Smarter homes: comfortable, convenient and climate-friendly

States could go a long way toward meeting targets for reduced power plant emissions under the Clean Power Plan just by encouraging energy efficiency. One way to do that is to deploy more “intelligent efficiency” solutions at home. Interconnected systems and smart devices could not only help reduce energy use and climate-altering emissions, but also empower consumers to make money-saving choices.

More than 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases comes from the residential sector – where we use about 1.4 trillion kWh of electricity annually to power our heating and cooling systems, appliances and electronics. Although we pay for it all, a lot of that electricity is wasted. Tried-and-true solutions like weatherization and more efficient light bulbs will continue to be common sense solutions. But increasingly, homeowners, innovators, and policy makers are looking to leverage the average home’s 25 devices to reduce that waste.

Image courtesy U.S. Department of Energy

A homeowner installs a smart thermostat. Devices like this could be controlled though web platforms, along with water heaters, washing machines and LED bulbs with advanced controls.

So what is “intelligent” efficiency? More than just installing a high-efficiency washer, intelligent efficiency solutions involve that washer being part of a networked home management system. This means that eventually, you could automate and manage all of the appliances, devices, and heating and cooling in your home through the internet or an app. You will be able to turn down your thermostat and water heater as you board a flight for vacation. You’ll be alerted about which appliances are using too much energy, and how you can save money by shifting the times they run. You’ll also have a projection of your energy costs as the month goes on—reducing those painful cases of “bill shock.”

Intelligent efficiency solutions fall into three main categories, and their value compounds when all three work together:

Systems/Network: Smart meters and grid

Advancements in meters and grid components allow for a two-way flow of information between the customer and electricity provider. As utilities begin to deploy these technologies, they will likely roll out new residential programs that are made possible with better insights gleaned from data, such as time-of-use pricing to reduce peak demand or targeted, behavior-based efficiency programs.

Devices: Smart thermostats, appliances and lighting

In addition to smart thermostats that can be controlled through a web platform, manufacturers are now introducing water heaters, washing machines, and even LED bulbs with advanced controls.

Platforms/Analytics: Home energy reports, real-time dashboards

The smart devices described above are being designed for integration into home energy management platforms with increasingly sophisticated analytics capabilities. These platforms can give consumers personalized home energy reports, user-friendly dashboards that update in real-time, and more, ultimately creating simple portals for a household to manage its energy consumption.

Although the pace of intelligent efficiency advancements is quickening, availability in the residential sector is uneven, and adoption is slow. However, several strategies could lead to greater uptake. For example, retailer and consumer education about benefits and security issues is needed. Putting in place the right incentives will also increase the rate of adoption by homeowners. States, utilities, cities and businesses are trying a number of strategies to promote market deployment, including:

  • Consumer rebates for energy-efficient appliances and devices. Some utilities, such as National Grid, are partnering with Nest to provide customers with rebates on a new thermostat and the opportunity to join additional money-saving efficiency programs like Rush Hour Rewards.
  • Point-of-sale educational programs that build expertise among influential consumer-facing groups such as home store sales associates and energy audit companies. The New York-based utility NYSERDA delivered a training program to help sales associates at home stores speak knowledgeably about LED bulbs.
  • Demand response programs that help customers tailor their energy use for maximum savings. As more utilities invest in smart meters and grids, more consumers will be able to schedule appliance or water heater cycles to avoid peak rate times and lower their bill.
  • Behavioral demand response programs that use consumption data, behavioral science and targeted communication to influence residential electricity use. These programs can be as simple as sending messages asking consumers to reduce their use on a hot day, a strategy employed by O-Power and several utility partners last summer that achieved a 5% electricity reduction.
  • Community-based programs that leverage existing social networks to support pilot programs. This approach provides both scale and consistency for testing innovative home technologies and has been successfully implemented in Austin by Pecan Street and in other cities.

There is also room for innovative approaches to increase adoption of intelligent efficiency. PSEG’s Ralph Izzo suggests utilities could be the channel through which consumers learn of and acquire such technologies. This approach would lower barriers for consumers, and provide a compelling business case for their electricity provider.

Intelligent efficiency solutions are emerging at a critical time for U.S. energy policy, but there are still obstacles. States that incorporate these strategies into their implementation of the Clean Power Plan would need consistent evaluation, measurement, and verification standards. In addition, facilitated discussions between states, cities, and the private sector could help ensure that technology solutions are optimally designed and implemented.


Climate Leadership winners: Focus on your message

Photo by Ellie Ramm

Elizabeth Craig of the EPA (left) speaks with three representatives of 2015 Climate Laedership Award winners, Andy Battjes of Brown Forman, Bridgeport, Conn., Mayor Bill Finch, and Alexis Limberakis of Clorox


When it comes to climate leadership, the way a message is delivered can be the key to success.

Winners of the 2015 Climate Leadership Awards found that being creative in communicating ideas on sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions helped the message resonate with constituents, customers, and employees.

