Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Man in the Mirror* - Why We Don’t Invest in Energy Efficiency

It’s strange: we view ourselves as rational creatures, but then we don’t do what we should, even when we know what the right thing to do is. That’s a mouthful, I know, but I have been thinking a lot about energy efficiency (EE) of late. We all know that EE is good for us and the planet, but the problem is that we often don’t make the investments. This divide between knowing that EE is the right thing but failing to take action is known as the energy efficiency gap.

It is important to understand the reasons for the separation between knowledge and action. We often read that we don’t need to make investments in energy infrastructure, such as power plants, natural gas pipelines, wind farms, or transmission lines; instead, we read that all we need to do is to make investments in energy efficiency. We are told that such investments would curtail our growing energy demand and we could make do with the existing supply. In principle, I agree wholeheartedly and endorse this idea, but the sad truth is that we don’t make the necessary EE investments. Instead, our energy consumption grows and we end up having to make the investments in energy infrastructure anyway. The fact of the matter is that we often fail at making decisions in our own best interest. This failure to act in favor of our long-term interest is at the heart of our problems with energy.

Consideration of, support for, and implementation of EE plans are very important parts of any state or national energy plan. The importance and benefits of EE, such as reduced energy demand, lower costs, and lower greenhouse gas emissions, have been long recognized: As I noted in a previous blog, EE can be considered as an energy source in its own right.  The  International Energy Agency (IEA) now refers to energy efficiency as the first fuel because the savings from avoided energy use are now greater than the supply of any single energy source (oil, electricity, or natural gas) in Australia, USA, and certain EU countries. EE is, in fact, considered an energy source in its own right. In other words, more can now be achieved by EE measures than by increasing the supply of a particular energy resource. Moreover, much of the potential from EE remains untapped.

We face two choices as our demand for energy increases: we either build new power plants or we become more efficient in our consumption to curtail our demand. It is not widely appreciated that EE is the lowest cost option when compared with installing new power production capacity. The consulting company, Lazard, carries out an interesting analysis every year,  in which they examine renewable and fossil-fuel electricity generation options and calculate the levelized cost of energy or LCOE. This parameter takes into account the initial cost of an operation, its electrical output, the annual cost of fuel, annual maintenance, and an interest cost (normally set by the minimum rate of return one would like to earn on a project, often equivalent to the bank loan interest rate to purchase the equipment). These costs are then evenly distributed over the life of the project to yield a single “levelized” cost for energy. The attraction of this approach is that it allows a side-by-side comparison of different projects and energy sources that have very different financial requirements and expense flows. For example, it allows comparison of a solar system with high capital but low operating costs with a diesel generator project that has low capital but high operating costs. LCOE provides a means for determining which project is better from a lifecycle energy cost point of view. In the figure below, I have rearranged the Lazard data, showing renewable technologies in green and fossil fuel options in blue. On an LCOE basis, it is clear that that EE (shown in red) is the lowest cost option, with an average value of 2.5 cents/kWh. By way of comparison, I noted in my last post that the EE numbers for NH through the NH EE Core program were of the order of 3.7 cents/kWh for EE investments.

Source: Lazard

So, if EE is so clearly the lowest cost option, why don’t we do more of it? Why is there this energy efficiency gap?

The biggest issue is that it requires long-term thinking and making big investments now to reap benefits far into the future. This is not something that we are good at. EE costs money and is not always popular, especially with politicians wrestling with the fallout of high energy prices. Here in NE, energy prices are already high and EE adds to these costs. The approach adopted by some is to kick the can down the road by saying No to EE investment and make high energy consumption a problem for future generations.

I have been wrestling with this this EE paradox: if we know EE is good for us, why don’t we do it? It is like exercise! We are bombarded with messages about the benefits of exercise and healthy lifestyles, but often we come home, crack open a beer, open a bag of Doritos, sit in front of the TV for the evening— and tell ourselves that we will start exercising tomorrow.

In my thinking about energy efficiency, I have taken a hard look at the man in the mirror* and my own actions in this regard. I write about and research energy matters, I teach energy efficiency classes to MBA students, and I write papers on energy efficiency, but I have not implemented all the EE measures in my life that I could have. Compared with most folks, my knowledge of these measures is much deeper, but I still don’t take all the action that I should. Clearly, I am still on the beer, Doritos, and TV train.  Why is this so and why I am standing on the other side of the energy efficiency gap? What accounts for this paradoxical behavior?

It turns out that this issue has been studied in a fair amount of depth by economists, but the challenge is that these studies are often shrouded in arcane language, economic theories, and complicated equations, which makes them difficult to understand. I wanted to share some of the thinking behind the reasons for the energy efficiency paradox, so I turned to one of my recently graduated students, Alexander Ziko, and asked him to explain, in non-economic language, the reasons for the EE gap.  Take it away, Alex.

This is Alex Ziko, a 2016 graduate from the Franklin Pierce University MBA in Energy and Sustainability Studies program. I have been studying energy matters with Prof. Mooiman for the past two years. Having graduated, I thought I was all done with energy assignments from Prof. Mooiman, but he posed an interesting question to me and, as I am interested in energy efficiency and behavioral economics, I decided to tackle the question as to why there is an energy efficiency gap.

