say there was no filtering or cherry picking the data set. This is the entire population for a group of buildings we analyzed.

The chart shows three cases of energy consumption.

  1. Actual energy consumption from the utility meter
  2. The projected consumption by the program energy simulation
  3. The baseline projected energy consumption for a building that just meets energy code (like fuel mileage standards)

Energy simulations are not meant to predict energy consumption. However, if they are far off the mark, the savings are going to be far off the mark. There is no getting around that fact.

As indicated in the chart with the emojis, only two buildings, out of 25-30, are performing better than projected. I’m not a statistician, but I did take a graduate level statistics course. I would venture to say the chart shows statistical validity that this program… uh, you be the judge. In six cases, metered consumption is higher than the inflated baseline projection! Wow!

New Construction Performance

The Lighting Free Rider

In another case of new construction blues, we studied the performance of a second program, not the one whose data are plotted above. Like many new construction programs, this one features several tracks:

  • Whole building – simulations with efficient, holistic design (HVAC, lighting, daylighting, efficient equipment and systems)
  • Prescriptive – the Pavlovian program that flips money at people for buying efficient widgets, such as LED light bulbs
  • Lighting – a fast-track option for lighting only for those interested in easy money

For this program, lighting represented all the savings. The program is doing nothing to promote holistic (substantial) energy savings. What is the point?

What to do? Cut the lighting incentive and transfer the money to the side of the program that should produce results. That’s hard. It requires knowhow. There is no credit for the sunrise on that option[1].

Come to think of it, I bet a prince’s ransom that we could cut the lighting incentive until contractors stop applying for incentives, because it’s not worth the time and effort. I.e., they take the money for stuff that will happen anyway until the hassle outweighs the benefits.

Come to think of it (again), a few weeks ago I described ways to get deep energy savings with home energy retrofits in Motivating Efficiency, Incinerating Obstinacy. In a precursor to that, Valuing Energy Star, I lamented the incentive to install an efficient $14,000 mini-split heat pump system was a measly $300. What is the barrier to participating in this program? The answer is a question: Is the pain worth $300? I believe incentives for LED light bulbs fall into the same category. We can decrease the incentive until it isn’t worth the time and hassle – and claim credit for the savings.

Again, with my own experience (of course I’m probably a terrible data point), I just replaced the incandescent candelabra bulbs[2] in my swanky dining room fixture with LEDs – that look 10x better, and they’re dimmable. Rebate? I don’t know. They were $3 per specialty bulb! Who needs an incentive for that considering the appearance and charm alone?

Timeline Paradigm

How long does it take to plan a power plant, pound it through 300 legal challenges, get it built, and start selling electricity? How about a 345 kV transmission line? One answer to that question is eight years. Does anyone want to use efficiency as an alternative to generation and transmission? In that case, why do all incentives need to be paid immediately and all savings booked immediately?

Homes, businesses, and manufacturing plants are full of widgets, many of which underperform and perform poorly. Not so ironically, our industry has to pivot from one of widgets that are manufactured to one of services that make devices and systems perform. This is exactly like the broader economy. Our industry is still in the Mad Men era.

The lighting market is transformed. Put a fork in it. Money thrown at lighting projects is a wealth transfer, out of one pocket and into another.

When will the industry from regulators to evaluators to implementers face this reality?

[1] Projects and savings would happen anyway.

[2] That’s the way it came and they had no burn hours before I tossed them.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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