How to reduce home energy costs this winter

“Oh the weather outside is frightful.” That line from the classic song “Let it Snow” usually heard this time of year is a reminder winter is upon us, bringing hot chocolate, holidays – oh, and higher energy bills.

But we can all sing a happy tune about saving energy and money, and reducing our impact on the climate, if we’re a little smarter about how we stay toasty in our homes this winter.

Most homeowners’ largest energy expense comes from space heating, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of a typical household’s annual utility bill (and 40 percent of home energy use).

As for environmental impact, the energy used in residential buildings -- for space heating and cooling, water heating, appliances, electronics and lighting -- is responsible for more than one-fifth of total U.S. energy-related carbon emissions.

Space heating accounts for almost 30 percent of a typical home’s energy bill.  Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Replacing older space and water heaters with new, more efficient models is a key way to save energy. And using natural gas, instead of electricity, for space and water heating results in less carbon emissions. Installing energy-efficient windows and insulation also can make a difference on home heating bills. But all of these projects can be expensive and involved, so be sure to take the time to consider what’s right for your home.

If it’s not the right time to upgrade your home or its systems, saving money can be as simple as adjusting the temperature.

Setting your water heater to a cooler temperature (120 degrees F) can reduce fuel consumption by 5-10 percent. (Putting on an insulating blanket on the water heater is another energy-saver.)

Installing a programmable thermostat and setting it to anything lower than 68 degrees when you are out could save you up to 15 percent on your heating bill.

Today, consumers also can take advantage of new technologies that let you remotely control your home’s heating and cooling, lighting, and more – all from your smart phone. Online access makes it more convenient to adjust the lights and thermostat if you’re away. Some products even try to learn your preferences over time, making it easy to “set it and forget it.”

These sophisticated energy management technologies treat your home like a system rather than a collection of plugs. The information they provide let homeowners make better decisions about when and how to use energy. One smart technology company touts 10 percent savings on energy bills.

This winter, take advantage of the many opportunities to better manage your home’s energy use to save money and lessen your impact on the climate. It could be something to sing about.

Finding the 'Secret Sauce' to define and motivate your target audience

Most people can agree that being efficient consumers of energy is a good thing. And yet encouraging energy efficiency can be challenging, in part because the potential audience can be huge and diverse, and in part because making a change, even if it saves you money, typically requires effort.

That’s why it’s essential to find the people who are most likely to give energy-efficiency programs a try. Intelligent use of customer data can help target and inform a receptive audience. Members of this audience will then be encouraged to take action with some motivation.

I recently moderated a panel at the Behavior Energy and Climate Conference in Washington, D.C., where three experts discussed innovative ways to strategically target energy-efficiency programs, address factors that make people hesitant to join, and then scale the program.

For example, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) wanted to encourage customers to switch to more efficient water heaters, an effort that, if successful, could save 500 megawatts, the amount of power consumed by the homes in Seattle and Boise combined.

Becca Yates, the alliance’s marketing and communications manager, said the group narrowed down its audience from more than 12 million customers of some 100 utilities by using its own customer data plus information from other sources, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. The alliance identified a potential customer base of likely early adopters in certain areas, then created segments using criteria such as use of electricity for heating, home value, and income.

NEEA needed to persuade customers to buy an energy-saving product that had a rather high upfront cost. It achieved increased sales by targeting online ads to sites focused on home and garden, appliances, remodeling, energy efficiency, and green living. It also used cookies to re-target customers who did not act the first time they saw the ads, which helped generate awareness. NEAA also used direct mail campaigns, getting better results after urging customers to meet a rebate deadline.

In the Rocky Mountain region, Questar Gas wanted to encourage customers to take part in its appliance rebate and efficiency program, even though customers’ rates in the natural gas-rich region are among the lowest in the nation.

Ted Peterson, Questar’s energy efficiency program manager, said the company was already sending customers reports comparing their energy use to their neighbors’, based on a range of home sizes, building ages and other general factors. But the utility found ways to provide better comparisons, based on specific home sizes, weather zones, service contracts, and a new mathematical formula that ensured only the most similar customers would be compared.

The utility also emulated companies like Netflix and Amazon, which make product recommendations like, “Customers who bought this product also bought…”  to recommend products like a new water heater or furnace, showing the amount the customer would save.

Using data to target and inform your audience is a critical step, but members of this audience may need additional motivation. This motivation was demonstrated by utilities in North Carolina and Vermont, which wanted to get more customers to use ENERGY STAR-certified LED light bulbs. LED bulbs use about 80 percent less energy than traditional 60-watt incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer. But customers are sometimes reluctant to buy them because they’re more expensive and harder to find.