As a brief introduction, I would describe myself as a native New Englander, recreationalist, and environmentalist living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I work as a data analyst for a small analytics software company; and spend my spare time reading and studying the intersection of economics, energy, and sustainability. This fall, when Prof. Mooiman posed to me an interesting question about the EE gap, he assumed I would balk at the opportunity of completing yet another assignment regarding energy economics – especially as this one would be on my own time. However, accepting Prof. Mooiman’s challenges always proves to be a personally enlightening experience. So let’s get comfortable as I attempt to turn the economically arcane into the intellectually engaging.

Why We Don’t Invest in Energy Efficiency When We Should

Increasing energy efficiency is a trend that Americans have been seeing for years. The idea of saving energy (and thus money) is a frequent topic on news broadcasts and daytime television; EE goods and services are given approving nods from consumers (think EnergyStar products and LED lighting); and when you crunch the numbers, EE investments almost always make long-term financial sense. However, consumers still act imprudently and opt not to make the investments –  once again proving that “rational economic actors” (an economist’s term for everyday people) aren’t always rational with their choices. Why? Why is there a gap between what is available to the consumer and what the consumer chooses to do – the so-called energy efficiency gap? The reasons why consumers choose not to adopt energy efficient options are complex and different for everyone. One cannot point to one specific area because there three main reasons for this energy efficiency paradox that can explain why, for an energy consumer, knowledge does not lead to action.

Modeling Flaws - The best decisions are made with good data – the world of EE is no different. Just as a bank would require accurate and convincing data before offering you a small business loan, a consumer looking to invest in EE hardware needs to be convinced of its short- and long-term value. Let’s use insulation as an example. Upgrading insulation has become a ubiquitous investment by homeowners as a way to save on energy (electricity, oil, natural gas, etc.). However, the savings available to a consumer depend greatly on: the state in which they live, the energy rates in that area, customer behavior, and the capacity to which the upgraded insulation would reduce heat losses. This puts a lot of pressure on the forecasting model used by firms that consult on and commission EE projects to provide an accurate forecast when proposing an energy project. Factors like the current income and cash flow (how much you make and spend each month) and budget allocations of the homeowner also need to be taken into account, along with an analysis of the opportunity cost associated with the project (opportunity cost can be thought of as the cost of the “next-best” option for a client). The homeowner’s opportunity cost for investing upfront cash for better insulation may present itself in the form of not being able to afford to take a family vacation this year or passing on orthodontic work for little Billy. In addition, one of the reasons for investment hesitation with energy investments is the concern that energy prices will not remain high enough to allow a return on a sizeable upfront investment. For example, in New England, the primary source of home heat is heating oil. In the past two years, heating oil prices have fallen. With opportunity costs in mind, and a relatively low market price for oil, consumers may not see sufficient benefits to warrant paying to upgrade the insulation in their home, especially in an economic climate of stagnant wages. Instead, they choose to keep the money in savings or perhaps spend it on that orthodontic work.

One overlooked and unaccounted for economic result that doesn’t always show up in an initial energy model is what is known as the rebound effect. This is the additional consumption of a product, or the additional emission of negative effects (like pollution), because you change your consumption habit due to your investment. Sound complicated? It makes sense if you think about our very human behavior. Let’s use the example of a hybrid vehicle. Perhaps you traded in your inefficient SUV for a new or used hybrid; heck, maybe you even acquired the car through a private sale and got a really good deal. However, with that new car, it is likely that some of your driving habits are going to change. Because you now buy less fuel, you might drive more than you did when you were more conscientious of every mile per gallon. Even though you are driving a more energy efficient vehicle, you undo some of the EE gains by driving more. Or, in the case of upgrading your insulation, you perhaps increase your thermostat setpoint by a few degrees because you don’t burn as much oil as before. These negative effects are seldom included in the calculation of EE gains, which could lead to their overstatement. When determining EE benefits, it is important to monitor energy consumption behavior afterwards to make sure that you really are achieving your forecasted savings.

Market Failures - Market failures sound complex, but they are actually very simple. When the supply of a resource is not matched by its demand, market failures are present. These can be found in many areas of the EE universe. Whenever a subsidy for an investment is given, or whenever pollution is emitted without accounting for its clean up, an imbalance in the true cost of production and the price of the product is created: this imbalance is a market failure. For example, subsidizing a homeowner’s EE investments is a market failure (albeit arguably a positive one) because the homeowner does not bear the full cost of the investment – they are subsidized by other ratepayers, thereby creating a market distortion. Then there are the indirect benefits that the neighbors benefit accrue from the EE investment, such as: improved resiliency of the energy-delivery systems because less energy has to be sourced, lower costs because fewer power plants have to be built, our resources last longer, less pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, local job creation, etc., as alluded to by Prof. Mooiman in his blog.  Sometimes, market failures can take the shape of incomplete information. Energy consumers don’t have the same information that is available to suppliers of EE products or service: there is a fear that the projected savings might not materialize and that perceived risk can be an obstacle in moving forward with an investment.

