ACI California Home Performance Conference: Mind the Gap

[Cross-posted from the Home Energy magazine blog]

ACI hosted its Regional Home Performance Conference (#acica13) in La Jolla, Calif. last month for approximately 200 attendees and 23 exhibitors. This event comes at a critical juncture as the second phase of Energy Upgrade California (the first was during the ARRA Recovery Act period) is currently ramped up by the Regional Area Networks, the new configuration of utilities, program managers, and implementers. 

Warren Quinn

During the opening remarks, outgoing ACI Board Chair Keith Aldridge introduced the new ACI Executive Director, Warren Quinn. Warren reaffirmed that ACI is in the education as opposed to the information business, and said that ACI's face-to-face meetings are not just about accurate building science knowlege, but ultimately about developing wisdom. He doubted that that type of learning can be accomplished online.

Caroline Winn, VP of Customer Services for San Diego Gas & Electric Co., reminded attendees that SDG&E had permanently retired the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station earlier this year and said it's in SDG&E's best interest to be as energy efficient as possible. 

Caroline Winn

This "retirement" brings home the reality of our aging energy generating infrastructure and the increased importance and efficacy of energy efficiency. SDG&E has installed 2.3 million smart meters and has implemented new "reduce your use" programs accessible via mobile phones, with bill credits for receiving and implementing reduction alerts. 

SoCal has a high proportion of early adopters of tech innovations, as evidenced by the 29,000 photovoltaic home installations, 6 million electric vehicles on the road, as well as adoptions of new home area networked thermostats and ventilation controls. Altogether these energy efficiency improvements have helped SoCal customers save enough energy to power 150,000 homes for 1 year!

California Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister Andrew McAllisteris counting carbon molecules emitted on the way to achieving the 2030 carbon reduction goals in the California Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, contained in Assembly Bill 758 (Comprehensive Energy Efficiency Program for Existing Buildings). The CEC is looking for innovations in technology and consumer participation that will open up new pathways for acheiving these energy efficiency goals. One of his highest priorities is to bring energy efficiency to scale by finding the visceral benefits [aka the bliss points] that will drive consumer demand for the services provided by home energy pros. Consumer behavior is front and center in achieving energy efficiency and he encouraged attendees to share their field experience of what works. Andrew himself uses a mobile phone app to control the temperature settings in his home. For a recent example of what's working in Central California retrofits, read California Residential Retrofits: Ten Important Lessons Learned by Mark Berman and Vicki Mongan, from Home Energy's Nov/Dec 2013 issue.

While the opening remarks set the stage and highlighted the opportunities, the panelists in the opening plenary session on Building a Scalable Industry: What is the Path to Success? highlighted some of the challenges on that path. Ori Skloot, Interim Executive Director of Efficiency First California and CEO of Richmond, Calif.-based Advanced Home Energy Solutions, reminded attendees that to achieve the AB 758 goals, will require approximately 7,600 contractors completing 3 jobs per week for the next 10 years. Panelist Devon Hartman, Hartman Energy Strategies, said "there’s a huge latent demand that’s only gotten richer in the last few years and the hinge point is the contractor community. The long term trends of culture and legislation are our friends. In the short term, contractors need leads! Let's work in strategic alignment to generate leads and deeply embed contractor involvement in program design."

There were many great sessions on thermal comfort, bolting home performance onto your HVAC business, building envelope improvement practices, lead generation, combustion safety, advanced air sealing, and more. Presentations from the ACI California regional event will be available in the coming weeks at the Live Learning Center through the ACI Library

Plug In America logoI attended sessions on Incorporating Solar and Charging Stations in your HP Business. Colin Santulli, Program Manager for California Center for Sustainable Energy's Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, spoke of record growth in plug-in EV (PEV) sales, especially in the last 3 months, surpassing the growth in hybrid EVs. California has set a goal of 1.5 million zero emission (i.e, no tail-pipe) vehicles by 2030, so that goal curve is pretty steep. However, given the federal, state, and local incentives for PEV/ZEV and charging infrastructure, there has been strong adoption in SoCal among the home-owners who also have installed PV. These energy consumers are looking to reduce their in-home consumption to help fuel their transportation needs and they are good prospects for energy efficiency retrofits.

Ben Airth, CCSE's Program Manager for the California Solar Initiative (GoSolar Calif) spoke about the New Solar Home Partnership for production and custom home builders, which has tried to tie energy efficiency and solar together. However, for these builders, and solar installers generally, the energy efficiency component was too burdensome and slow, and required 15-30% energy saving measures above California's Title 24 requirements. In other state backed solar incentive programs, homeowners are only required to complete an online survey questionnaire about the energy efficiency measures before they qualify for the solar rebates or credits. 

Co-panelist Dan Thomsen with The Building Doctors, Inc., is convinced that the synergy between solar and energy efficiency is the wave of the future, and he has been adding EV connection equipment installations to his home performance services. He also told the illuminating story of one solar installer who called him to ask for help: he had just installed a 10kW PV system and his customer was still getting a $1,000/month bill. Guess how many HD-DVRs the homeowner had plugged in at one time?

The promise of sunny SoCal solar power, matched with new technologies for managing home energy and personal transportation, and new goals for energy efficiency all combine to set a high bar. But there's a big gap between these goals and where we stand now in implementing home performance retrofits.  It's the job of program managers and implementers to help us acheive those goals, but they can't do it without programs that effectively drive consumer demand for services provided by home energy professionals who are ready and able to participate in these programs. There are lessons to be learned by the success of the solar and PEV markets, and contractors are making their voices heard at events like this. That's always been one of the strong points of ACI meetings: program designers and implementers get to meet with and learn from the contractors who "make the mastic meet the metal." We won't realize our energy efficiency goals without the cross-pollenization and collaboration that occurs at ACI meetings. 

Thanks to all who organized, supported and participated in this event! Onward to ACI Detroit in April 2014!

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