Sixteen organizations, including C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council members Bank of America and General Motors, won Climate Leadership Awards this year. The awards are co-sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Association of Climate Change Officers, and The Climate Registry.

Three winners -- Bridgeport, Conn., Mayor Bill Finch, household consumer product maker Clorox, and wine and distilled spirits manufacturer Brown Forman – spoke at the Climate Leadership Conference about three ways to connect climate goals to your audience.

Climate progress in 2014 sets the stage for 2015 action

Progress on a multifaceted global challenge like climate change doesn’t happen in one flash of bright light. This can lead to the impression that little is being accomplished, especially when stories highlight areas of disagreement.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, progress is more like the brightening sky before dawn. We saw positive steps in 2014, and they’ll help lay the groundwork for significant climate action in 2015 in the United States and around the world.

In the U.S., we will see the EPA Clean Power Plan finalized and states taking up the challenge to develop innovative policies to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Allowing governors to do what they do best, innovating at the state level, will be a key achievement of 2015.

Internationally, more countries than ever before will be putting forward new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of talks in December in Paris to hammer out a climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

In the New Year, we will be building on solid progress made in 2014 by governments, businesses, and individuals. Here are 10 examples:

Firsthand lessons on public charging for EVs

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My ride for the weekend: BMW’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle.

Washington, D.C., is well-situated for day trips with mountains, forests, beach and bay all a short drive away. On a recent weekend, I was lucky enough to tool around in style. BMW lent me their new electric car – the i3 – and asked that I race it around the DC metro region. (Or perhaps that’s just how I heard them.)

The car handles beautifully the way you’d expect a BMW to, and proves there’s no performance tradeoff by going with an electric vehicle (EV). For most drivers, EVs like the i3 can accommodate daily driving needs. The average American only travels 30 miles per day. In particular, EVs are well suited for commuting because a driver can charge at home or the workplace. But day-tripping with an EV can take more planning and I learned firsthand that a robust public charging network is essential if EVs are to make more headway in the marketplace.

At C2ES, we often cite the importance of public charging stations to extend the range of EVs and give drivers confidence that an EV is a practical replacement for their conventional car. To allow EV drivers to travel as they would with a gasoline car, quick charging stations are needed along major roadways. Multiple, slower charging stations (referred to as Level 2) should be at key destinations to provide redundancy in case stations are in use or down for maintenance. Those are some of the conclusions of our new paper assessing the public charging infrastructure in Washington state and the same can be said of Washington, D.C.

Companies are part of the equation to address climate change

While the focus in New York this week has been on world leaders pledging to act on climate change, business leaders also stepped up to be part of the climate solution.

In recent years, many companies have acknowledged the risks of climate change and worked to improve their energy efficiency and sustainability. This week, companies announced new efforts to fund clean energy, reduce carbon emissions, and support a price on carbon.

For example, Bank of America announced an initiative to spur at least $10 billion of new investment in clean energy projects. Hewlett Packard announced plans to reduce emissions intensity of its product portfolio by 40 percent from 2010 levels by 2020.

Many companies joined together to take a stand:

Don't toss out the good electricity with the bad

One way to reduce power plant carbon emissions is to reduce the demand for electricity. Encouraging customer energy efficiency is one of the building blocks underpinning the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. But the plan does not distinguish among uses of electricity. That means, without further options, the Clean Power Plan could inadvertently discourage states from deploying electric vehicles (EVs), electric mass transit, and other technologies that use electricity instead of a dirtier fuel.

In all but very coal-heavy regions, using electricity as a transportation fuel, especially in mass transit applications, results in the emission of far less carbon dioxide than burning gasoline. In industry, carbon emissions can be cut by using electric conveyance systems instead of diesel- or propane-fueled forklifts and electric arc furnaces instead of coal boilers.

Under the proposed power plant rules, new uses of electricity would be discouraged regardless of whether a state pursues a rate-based target (pounds of emissions per unit of electricity produced) or a mass-based target (tons of emissions per year).

EPA has a few options to make sure regulations for power plants would not discourage uses of electricity that result in less carbon emissions overall.

An energy solution with true bipartisan support

Two out of three respondents in a new University of Texas poll said energy issues are important to them. But the harsh rhetoric of campaign season makes it seem like politicians can never agree on important policies needed to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy while also protecting the environment.

Well they can, and they did. Right now in Washington, D.C., we have a bipartisan bill that would reduce carbon emissions and develop domestic energy resources.

Promoting Low-Carbon Innovation at Rio+20

As Rio+20 negotiators rush to complete a consolidated text of outcomes before heads of state begin arriving tomorrow, participants at hundreds of side events are calling on business and government to take stronger action on clean energy, poverty elimination, food security, oceans, sustainable cities, green technology development, education, and more.

On Sunday at the U.S. Center pavilion, C2ES and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) convened a panel of companies, small-business innovators, and business representatives highlighting the critical roles played by each in promoting low-carbon innovation and sustainable development.

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