Another market failure occurs when multiple people are responsible for the same energy system: those individuals may not view the system in the same way. This can be found in apartment buildings where a landlord may not have an incentive to properly insulate and upgrade the building if the tenant is responsible for the heating bill. Whenever multiple people have the ability to change the consumption of energy, there is a possibility that the usage will not happen in an efficient manner. In economic speak, this is known as the principal/agent or split incentive problem. Anyone who has grown up in New England can attest to the paternal fallout that may happen if you touch the thermostat in the living room lest you decline to put on a sweater.

Other forms of market failures also fall within the realm of credit constraints.  EE investments normally require high upfront costs: lenders generally have a poor view of the potential return on these investments and can be reluctant to lend money for these projects.

Behavioral Failures - A very common explanation for the EE gap can be found in the way that people behave. I cannot stress enough that Economics is much, much more than the examination of dollars and cents; it’s an examination into how communities and individuals use their finite resources. Improved understanding of economic behavior has been aided by the field of behavioral economics, which looks at the differences in the ways that people, as rational beings making efficient economic choices, are predicted to act and how they actually behave in real life when they are presented with options. This is what makes behavioral economics a fascinating and worthy study, because it is just as much about psychology and philosophy as it is statistics and quantitative analysis. Behavioral reasons for an EE gap may be centered around personal beliefs, personal decision making, and personal preferences. For example, consider a homeowner who uses oil as a heating source. They may have a personal belief that the future price of heating oil will only go down in the future as less expensive forms of energy, such as those released by hydraulic fracking, become available; and therefore it is not financially worthwhile to invest in a solar hot water system. An example of a personal preference may be found in the decision to keep driving an inefficient vehicle rather than a hybrid vehicle, because the owner identifies more with the model of car they own – a personal identification that is worth more to them than potential fuel savings. Consumers may also be wary of the reality of energy savings, and are perturbed by the motives of a sales person looking to make a commission rather than the true effectiveness of potential energy savings that would result.

Other behavioral failures include: inattentiveness and salience, myopia, prospect theory, and bounded rationality. Inattentiveness addresses the fact that we are bombarded by information and have limited capacity to deal with it all and that we have to make choices regarding what we do pay attention to. As a result, doing the research (remember our definition of Economics as resource management, not just dollars and cents), contacting the vendor, and finding the money for an EE investment tends to be far down the list of what catches our attention. This is difficult because it requires more critical thinking and economic creativity than we usually ask of ourselves in our daily life. We also don’t pay attention to the long-term energy savings. Instead, we focus on the upfront cost of the investment – the feature that is most relevant (salient) to us at the time of the decision.  When buying a car, the upfront premium on a hybrid vehicle and the increased taxes can be more important to us than the long-term savings. We also tend to discount the importance of something like much higher fuel prices that might happen in the future.

Prospect theory suggests that we, as consumers, are more concerned about the possibility of loss than the prospect of long-term gains. We tend to weigh losses more heavily than gains. The spending of $1000 on EE has a greater emotional impact on us than $2000 of future gains.  In other words, we are concerned about our EE investment being a bad one and are risk-adverse to the possible gains. Future money is more abstract than the current balance on the bank account.

Bounded rationality is another behavioral economics explanation and explains that it is impossible to analyze and understand all information associated with a decision, especially a complex technical one. As a result, we resort to short cuts. For example, in buying a car, we simply might not have time to analyze all the data, so we might resort to a short cut, such as using Consumer Report ratings. Or perhaps we simply follow the lead of our neighbors and buy a similar car.  

As you can see, explaining why there is a slowness to adopt EE measures is not simple. There are many layered and nuanced economic reasons for why customers don’t install LED light bulbs, continue to use inefficient home appliances, drive inefficient vehicles, and delay upgrading home energy systems. Some of this reasoning lies in the information gap between EE suppliers and energy consumers, but a lot is wrapped up in the way that consumers view their budgets, the future benefits of changing their actions, and their preference to the way that they do things now, information overload, and other choices that draw them away from making EE investments. Getting people to make EE efficiency investments is not straightforward. Consultants and EE experts face significant barriers in helping residents and businesses see through these situations and getting them to make the right decision; while at the same time learning from their own forecasting errors and mastering a more accurate prediction of energy savings.

Thanks Alex. So, there we have an explanation as to why I can sometimes be such an EE slacker. It is a combination of too little information, and, at times, too much information, inattention, short-term thinking, other opportunities to spend my money, and more concern about spending money now rather than long-term energy savings. Overall, the point is that we are not always rational in our approach and it takes work to get humans to think in the long term, to do the right thing, and to make those EE investments.  As a result, depending on voluntary EE action is limited in its effectiveness. This is why Federal programs, such as appliance and fuel economy standards, or State programs, such as building codes or the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) programs, are so important. They get us to make the right EE decisions by making EE the default option or by providing incentives such as subsidies for EE investments.

It has been noted by the International Energy Agency in their 2016 Energy Efficiency Market Report that policy is the key driver for EE improvements. These policies take one of five forms:
  1.    Mandatory standards, e.g., building energy codes;
  2.    Mandatory energy savings targets, such as those in the NH EERS program;
  3.    Information and labelling, e.g., Energy Star Appliances;
  4.    Financial incentives, such as the subsidies provided by the NH EERS program; and
  5.    Financial disincentives, e.g., consumption taxes, like fuel taxes.

