Energy Efficiency: Crucial but Complex in CPP State Implementation

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On July 1st, I had the privilege to join in a Business Briefing with Department of Energy (DOE) Under Secretary for Science and Energy Dr. Lynn Orr. The event was hosted by the Energy Efficiency Business Coalition and Business Forward.

Dr. Orr did a wonderful thing in this event: after quickly reviewing major efforts and priorities that fall under his departments, he opened the floor to the outstanding gathering of 40+ energy thought leaders in the room. With questions, comments, and suggestions posited from leaders representing the Colorado Energy Office, the City of Denver and other jurisdictions, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and regional businesses, utilities, and nonprofits, the event became an opportunity for connection, exchange, and focus on mutual concerns, guided by the priorities set by DOE.

While several issues were touched upon, it quickly became clear that the greatest concern and the great opportunity of interest to all in the room is the manner in which states will be able to leverage the full spectrum of technologies, fiscal and technical resources, policies, and behaviors to meet the requirements of EPA regulation 111(d), part of the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Of all of the issues and opportunities surrounding this massive and important undertaking, one was clearly at the foremost of the participants’ minds:

How can we fully leverage the economic, environmental, and most importantly regulatory benefits of energy efficiency in our CPP compliance plans?

In responding to this focus, Dr. Orr illustrated his understanding of the importance of answering this question by describing his pathway to awareness and ultimate support of energy efficiency. His path was much like that of most consumers.

Many people who become attracted to the value of energy efficiency begin with a draw to the more cutting edge, “sexy,” technologies offered by the renewables industries. This appeal makes sense: when one has a stake in a renewable energy system, there is a new, tangible, and most importantly visible asset. This asset is the deployment of the newest energy producing technologies, in itself another crux to its appeal: it produces something measurable. All of these qualities make it easier for consumers outside of the energy efficiency industry—and, therefore, perhaps not in the habit of pouring over their home’s or another facilities energy consumption bills—to relate to the significance of the investment of renewable energy systems.

Energy efficiency products, on the other hand, largely become invisible: light bulbs replacing ones that were already there, insulation behind walls and ceilings, caulking that goes unnoticed. Even devices that engage or are designed to improve our behavior such as smart thermostats and occupancies sensors tend to blend in once installed and doing their job for a while. And, these products produce savings but nothing more tangible or exciting. In fact, they result in the lack of consumption, a negative. That’s why companies such as Opower have a market: they make the intangible and ho-hum world of energy efficiency sexier.

Commonly, consumers who are drawn to renewables quickly discover that efficiency is the new best friend. By making all of their economically viable efficiency investments first, the energy consumer has increased both the value and the comfort of their home or business and reduced the size of the renewable system required to have the desired economic and environmental impacts. Ta-da! efficiency is sexy!

Dr. Orr described traveling this pathway himself, observing that it was not until he had poured over his own energy consumption and cost records like an energy efficiency wonk that he truly appreciated the scale and value of this “ho-hum” opportunity. And, he fully appreciates the import of that journey: if the Under Secretary for Science and Energy for the DOE didn’t fully value energy efficiency until he travel the path of discovery himself, how can the average home owner or business owner appreciate what energy efficiency can do for them?

State, city, and business leaders at the Briefing carried the point the next step: how can we design a CPP compliance plan that fully leverages and properly motivates the use of energy efficiency in meeting the new rules? How do we adequately baseline? And, how do we appropriately “prove the negative” that kilowatt hours and therms and gallons of fuel have not been used? How do we manage the broad spectrum of behaviors that impact the outcomes of energy efficiency measures, so that we can assure our state is producing (or not consuming) the anticipated reductions in consumption while still growing in population and markets?

There were no definitive answers to these questions in that room in Golden on July 1st. But, there were connections made and help proffered. Dr. Orr pointed to the fact that DOE has several technical assistance and funding programs that may be leveraged both by states and by businesses that want to see states’ CPP plans take advantage of the full suite of options available to them.

Mostly, it is going to take a lot of smart people working together to get these plans right. Folks in energy policy, the utility industry, consumer advocacy, and, of course, energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage as representatives of the new energy triple bottom line. But energy efficiency may take the most complex team and the deepest thinking as it involves more than the deployment of technology to be effective: it part it requires the modification of human behavior.

To ensure the deployment of all of these options within their CPP plans, states’ would be wise to employ objective third parties as the conveners and facilitators of their planning process, who can also monitor the implementation of the plan. Such “backbone organizations” can provide an unbiased process, ensure that all relevant stakeholders are appropriately involved, and that no industry that could serve a valuable role in the process and implementation of CPP plans is left behind because it is seen as too challenging or obtuse to include.

Energy efficiency should and can play a vital role in states’ CPP plans. But, it is going to take objectivity, hard work, and smart people to be sure that it doesn’t get left behind. Whose in?

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