Working with Home Depot and Costco in North Carolina, Duke Energy set up in-store events to promote a sale that put the cost of a bulb at about $5. With plenty of stock on hand, representatives used a lighting strip to demonstrate ease of use. Customers signed cards pledging to convert one bulb in their home to an LED. The in-store promotions resulted in an almost 900 percent increase in sales, and area residents’ daily energy use dropped significantly in the month after the events. In addition, 84 percent of those who participated in the in-store event said the next light bulb they bought would be an LED.

In Vermont, students at one elementary school sold LED bulbs at a reduced cost as a fundraiser. The goal of the drive was to get customers to change all the incandescent bulbs in one room to LEDs. The results: 87 homeowners bought a total of 1,022 bulbs. In an Efficiency Vermont customer survey, 78 percent said they planned to buy an LED bulb in the future.

Wesley Schultz, a professor of psychology at California State University and advisor to the ENERGY STAR program, who did a case study on the projects, said customers in both the Duke Energy and Efficiency Vermont promotions reduced their overall energy use in the weeks after buying the LED bulbs.

Driving participation in energy-saving programs doesn't have to be a hit-or-miss strategy. These efforts show that intelligent use of data can help identify a target audience and break down barriers, so customers will be more open to a new, more efficient technology. This is how we will move toward a more sustainable future.


The Role of Clean Energy Banks in Increasing Private Investment in Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

The Role of Clean Energy Banks in Increasing Private Investment in Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

December 2014

by Matt Frades, Janet Peace, and Sarah Dougherty

Download the full paper (PDF)

This paper explores how Clean Energy Banks, or other similar organizations aimed at leveraging public funds to attract private investment in clean energy deployment, could help reduce the barriers to EV charging infrastructure by (1) supporting the development of viable business models for charging services in the near term and (2) helping scale up private capital investments into EV infrastructure in the longer term.


Janet Peace
Matt Frades
Sarah Dougherty

3 reasons to light the holiday season with LEDs

Image courtesy youngthousands, Flickr.

On a dark winter night, twinkling holiday lights lift our spirits. Over the centuries we have gone from decorating trees with candles (not the best idea) to using electric-powered lights, which were first draped around a tree in 1882 by an inventor who worked for Thomas Edison.

Today, thanks to three Japanese scientists who recently won the Nobel Prize for their development of a blue light-emitting diode (LED), we can move beyond Edison and choose an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly light source, the LED bulb. Although they’ve been on the market for some time, LED lights are now coming down in price, making them an even more attractive option for everyday and holiday lighting.

When decorating this season, keep in mind these three reasons why LEDs are a better way to brighten your holidays.

  1. LEDs are a better choice for your pocketbook. With continued advances in LED technology (especially around heat regulation) by producers like GE and  CREE, the cost of home LED bulbs is now nearing the price of compact fluorescent lights. Since lighting is responsible for 14 percent of a home’s electricity use, more efficient bulbs can reduce home energy bills. If you’re wondering how much you could save by making the switch, check out the CREE LED calculator. When it comes to holiday decorating, LEDs will lead to significant savings over the years. For example, lighting the tree with incandescent lights will cost you around $122 over 10 seasons (including replacement strands), compared to just $33 for a tree adorned with LED lights. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if all decorative strands purchased this year were ENERGY STAR rated, Americans would save $45 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 630 million pounds annually.

How we engaged employees, strengthened community ties, and made the world a little greener

Nearly 2,000 Alcoa employees, their families, and members of their communities learned how to save energy, save money, and help the environment at green fairs over the past three months.

These fairs, organized by the C2ES Make an Impact program in partnership with Alcoa and the Alcoa Foundation, are an example of an evolving approach to corporate social responsibility and employee engagement.

Building awareness of environmental challenges is important, but it isn’t enough. A new approach, bringing together several engagement strategies, aims to build a work force that is both knowledgeable and active in local organizations. The goal is to create stronger relationships among a company, its employees, and community stakeholders, a win-win-win.

Employees, community members and even two mayors came to Alcoa Green Fairs to meet with local businesses and groups providing sustainability solutions. The events took place on weekends or during work breaks in Fullerton and Torrance, Calif.; Hampton, Va.; and Warrick, Ind. Participants could ask questions and get tips about recycling, saving energy and water, and making choices to promote sustainability.

Hands-on activities made it fun. For example, at each fair, we challenged people to see how much physical energy is needed to turn a hand crank (pictured at left) and produce enough power to light an old-fashioned incandescent bulb compared with a modern, efficient compact fluorescent bulb, which requires 75 percent less energy.

The team from Virginia Naturally challenged Hampton fair-goers to guess how long it takes for different types of litter to decompose, driving home the importance of recycling. California employees answered trivia questions from Heal the Bay about storm water management and water conservation.

The fairs informed employees and strengthened Alcoa’s connections to its local communities. More than 50 organizations participated, paving the way for future partnerships and employee volunteer opportunities that will improve the sustainability of each community.