With this powerful range of tools, our legislators have the ability to make a profound impact on our energy consumption, should they take a long view. Quite frankly, if EE policy is not used as a tool, our demand will continue to grow until the point that diminished energy resources and excessive energy prices will provide the incentive to curtail our energy usage. Escalating demand will also, by necessity, lead to increased supply: bringing in that increased supply—renewable or not—will have an impact and, one way or another, we will end up paying for it. It must be appreciated that every energy project, whether renewable, nuclear, or fossil-fuel based, has an impact on somebody somewhere. There is no free lunch when it comes to energy. The choice is a stark one: we can work to moderate our energy consumption through policy and voluntary action, or wait for increased demand, higher energy prices, and impacts on our society and environment to drive our actions. With EE, we have the ability to moderate, over the long term, our demand in a controllable and less drastic fashion.

I understand the dilemma faced by our elected representatives. They are concerned about high energy prices in New England and the negative impact that they have on local companies that need to remain competitive. It takes foresight and courage, especially when you are up for election, to support programs that may marginally increase energy costs, despite their enormous long-term positive energy usage impact. We and our elected representatives should take courage and lessons from the many local companies that do take action and make investments to improve their energy efficiency by utilizing EE programs like CORE and EERS, discussed in my last post. I suspect that a company can do more to control their energy use through EE actions than by waiting and lobbying for lower energy prices.

We are often reminded that NH has amongst the highest energy prices: there are states with rates 50% lower. This  is an outcome of the fact that we are in New England and have little in the way of cheap hydropower, wind, or fossil-fuel resources. We are a densely populated area with a lot of energy infrastructure and, in many respects, we are at the end of the energy pipeline. On top of this, we are closing down aging coal and nuclear power plants and are notoriously reluctant to deal with and commit to new generation or supply infrastructure. Our higher prices should not be a surprise and we will never be able to match those low electricity prices in other states. However, we can and should deal with the situation then by curtailing our energy use. We can put our Yankee ingenuity to work. We can take action, drop the thermostat temperature by a degree, put on a sweater, make those EE investments, and encourage our politicians to make a commitment to EE programs. Energy efficiency is indeed the first fuel and let’s encourage our politicians to support it.

In the meantime, think about your own actions with regard to energy efficiency. Like me, take a look at the man in the mirror* and ask yourself if there is more you can do to reduce your energy consumption—and then take action.  And, as usual, start with remembering to turn off the lights when you leave the room.

Mike Mooiman

Franklin Pierce University

(*Man in the Mirror: One of my favorite Michael Jackson tunes. From the album Bad released in 1987. Enjoy Man in the Mirror)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Saving Grace* - Energy Efficiency in New Hampshire – Part 2

In my last post, I looked at the big picture of energy supply and consumption in New Hampshire, as well as some gross measures of energy efficiency (EE), viz., energy intensity and energy use per capita. The data indicated that we are making progress, but that we have a long, long way to go before we can consider ourselves energy efficient. In this post, I take a look at NH’s EE ranking and some important policy developments that will help promote EE in the state.  

The American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) produces an annual scorecard that ranks the states on their EE initiatives and progress. The map below shows the state rankings in the most recent scorecard report. The ranking is done by grading each state’s utility EE programs, transportation initiatives, building energy codes, state government initiatives, and combined heat and power programs. NH’s ranking is in the midrange at # 21: we are surrounded by New England states with much better rankings, including Massachusetts, which, along with California, hold the number 1 spot.  

A closer look at the NH’s scorecard is enlightening. The figure below shows specific data regarding various scorecard components compared with those of NH’s immediate neighbors.

As you can see, NH’s scores were run-of-the-mill in the areas of utility programs, building codes, and state initiatives, and poor in transportation, appliance, and combined heat and power initiatives. The scorecard report does note that the state took a big step forward by approving new energy-savings targets for 2018 to 2020, but also remarked that NH could improve considerably in the transportation and combined heat and power sectors. Our neighbors are clearly doing more in almost all categories.

When it comes to EE, it is my view that there are three main drivers, as indicated below.

The first, and most important, are government-mandated EE programs. These include building codes, appliance efficiency standards, and fuel-economy standards for motor vehicles. These are often Federal standards, but sometimes state-specific requirements may exceed or fill in for a lack of Federal standards. Producers of the goods and services affected by such mandates are required by law to ensure that their products meet these requirements; we, as consumers, indirectly participate in EE by purchasing these goods.

The other type of EE initiatives are those in which we voluntarily participate by making non-mandated but important EE decisions; for example, the replacement of an incandescent or CFL lightbulb with a more expensive but more energy-efficient LED bulb.

The third driver for EE is energy prices. We are very basic creatures and respond to financial incentives, so if energy prices are high, be it electricity, natural gas, or gasoline, we generally take active measures to reduce our energy expenditure by driving less, buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, or putting on a sweater and turning down the thermostat. One might argue that high energy prices are just a driver of our voluntary actions; however, I see them as different because there is often an altruistic/it’s good for the planet/right-thing-to-do component to voluntary action. And if you can save boatloads of money by doing the right thing for the planet, more power to you. (Or perhaps that should be less power to you?)

