Over the past few weeks BPI has met with delegations from around the world to share the message of home performance and energy efficiency, and the long-lasting positive impacts they can have on a single home and a community at large. Government energy representatives from eight foreign countries had an opportunity to learn more about home performance while building relationships with BPI that will serve as stepping stones to a broader BPI influence in the international community.
In New York City, Bill Meehan, BPI's National Quality Assurance Manager, met with 20 participants from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a high level policy division of the Chinese government and the National Energy Conservation Center, a think tank of the NDRC's. The meeting was held as part of a three week National Energy Conservation Center (NECC) Training program, hosted by the American Bank and Community Preservation Corporation. Bill's mission was to demonstrate why trade certifications are necessary when designing and retrofitting large multifamily buildings – work that requires staff with the knowledge, skills and abilities to ensure that the systems and integrity of materials realize their full potential or peak performance.
In Washington, D.C., Andrea Dravo, BPI Program Manager, met with 17 contractors and industry experts from seven Eurasian countries regarding certifications for residential energy retrofits. These delegates from the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other neighboring countries visited the United States as part of a six-week tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) Sustainable American Business Internship Training Program (SABIT) to learn about the role of industry and government policy in promoting energy efficiency and sustainable design. Following Andrea's presentation, delegates expressed overwhelming interest in adopting and applying BPI's standards models to create value and consistency for their nation's industries.
These two seminars are only the beginning of BPI's next chapter in the home performance and energy efficiency story. As an American National Standard Institute (ANSI) accredited certifying body and developer of American National Standards, BPI continuously looks for new ways to improve the home energy and retrofit industry. By expanding the industry's reach into the international community, BPI is planting seeds that will grow an energy efficiency conscious community worldwide.
Where They’re Broken, and How We Can Fix Them
Ladies and gentlemen, the prize for the most obscure threat to the home performance industry goes to… cost effectiveness tests!
You may have heard people complain about the Total Resource Cost Test (TRC), or you may have done some complaining yourself. The TRC is one of five cost-effectiveness tests that regulatory bodies use to decide whether or not to fund energy efficiency and other demand-side programs. If you participate in a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program, chances are your program had to pass the TRC, or something similar. If your state doesn't have a home performance program, it may be because the potential sponsor decided that it couldn't pass the TRC.
What is a TRC?
In the early 1980s, the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission developed five tests to assess demand-side programs, which they described in the California Standard Practice Manual. Each test was designed to determine whether the benefits of the program outweigh its costs.
The "Participant test", for example, determines if the program participant's savings outweigh his or her contributions over time. If you think about it, this test is reasonable – it's senseless to offer an energy efficiency program if the participants won't benefit from it.
The "Utility" or "Program Administrator" test compares what it costs the utility or administrator of the program (like NYSERDA) to run the program. If a whole house retrofit program costs the utility three cents per kWh saved, whereas the utility spends eight cents per kWh to purchase electricity, the program makes sense and would pass the test.
The TRC is supposed to take a much broader viewpoint, and look at the interests of program participants, ratepayers who do not participate in the program and the utility together. It asks whether everyone involved will benefit by comparing whether all the costs outweigh all the benefits.
"All" is the key word here. The TRC compares the benefits for the program sponsor (savings on energy it would otherwise have purchased or generated) to all costs, including both the costs of running the program and participants' contributions. In other words, the TRC is comparing the value of the energy savings from a new high-efficiency heater, insulation and air sealing, to the total cost of running the program and installing the measures. It's the participant's share of the costs that typically makes the TRC a challenge for whole-house programs to pass, because the participant typically picks up a large share of the cost.
Why does the utility care how much a customer pays? The answer is that the TRC is supposed to tell us whether the full cost of saving energy is greater than the utility's cost to generate or purchase an equivalent amount of energy.
While this sounds like a reasonable question to ask, it should be noted that a utility doesn't ask similar questions about the supply side resources that it builds or purchases. There is no equivalent testing done on new generation plants to determine whether they represent the best use of the combined public and private resource used to create them.
