The Key Benefits of a Residential Direct Install Program

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Residential Energy Efficiency Direct Install Programs — Case Study

Clean Technica, December 1, 2016

The challenge is that education and behavior can be elastic. Sometimes behaviors become habits. Other times, people regress once they stop seeing visual cues or hearing messages affirming their behaviors. For this reason, hardware improvements are often deemed to be long lasting and very effective.

As part of its push to become the first state running on 100% renewable energy, Hawaii has a number of very progressive energy policies in place, including a barrel tax on every barrel of oil that comes into the state. This money is used to invest in clean technologies across the state, to help keep more of Hawaii’s money in Hawaii’s economy.

Hawaii Energy, the ratepayer-funded energy conservation program for Honolulu, Maui, and Hawaii Counties (all of the state of Hawaii except Kauai island), recently contracted our company to perform a direct install program for high-efficiency residential products across 579 homes in Hawaii, targeting “hard to reach” households (elderly, low income, and the like). The primary objective of the program was to replace inefficient products (e.g., incandescents) with efficient and otherwise equivalent counterparts (e.g., LEDs). Another goal of the program was educating residents about the benefits of LED lighting, high-efficiency shower and faucet fixtures, and advanced power strips so that they would become champions of the technology and help convince others in their community to follow suit. Language again turned out to be important for this second goal.

Results of the program were positive, and in this article, I try to summarize some of the key benefits of a direct install program, as well as some key lessons learned so that other utilities, municipalities, cities, and states can follow suit. In terms of bang for the buck, the total program cost should be more than paid for in first-year electricity savings alone. The program is expected to produce annual electricity savings in excess of $165,000 per year, or about $300 per participating home. Water savings were not calculated, due to multiple confounding variables, but can logically be expected to add substantially to the savings. Overall, 12,252 efficiency products were installed, including over 10,000 LED bulbs, 1,695 water efficiency products, and 382 advanced power strips.

Education, Lessons Learned, & Key Takeaways on How to Sell Efficiency

Our company, Pono Home, does 3 main things — installations, maintenance, and education. The installs, like the program above, aim to retrofit hardware in a home or small business. Our maintenance includes cleaning condenser coils on refrigerators, snaking dryer lint vents, weatherizing windows, and fixing toilet leaks. On the education front, we show people how much energy a particular device is using, teach them how to use a solar water heater timer, and help them program their thermostats. In this program, our education mainly revolved around energy saving tips, habits, and tricks, as well as overcoming objections to efficiency products. While LEDs are an absolute no-brainer for energy savings and reduction of heat, people still associate energy-efficient lighting with CFLs, the squiggly bulbs that in the early days often took a while to turn on, emitted an unpalatable light, and could flicker like longer fluorescent tubes. People still associate water-saving devices to the “low flow” products of the early 1980s. Overcoming these objections can yield substantial positive impacts: financial savings for residents, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and revenues for companies like ours.

Over the first 2.5 years in business, we’ve learned several lessons in overcoming these obstacles. First: language. “Low flow” devices will sell to about 5% of the market. “High efficiency” devices will sell to substantially more. The old low flow devices used old hardware — shower head designs made to run on 2.5 gallons per minute. Sometimes a restrictor device was placed inside the pipe to reduce the flow of water to the shower head. In these cases, water pressure could only be described as wimpy, and only the hardest-core environmentalists could be expected to live with the sacrifice.

The second lesson we’ve learned over the years is that people will love efficiency products — so long as they get to see them in action first and have the power to make their own decision on them. People like technology and new products, especially when there are multiple benefits in it for them. So in the case of hardware installed inside the home, give people a “test drive.” We offered to install LEDs, high-efficiency showerheads, and other devices and turn them on to show the resident, with the caveat that if they didn’t like them, we would replace them with the old device, no questions asked. This tactic was exceptionally successful.

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