For the remainder of this post, I review utility-run EE programs in NH. These are a combination of mandated and voluntary actions. The utilities are mandated to offer them, but we, as home or business owners, voluntarily participate in them, but, in doing so, we also have to open our wallets to pay for our part of these investments.

Since 2002, NH has had a formal utility-run program to promote EE investments in NH, known as the Core Energy Efficiency Program. This is a New Hampshire Public Utility Commission (NHPUC)-mandated program with required participation by the electrical and natural gas utilities. The utilities collaborate in their efforts to provide savings, information, incentives, and assistance in the implementation of EE investments to their ratepayers, which include municipalities, homeowners, and industrial and commercial operations. Information about the program is reported on the NHSaves website, which is a good place to start looking for information about energy savings and EE if you are a NH ratepayer. The program is directed at both the electrical and natural gas utilities and requires savings in both.

The NHSaves program has many features and offers a lot of services to realize energy savings. Quoting directly from the 2017 New Hampshire Statewide Energy Efficiency Plan, the elements of the program include:

  • “Working with Home Energy Raters and building contractors, to incent the construction of highly efficient homes that use 15-30 percent less energy than a standard new home. 
  •  Incentivizing insulation, air-sealing and other weatherization measures performed by qualified private contractors to reduce a homeowner’s heating fuel use by more than 15 percent on average.
  • Providing insulation, air-sealing and other weatherization measures to low-income families, saving them hundreds of dollars per year on energy costs, though a collaboration with the NH Office of Energy and Planning’s Weatherization Assistance Program and New Hampshire’s six Community Action Agencies.
  • Partnering with over 100 New Hampshire appliance retailers and suppliers across the state to help customers purchase highly efficient appliances such as refrigerators, clothes washers and room air conditioners, saving 10-20 percent of the energy they would have used if they had purchased standard efficiency models.
  •  Partnering with over 100 lighting retailers and suppliers across the state to reduce the barriers for New Hampshire customers to purchase energy efficient lighting measures that can save between $30 to $80 over the lifetime of a single product.
  • Working with qualified private contractors to help businesses and non-profits identify and install more efficient lighting, controls, motors, HVAC equipment, air compressors and industrial process equipment. 
  • Focusing on municipalities to help save energy in public buildings, reducing overall costs to taxpayers and making public spaces a model for efficiency improvements.”

To date, the goals of the NH program have been modest and the annual energy savings have been small—of the order of 0.5% of NH total energy consumption. Our neighboring states have been more aggressive in their savings; for example, in 2015, RI, MA, VT, and ME had savings of 2.91%, 3.74%, 2.01%, and 1.53% of their 2015 retail sales, respectively.

Even though NH’s annual savings have been relatively small, these small savings, year on year, have accumulated over time. It has been estimated that, since the start of the Core program, customers have saved over $1.9 billion and reduced electricity consumption by 12 billion kWh and natural gas use by 24.5 million MMBtus (million BTUs). The Core program, by most measures, has been a successful one.

These accumulated savings are great, but there is a cost for the program that NH ratepayers fund. The 2016 budget was ~$24 million for the electrical EE programs and ~$7 million for the gas programs. The electrical component has been funded by part of the Systems Benefit Charge (SBC) paid by each electrical ratepayer (in 2017, the  EE portion will be 0.198 cents/kWh of the 0..354 cents/kWh SBC charge averaged across the four utilities), money from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auctions that are distributed to the NE states, and from the ISO-NE capacity market. The natural gas savings program has been funded through the local distribution adjustment charge (LDAC) paid by natural gas users. Typically, the split in funding for the electrical program has been 70% from SBC funds, 19% from RGGI, 10% from the forward capacity market, and  1% from carryover and interest, whereas the natural gas savings program is funded completely from the LDAC charge.

It is important to appreciate that all ratepayers pay their share towards the program, but only those that elect to participate benefit directly and reap the big savings. To actively benefit from this program and reap the rewards requires you, as the ratepayer, to make an upfront EE investment. The amount that you have to pay depends on your utility, class of service, and particular type of EE investment. Even though there is a requirement for an upfront investment, the utility-run EE programs have been popular: there have been waiting lists and money to fund EE investments has run out before the end of each year.

Even if you don’t participate directly, you, along with other non-participating ratepayers, benefit indirectly because reduced energy consumption, regardless where it comes from, benefits us all. It improves the resiliency of our energy-delivery systems because less energy has to be sourced, it keeps our costs down because fewer power plants have to be built, our resources last longer, less pollution results, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, local jobs are created, and, as noted in my previous post, there is a cascade of other benefits that results from EE investments.

The Core program is well run and carefully administered, and a great deal of effort is expended in evaluating its effectiveness. It is overseen by the NHPUC, but is run by the electrical and natural gas utility companies that are required to submit a joint annual plan and budget. The joint administration and shared marketing resources through the NHSaves program ensures consistency and best practice implementation across all utilities. Each utility is required to provide quarterly and annual reports and is subject to annual financial audits and independent certification of savings.   The program is a serious endeavor and is continually reviewed. THE NHPUC has over 130 reports evaluating the effectiveness of EE programs in NH and NE. I consider this to be an important and well-run, documented, audited, and verified initiative.