Why is the TRC Seen as a Program-Killer?
Cost-effectiveness tests can have a huge impact on whether an energy efficiency program is created, and how it is designed.
Typically, the utility, or the body overseeing it, will run the tests on a proposed or existing program. The program usually passes most of the above tests, but the TRC is the exception – because the participant contributions are included as a cost.
The TRC, however, is used as the primary test in 34 states, and other states use the Societal Cost Test, a slightly less challenging variant of the TRC. In these states, only programs that pass the TRC can receive support from utilities. (Some states provide some flexibility, but exceptions to the "must-pass-the-TRC" rule are limited.)
The inclusion of the program participants' share of costs isn't the only problem that stands in the way of passing the TRC. While the TRC is supposed to capture all the costs and benefits of energy efficiency, most programs typically do not include the wide range of benefits that motivate consumers when they conduct whole-house upgrades. For example, participants consistently say that increased comfort resulting from reduced air infiltration and better distribution of heating and cooling is one of the most important reasons they upgraded their home. But the TRC test almost never captures this "benefit."
Similarly, the TRC generally does not account for reductions in consumption of energy that is not provided by the sponsor utility. If an inefficient propane water heater is replaced by a gas one, for example, the propane savings may not be recognized by the TRC.
Because the California Standard Practice Manual doesn't offer specific instructions about how to implement the TRC and other tests, each state implements the tests in a different way. Some of their methods are neither supportive of energy efficiency nor consistent with the underlying rational of the tests. Most programs attempt to conduct a net-to-gross analysis that captures the difference between total savings and the savings that should be attributed to the program (savings that occurred only as a result of the program's existence). These calculations typically reduce the benefit of a program by assessing the extent to which free riders take advantage of program subsidies. But they often don't take into account spillover – in which non-participants install the efficiency measures after seeing participants do so – or market transformation, in which the program drives a large-scale change in pricing and consumer behavior.
A Solution: Better Testing
At the request of a number of stakeholders, in early 2011 the National Home Performance Council (NHPC) began working to identify solutions to the challenges that cost-effectiveness tests were creating for energy efficiency programs. NHPC issued a whitepaper, "Measure It Right," which recommended that commissions and utilities consider adopting best practices that would correct the most serious flaws in the test's implementation.
To further support this idea, NHPC commissioned a research paper from Synapse Energy Economics. The Synapse paper detailed a number of best practices that focused on ensuring that the tests take non-energy benefits (such as comfort) and fuel consumption reductions into account. Adopting these best practices will not solve the problems that energy efficiency faces, but they will help to ensure that the full range of benefits provided by energy efficiency programs is recognized in the tests.
NHPC and Synapse presented these recommendations at the summer conference of National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). Commissioners and other staff in several states have expressed interest in adopting these recommendations, either in part or in whole.
During the next twelve months, NHPC will be working closely with stakeholders to encourage commissions across the U.S. to adopt the best practices outlined in the Synapse report. You can help! Your voice on this issue is important, and should be heard by your program's decision makers. Click here for a list of programs that specify BPI credentials or standards. Energy efficiency is too important to be waylaid by badly-administered testing.
Obama and Romney: What about home performance?
At their recent conventions, both presidential candidates made broad mention of alternative energy but said far less about home-performance improvements. One event during the Democratic National Convention did emphasize the need for "the technology and expertise to make existing and new buildings more energy efficient." And WhiteHouse.gov outlines the Obama Administration's four-year endeavor to complete "energy upgrades in more than one million homes." (Initially, the Obama-Biden New Energy for America plan included weatherizing one million homes annually.)
As for energy plans over the next four years, we haven't seen much more from either candidate, including energy-related interviews like this one. This side-by-side comparison of energy platforms outlines their fundamental differences on energy independence. Romney's plan derides the Obama Administration's "unhealthy 'green' jobs obsession." It also advocates heavily for creating "real energy jobs" through off-shore drilling and shale gas extraction -- actions intended to increase energy production and reduce energy costs, likely dampening demand for home-efficiency improvements. (Click here to download the plan.)
