The UtilityXpert Series Part 2: Sustainable Energy Efficiency Program Implementation
In this week’s UtilityXpert roundup, we chat with Brett Bishop of Build it Green , Build It Green (BIG), an environmental nonprofit based in Oakland, California with a mission to create a world of healthy and sustainable home for all people. They are pioneering how homes are built and renovated in California and beyond.
In this article, we’ll talk about Brett’s experience helping energy providers implement sustainable, effective EE programs. Brett has a wealth of experience and his passion really comes through when discussing some of the industry’s most challenging issues, including aggressive energy targets, as well as implementation tactics.
1 You've had a variety of experience designing and implementing all different types of EE programs. Tell us about your approach at the beginning to ensure a holistic plan is built.
We are passionate about bringing innovation to the market and inspired to support consumers, professionals, private companies, and public agencies to achieve the greatest impact. We mainly focus on three goals:
Driving deep reductions in carbon emissions by connecting more homes to clean power and advanced energy technologies
Creating a real estate market that recognizes the value of these homes and ensuring that these benefits are accessible and affordable to all communities
Creating healthy and sustainable homes for people in low-income communities
All these approaches combine for a holistic plan because having these specific goals in mind makes it easier to achieve and track our successes in our various programs.
2 Tell us about the different nuances of implementing different programs in different communities?
It really comes down to knowing what the community we are trying to help needs from multiple perspectives. For instance for our Cool Savers program, the first Pay-for-Performance programs of its kind, we really wanted the focus on customers that want to save more energy! That’s what it’s structured to emphasize, that’s why participants become a stakeholder in the success of the program, and that’s why we added the Cool Rewards bonus system to the program, which allows participants to earn cash bonuses for being a deep energy saver.
(Cool Savers participants who save the most energy over a 12-month period are eligible for a bonus incentive up to $1,000.)
With our Healthy Home Connect program, we structured the program to leverage multiple funding sources to deliver energy and healthy home upgrades simultaneously to benefit California’s most vulnerable or disadvantaged communities, with both energy burden and regional air pollution being factored from the outset.
The Healthy Home Connect (HHC) program has successfully expanded into new communities, thanks to generous funding from our partners like Peninsula Clean Energy and private equities such as Facebook, Inc. BIG is delivering health and energy upgrades to families faced with hardships in the Belle Haven community, and Menlo Park near Facebook’s HQ. These homes would otherwise not benefit from existing energy efficiency programs because they needed much more basic repairs first. For example, one home had their entire ceiling removed in the hallway, completely open to the attic space, all year round! She was over eighty years old and clearly needed more than just LED light bulbs and faucet aerators. Typically, program administrators are unaware of such egregious conditions because there is no budget for measures outside of demand reduction or they choose not to get close to the work.
There is a strong link between health and energy efficiency in homes: energy upgrades often provide health co-benefits and we are working to unlock both of these benefits homeowners.
Housing services are often siloed and delivered to meet program performance metrics alone. Energy efficiency and weatherization programs do not address home health conditions, which are often closely related. Furthermore, many homes are disqualified from receiving energy efficiency and solar PV improvements because of existing conditions in the home, such as mould, moisture, unsafe HVAC systems leaking carbon monoxide, or dilapidated roofs.
The result is that some of the most vulnerable families are left behind and must live in homes that exacerbate asthma and other health conditions, as well as homes that are inefficient with high utility bills, contributing to displacement and the affordable housing crisis. Healthy Home Connect addresses these problems by combining public funding sources with private philanthropy and delivering health and energy efficiency together, intentionally. Exactly like everything else in the efficiency field, it demands a conscientious front side to each project and detailed project management.
BIG also worked closely with their local, like-minded, non-profit builder/partner El-Concilio of San Mateo, to establish relationships, trust within the community, and help fulfill the work and mission of the Program.
3 How do you approach getting buy-in for your recommendations at every step of the implementation process (ex. IT teams, DSM teams)?
The billion dollar question! Ultimately, it is about having the right team lined up around a future state. Which begins with the client, their objectives, and design constraints. Once these conditions have been identified and communicated market analysis drives the conversation. Build It Green is always conscientious to bring our workforce into this part of the design process; ultimately, if the market does not buy into your value proposition you are going to have a difficult time getting your program off the ground.
Once the interventions are established as to technologies and engagement platforms, the marketing team can begin designing a narrative that is relatable. As with any organization, having the right team on your side is key. Having a team that is aligned with the vision of the company’s core objectives results in an effort that communicates consistency across different departments and specializations. To steal a phrase from the sports world, it’s about “building your bench” which has to begin long before a project is even dreamed of.
4 California has lofty energy efficiency savings targets for 2030. How will it get there?
We have visions for 2030 that are aggressive, it's true, 2045 is even more so with a target for net carbon neutrality across our entire economy. It’s going to be a large effort with a lot of stakeholders and factors that are dynamic. One example that illustrates this well is California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, our grid is more and more decarbonized with every passing year, so energy storage and shifting consumption to times of the day when the sun is producing our power are a big part of shifting the economy away from dependence on fossil fuels.
Energy Efficiency is crucial to the effectiveness of these efforts because if consumption of energy is unchecked, then the cost to produce the energy tracks the demand curve. Think of it on a smaller scale, a house that is efficient may need twenty solar panels; the same home without efficiency measures may need thirty panels to achieve an energy bill of zero. Less is definitely more. One phrase I really enjoy it, “the cheapest electron is the one you don’t use.”
I think the biggest challenge is going to be psychological. People are attached to their habits and don’t necessarily perceive them as such. One example of this is induction cooking. The technology has far superior performance compared to gas. I love cooking a lot and eating good food even more! It took me a while to get to a place where I could install an induction rage because my home is older and was set up for gas, but once I got it done I found was that I had a much greater level of control over temperature and everything heats up dramatically faster. It’s super nice, easy to clean, it performs better, and doesn’t put exhaust into my kitchen. Going back would feel like making dinner in the garage with the door closed and the car running! But until consciousness around these shifts, people will be espoused to antiquated technology.
All that circles back to decarbonization because utilizing renewables effectively is dependent on multiple systems like space and water heating, cooking, laundry, etc. Efficiency allows us to do the same things as we were doing before, hopefully, better, while consuming fewer resources. That’s the value proposition we need to convey, “your quality of life will improve if you get with the program,” otherwise there’s no reason to do anything different than you did yesterday. The horse and carriage were replaced with the car, the landline replaced with cellular, we have superior and sustainable technologies today, so the question is not if, but how, and by when. That’s where California is rightly focusing today.