As part of their administration of the EE program, the utilities carefully vet the projects that are considered and each undergoes a thorough cost-effective screening. Each program is required to have a benefit-to-cost ratio above one. The costs and benefits are over the lifetime of the project (which vary depending on the nature of the project); costs include both the utility and ratepayer contributions. The specific benefit:cost goals laid out in the 2017 plan are shown in the table  below.
As mentioned, the utilities report annually on their EE programs, recording what was spent and what the benefits were. I have summarized some key findings from the 2015 reports in the table and bullet points below:

  • Eversource, with the largest number of customers in NH, spent the most on EE programs.
  • There are variations from utility to utility, but the end users (homeowners, commercial, industrial and municipal) are paying, on average, 45% of the costs of EE investment; the utility pays the other 55% out of their funds allocated for EE.
  • Homeowners are paying, on average, 37% of their EE investments.
  • The lifetime benefit/cost ratio is an average of 2.2, which means that, for every $ invested in EE, NH reaps over $2 in benefits in terms of energy savings.

Overall, the cost of EE investments in NH through the Core program has been estimated to be 3.7 cents/kWh. If we had spent this money on just buying more electricity, we would have paid the retail price of about 16 cents/kWh. The natural gas savings are similar: $0.336/therm for EE vs. $0.81/therm for purchase. In short, investing in EE is a bargain.

The challenge with the Core program is that, while it has been popular, funding has been limited and a lot of deserving EE projects have not yet been implemented. To support more EE savings and meet the objectives of  NH’s 10-year Energy Strategy, the NHPUC  has recently approved a new statewide utility-run EE policy, known as the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS). This program boosts the annual goals for energy efficiency and increases funding available for EE investments. It kicks in at the start of 2018 and requires utilities to increase their annual energy savings.  The EERS program was developed with significant stakeholder involvement, ranging from environmental lobbying groups, utilities, state representation, community action groups, and other energy-related non-profits. The program will be overseen by NHPUC with input from stakeholders and will be jointly administered by the utilities, as with the Core program.

The annual goals for the new EERS program, and how they compare with the recent Core program goals, are shown in the figure below.

It is good to see the annual savings increase: over the next four years (2017 to 2020), there will be a cumulative savings of 3.1% of electricity and 2.25% of natural gas (compared with 2014 consumption). But, again, I need to note that, compared with our neighbors, these goals are rather humble: the average annual electrical savings increases are 2.1% for Vermont, 2.9% for Massachusetts, 2.4% for Maine, and 2.6% for Rhode Island. 

The EERS plan also has the following features:
  • Instead of the two-year planning and implementation cycles used in the Core program, the EERS program will use a three-year cycle.
  • Funding for EE investments will more than double over the next few years. In 2016, the budget for EE investments was $31 million; in 2020, it proposed to be $74 million.
  • The money for these increased EE investments will come from an increase in the SBC and LDAC components of the utility bill. The average SBC and LDAC in 2017 will be 0..354 cents/kWh and 4.95 cents/therm, increasing to 0.821 cents/kWh and 6.91 cents/therm in 2020, respectively. This will result in a $2.70 monthly increase in the electrical bill for a ratepayer using 600 kWh per month. Overall, the EERS program will contribute to a 2 to 3% increase  in NH utility bills from 2017 to 2020.
  • To compensate utilities for the lower energy sales and lost revenue associated with EE, a lost revenue adjustment mechanism (LRAM) will be implemented. This is new and is built into the SBC rate increase.
  • As with the Core program, there are built-in performance incentives to encourage utilities to make these investments. Basically, the utilities will earn a bonus for achieving above-budget energy savings.
  • The EESE Board, which is a multi-stakeholder committee that works with the NHPUC to promote energy efficiency and sustainable energy in the state, will serve as a review and advisory council.
  • Evaluation, monitoring, and verification will be carried out by independent consultants.
  • The low-income assistance portion of the program will increase from 15.5% to 17% of the total EE budget for the first three years.

There are, of course, objections to the EERS program. It will increase the bills of all ratepayers across the state, but big savings only accrue to those who participate and have the funds to foot their part of the investment. However, bear in mind that if your neighbor makes a big investment in EE and significantly reduces her monthly cost, you indirectly benefit from improved energy system resiliency, lower long-term energy costs, less pollution, etc. This is similar to the benefits that an SUV driver might derive from drivers of EE vehicles: those drivers of EE vehicles extend the lifetime of oil resources, reduce pollution, and keep oil prices down.  Ultimately, it is your choice whether to pour your dollars into your gas tank or into inefficient energy use in your home, but keep in mind that you do benefit from the EE activities of others.
Should you find yourself agitated by the increase in utility rates associated with the EERS program, I encourage you to take direct action that undo that increase. Go through your home and find three old style incandescent ightbulbs and change them to LED bulbs (which can be purchased for $2/bulb). The annual energy savings from these bulbs (assuming you have changed to  10W LEDs,  burning for 4 hours a day and your average electricity use per month is 600 W) will save you 2.7% of your electricity bill which more than relieves that phased SBC increase.