Progress on PACE
In August BPI told you about a California ruling that requires the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to move forward with its public rule-making process regarding Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs. This overview on Forbes outlines the ruling and its potential positive impact for home-performance contractors nationally. Learn about the FHFA proposed rule here.
Weatherization training grace notes
Home Energy Pros features an interview with a leader from Veterans Green Jobs, which trains military veterans in energy jobs and weatherizes an average of 1,200 homes per year.
Veterans aren't the only candidates for weatherization jobs. More than 400 youth participants in an Americorps-funded program helped to weatherize 493 homes in a recent six-month period, according to this Huffington Post article. Corps members receive credentials like BPI's Insulation/Air Sealing Technician certification, which allow them to more competitively pursue careers in the growing green energy industry."
State-level programs gear up for winter
In Chicago, Retrofit Chicago launched its third phase -- the Residential Partnership, intended to improve the efficiency of the city's aging residential housing stock through incentives including free energy audits, financing opportunities, and more.
In Maine, where rising oil prices threaten to pinch homeowners this winter, the state agency Efficiency Maine Trust seeks $128.7 million over three years to continue and expand incentives for weatherization and other home-efficiency improvements.
In Vermont, the newly formed Building Performance Professionals Association of Vermont aims to "promote and develop energy efficiency standards and advance the building performance industry" in the state.
Scrutinizing product claims and performance
Closer attention is being paid to building performance products -- as well as to installers. In "HVAC Secret: An Air Conditioner Loophole the Size of the Ozone Hole," Energy Vanguard's Allison Bailes explains the EPA's "dirty little secret" involving HCFC R-22 used in air conditioning systems until 2009, when the U.S. banned the production of new units using R-22. The Federal Trade Commission, in turn, took 14 window manufacturers to task for making unsupported energy savings claims. (Take a look at the FTC's "green guides" here.)
Congratulations to Shawn LeMons of Energy Age, LLC in Broomfield, Colorado for being the first person to submit the correct answer to August's Stump the Chump!
As a reminder, Ham Niles of Evergreen Home Performance provided this story (scroll down to infrared pictures) about the home of a retired anesthesiologist and his wife in Maine.
Shawn explains that "the generator block heater control has failed or does not exist, allowing the heater to run excessively."
Furthermore, Shawn says that in his personal experience, he has "used [his] IR at the breaker box a number of times to check electric 'zones,' to help track down what is using extra juice."
"This is particularly helpful when obvious switchable loads have been turned off - it can be such a great 'Ah ha!' moment," says Shawn.
Ham adds that when he "looked at the panel using the IR to see if one or more circuits were hotter than they ought to be, [he] found a circuit much warmer than the others. The line going to the block heater and battery charger for the emergency generator had been improperly wired together on the same breaker when the unit was installed, causing the 750w block heater to run all the time - 24/7, winter and summer, for YEARS; 6570 kWh annually - over half their electrical usage!"
This Month's Stumper
This month's stumper submitted by Troy Tanner of The Home Energy Detective Inc. in Manassas, VA, features a homeowner who lives in a well-kept apartment complex, with a Home Owner's Association that is greatly impassioned about the look of the community's landscaping – and had recently landscaped the grounds immediately surrounding the building.
Troy's team was called in by an HVAC contractor that had installed a new system in a second floor apartment that had an exterior closet on the balcony. The balcony closet was above the first floor apartment closet. The homeowner on the second floor had complained of water damage that looked like it went halfway up the interior wall of the closet (unfinished drywall and plywood floor). The entire wall of the first floor closet was completely saturated with moisture.
The homeowner complained that the moisture was only apparent approximately a year after the installation of the HVAC unit.
Upon inspection it was noticed that each closet had a low and high vent to the outside. The upper closet's high vent was 75 percent blocked.
What could have caused the moisture?
Troy Tanner is the Founder of The Home Energy Detective Inc in Manassas, VA; a NARI Certified Remodeler and Green Certified Professional; BPI certified for Building Analyst and Envelope; and is an active member of his community in Northern Virginia.