PEV Market Update

C2ES provides quarterly updates current state of the PEV market, new research, technology, and policies that may affect the future of PEV deployment, and highlights new accomplishments from select awardees from the Clean Cities Electric Vehicle Community Readiness Projects.
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Assessing the Electric Vehicle Charging Network in Washington State

Assessing the Electric Vehicle Charging Network in Washington State

September 2014

by Nick Nigro, Jason Ye, and Matt Frades

Download the full paper (PDF)

The Washington State Legislature is interested in exploring government’s role in fostering new business models that will expand the private sector commercialization of electric vehicle (EV) charging services. This paper provides an assessment of the existing EV publicly available charging network in Washington.



Clean Cities Webinar

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
Nick Nigro and Dan Welch of C2ES will report in the state of the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market.

Nick Nigro and Dan Welch of C2ES will report in the state of the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market.

Moderated by Linda Bluestein, National Clean Cities Co-Director.

This webinar is open to the general public, and no pre-registration is required. To join the webinar:

Visit the Clean Cities webinars page for more details:


AFV Finance Initiative Publications

C2ES and its partners have published the following papers for the AFV Finance Initiative:

Unlocking Private Sector Financing for Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Fueling Infrastructure

C2ES, in partnership with National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program, began a two-year project in early 2013 to develop innovative finance strategies aimed at accelerating the deployment of AFVs and fueling infrastructure.


Read our white paper on the AFV deployment barriers that private finance can help address

Read our report on the role of the ESCO model in natural gas vehicle fleets

Read our report on how Clean Energy Banks can help help reduce the barriers to private investment in EV charging infrastructure.


Business Models for Financially Sustainable EV Charging Networks

The Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee selected C2ES to develop new business models that will foster private sector commercialization of public EV charging services.

Read our white paper on assessing the EV charging network in Washington state


About the AFV Finance Initiative

The Alternative Fuel Vehicle Finance (AFV) Initiative brings together key public and private stakeholders to use innovative finance mechanisms to help accelerate the deployment of AFVs and fueling infrastructure. C2ES is working with states around the country to develop new strategies that will improve the business case for AFVs by leveraging small pubic investments or with new business arrangements.

Decreasing the transportation sector’s reliance on petroleum offers important economic, security, and environmental benefits for the United States. The nation’s dependence on foreign oil comes at a high price. In 2012, the U.S. transportation sector consumed 73 percent of the country’s petroleum supplies. Dependence on oil in transportation exposes the United States to price shocks largely beyond its control, since oil is a globally priced commodity. Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimate that the total economic loss associated with oil dependence in the United States was $2.1 trillion from 2005 to 2010. These economic losses are due to oil price shocks and oil market influence by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). From an environmental perspective, motor vehicles are also responsible for half of smog-forming air pollutants, about 75 percent of carbon monoxide emissions, and more than 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Most AFVs do not rely on petroleum, are more energy efficient than their conventional counterparts, and have lower or no tailpipe emissions. However, several barriers stand in the way of AFV and infrastructure deployment: market volatility, technological uncertainty, information failures, and regulatory hurdles and uncertainty. These barriers affect each fuel type differently. Recent large investments by the federal government in AFVs and other clean technologies will be winding down in the coming years. New private financing mechanisms are needed to fund these vehicles and associated infrastructure to enable wide-scale adoption.

C2ES is working with states to identify new ways to mobilize this private capital. The Initiative currently consists of two projects defined below

Unlocking Private Sector Financing for Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Fueling Infrastructure

C2ES, in partnership with National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program, began a two-year project in early 2013 to develop new financial tools aimed at accelerating the deployment of AFVs and fueling infrastructure. C2ES has assembled an advisory group of experts on AFVs, infrastructure, and finance from the public and private sectors to help guide its work. The project aims to:

  • Identify barriers that hinder private sector investment;
  • Develop and evaluate innovative financing concepts for vehicle purchase and fueling infrastructure in order to make AFVs more accessible to consumers and fleet operators; and
  • Stimulate private-sector investment in AFVs and the associated infrastructure deployment, building upon and complementing previous public sector investments.

C2ES is researching financial barriers, preparing case studies, and developing strategies that states can consider trying at the project’s conclusion:

The project specifically emphasizes two fuels that offer significant opportunities for growth—electricity and natural gas. Biofuels are not considered because many government and private sector stakeholders are already facilitating the deployment of biofuel-powered vehicles. Vehicles powered by hydrogen are included, but they are not a major focus because hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are not yet widely available.

Click here to view publications for this project.

Business Models for Financially Sustainable EV Charging Networks

The Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee selected C2ES to develop new business models that will foster private sector commercialization of public EV charging services. First, C2ES will assess the state of EV charging in Washington and create useful products for the state to perform similar assessments as the market evolves. Second, drawing from its experience with the AFV Finance Initiative and similar activities, C2ES will identify and evaluate business models for EV charging in the state. Finally, C2ES will recommend ways the public sector can support those business models to maximize private sector investment in EV charging.

Click here to view publications for this project.

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