It must also be appreciated that EE presents a problem to regulated utility companies. They are in business to sell electricity or natural gas and thereby earn a return on their investments to pass on to their investors. (And before you get all self-righteous about money-grabbing investors, look at the companies in your retirement investments: you will mostly likely find some utility companies in your portfolio, making you one of those investors. Utility company shares have proved to be extraordinarily reliable investments with steady returns.) When utilities are obligated to make investments in EE, this reduces the amount of electricity or natural gas they sell, reduces revenue and profits, and limits opportunities to make infrastructure investments on which they can earn a return. Moreover, they have to administer these EE investments, employ staff to run these programs, and incur costs. Generally, the utilities would not be in favor of these programs so they need to be incentivized to participate. This is done by compensating them for the lost sales and costs associated with the EE program, which is built into the SBC or LDAC charges. In essence, the utilities get to sell less of their energy commodity at higher prices.

This post has covered NH’s middle-ranking EE. We are way behind our New England neighbors in EE, but the saving grace* is that that NH is in the process of transitioning from the Core to the EERS program, which is an important step forward.  Required annual energy savings will increase and EE investment budgets will more than double. This will have utility-cost implications because NH ratepayers will see a 2 to 3% increase in their utility bills over the 2017–2020 period as a result of these changes. However, these are good programs that make a difference and we all benefit and, by our implementing our own simple EE actions, like changing over to LED lightbulbs, we can cancel out the effect of the rate increase. It is a far better idea to make EE investments now that reduce our exploitation of fuel resources and reduce energy infrastructure investments. This will reduce energy cost increases in the future

However, to fully benefit from these programs requires action and investment on our part. This is something that we don’t always do—even when we know it is the right thing. I will discuss this lack of action in my next post. In the meantime, do your bit for energy efficiency and turn off the lights when you leave the room.

Mike Mooiman

Franklin Pierce University

(*Saving Grace: A fabulous tune with a great driving groove by one of my favorites: Tom Petty. From the Highway Companion album released in 2006. Enjoy Saving Grace.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Flow with It* - Energy Efficiency in New Hampshire – Part 1

Much of our energy debate in New England centers around its supply – does it come from natural gas, coal, or nuclear; do we bring in hydro power from Canada or put up turbines on our hills? Supply is important, but we don’t pay enough attention to the other side of the energy equation – that of demand. How we use energy is, I think, even more important than energy supply. Focusing on how we use energy, and working toward becoming more efficient in our consumption, could have profound impacts on our energy needs and our economy (we could spend the money from energy savings in other ways), our planet (we would need fewer power plants and transmission lines and would reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions), and society (lower-income families would spend a smaller portion of their paychecks on heating and keeping the lights on).

What we have already gained from energy-efficiency investments is remarkable. The International Energy Agency (IEA) now refers to energy efficiency as the first fuel because the savings from avoided energy use are now greater than the supply of any single energy source (oil, electricity, or natural gas) in Australia, USA, and certain EU countries. The IEA estimated that, in 2015, energy-efficiency investments worldwide were of the order of $221 billion. The following quote, taken  from the foreword of their recent report, captures the importance of energy efficiency and its central place in any energy policy, whether it be local, statewide, or country-based.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that energy efficiency needs to be central in energy policies around the world. All of the core imperatives of energy policy – reducing energy bills, decarbonisation, air pollution, energy security, and energy access – are made more attainable if led by strong energy efficiency policy. As the world transitions to clean energy, efficiency can make the transition cheaper, faster and more beneficial across all sectors of our economies. Indeed, there is no realistic, or affordable, energy development strategy that is not led by energy efficiency. For the IEA, it is the first fuel.”

In a report entitled “The Greatest Energy Story You Haven’t Heard: How Investing in Energy Efficiency Changed the US Power Sector and Gave a Tool to Tackle Climate Change,” the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) noted that energy efficiency in the US is presently the third-largest electricity resource, after coal and natural gas, and is projected to become the largest resource by 2030. If we had not implemented various energy-efficiency measures since 1990, we would have had to build 313 additional power plants. ACEEE forecasts that, by 2030, energy-efficiency savings could be equivalent to the generation from 800 power plants!

Energy efficiency (EE) is important for all the obvious reasons: it reduces peak power demand and power plant construction; it decreases environmental and health impacts that result from the harvesting and burning of natural resources, such as coal and natural gas; it extends the life of those resources, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reduced. It also reduces expenditure on energy for homes, businesses, factories—money that can be spent elsewhere. Energy-efficiency investments create jobs, improve local resilience, and have been shown to be the lower cost option when compared with power plant investments. Increasingly, a host of multiple benefits that stem from EE initiatives is now recognized. Some of these were highlighted in a recent IEA report, as depicted in the figure below. These numerous outcomes lead to a cascade of multiplier effects throughout the economy, in which EE savings lead to reduced energy consumption, which stimulates economic development, resulting in increased prosperity and reduced poverty. Quite frankly, it is simply the right thing to do to extend our future on this planet and, as noted in the IEA quote above, needs to be front and center of any energy strategy. 


The starting point for consideration of energy-efficiency measures is knowledge of the large-scale supply and consumption of energy. A good way to visualize these is through Sankey or flow diagrams. (For more information about Sankey diagrams, take a look at one of my early NH blogs.) The Sankey diagram below was generated by the folks at Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) based on 2012 data. The LLNL experts annually prepare these useful and informative diagrams for energy flow in the US and they appear in energy-related presentations all over the place. They don't update the diagrams for individual states every year, however, so the NH data are a bit dated, but still informative.

The diagram shows that the bulk of New Hampshire’s energy supply comes from oil, nuclear, natural gas, and biomass. Over time, renewables such as hydro, wind, and solar are becoming more important, while the use of coal is diminishing.  

With respect to consumption, transportation consumes the bulk of the energy, followed by households and commercial enterprises. The pie chart below shows the breakdown of energy usage in NH. To obtain the greatest benefit, the data suggest that state EE measures should be focused on the transportation, household, and commercial sectors.

Source: LLNL Data

When looking at the Sankey diagrams, I am always astounded at the rightmost side of the diagram. It shows the amount of energy that ends up in energy services compared with rejected or wasted energy. Of the 360 trillion BTUs of primary energy supply into NH, two thirds (!) is lost as waste heat. The bulk of this waste comes from inefficiencies in energy generation and transportation losses and, although there are physical limitations as to how much useful energy (such as electricity and motion) we can draw from burning stuff, there is still considerable room for improvement. We can, and should, take a much harder look at improving gas mileage standards for vehicles and incentivizing electricity generators to improve their overall efficiency, for example. It is noteworthy that the move from coal to combined-cycle natural gas electricity generation has improved efficiency. Moreover, the separation of generation activities from the utilities and the development of electricity markets naturally created market incentives for generators to become more efficient: the more effective they are, the lower their costs become. Prior to deregulation, the costs of inefficient generation were simply passed on to ratepayers.

Interestingly, the data show 35% energy waste from residences and commercial enterprises, but only 20% from industrial firms. Energy costs are often a significant component of industrial operating costs, so many companies have a laser-like focus on minimizing these. Nevertheless, reducing energy losses from residences, commercial, and industrial enterprises presents important opportunities for improvement: state-administered EE programs are often directed at these areas, even though they are not (as we note from the Sankey diagram) where the big savings are to be harvested.

Having established the key energy supply and consumption flows for New Hampshire, it is worth examining their historical patterns. The figure below shows the history of energy consumption in NH over 20 years since 1994. Overall, there has been an increase over this period: usage peaked in 2004, fell off for a few years, but, since 2013, there has been an uptick in consumption again.

Data: EIA

Overall energy consumption is an interesting number, but it does not take account of structural changes in the economy and demographics. It is more useful to consider gross measures of EE in terms of energy intensity, which is defined as the energy consumed per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) or as energy use per capita. Historical data for NH’s energy intensity are shown in the figure below. It is notable that, even though there are fluctuations from year to year, NH’s energy intensity has declined since 2000, mirroring the change that we have seen across the the US and the world.
Source: EIA

These numbers are interesting and encouraging, but it is useful to consider them in context and in comparison with the other New England (NE) states and the US average.

Source: EIA

This comparison raises some interesting questions. I was particularly surprised at the three-fold variation in energy intensity across states in a relatively small geographic area. We go from a low of 2.8 in Massachusetts to a high of 8.4 in Vermont and also see big variations in the reduction of energy intensities from 2000 to 2013. The southern NE states generally seem to be doing better than the northern states. I don’t have ready answers to explain these variations, but they are likely to be due to the nature of the economies in the various states, the industrial mix, cost of energy, state regulations, and a host of other factors. The energy intensity in NH is very much in line with the US average, but the decrease in NH over this time period has been lower than the US overall.

The other measure of energy efficiency is energy use per capita, as shown in the figure below. This has also shown a general decrease since 2000, despite an uptick in the last few years, which is perhaps a reflection of the particularly cold winters we experienced.

Source: EIA & US Census

The table below shows comparative data for the New England states and the US.

Source: EIA

Again, the southern NE States have lower per capita energy consumptions, but the spread of values is a lot less than that for energy intensity: 60% vs. 300%. Generally, the values for NE are in line or much lower than the US average. The reasons are complex and state-specific, and depend on population density, transportation networks, and the nature of the industries in the various states. Energy intensity and energy per capita are gross measures of energy efficiency and so one needs to cautious in applying them. Nevertheless, interstate comparisons are useful because they provide opportunities for benchmarking and the adoption of best practices from other states. Generally, the trends are good: energy consumption per capita and per dollar of GDP are down, indicating that we are generally being more efficient about using our energy. I find this encouraging; there is, however, so much more that we can do.

This post has been a rather broad-brush view of energy efficiency, but it has allowed me to update some NH data from earlier blogs and also provides a useful jumping-off point for more specific posts on energy-efficiency programs in NH that I will be posting over the next few weeks. In the meantime, my best wishes for 2017—and do your part for energy efficiency by turning off the lights when you leave the room.

Mike Mooiman

Franklin Pierce University

(*Flow With It - a soul-tinged tune from St. Paul and the Broken Bones, a new R&B group out of Alabama. I just love this stuff.)