4 ways to improve energy efficiency programs for low-income households

Fri, 2016-03-18 06:00 -- Compassionate C...

Often those who can afford it least have higher-than-average energy costs due to older and less-efficient appliances and poor insulation. Today there are numerous programs and smart technologies designed to help improve residential energy efficiency. But a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) suggests there's more that can be done, particularly when it comes to low-income households.

ACEEE, a Council Advisor, says that by some estimates, 44% of low-income households struggle to meet basic heating, cooling and other energy needs. That amounts to 16 million households in the United States – and likely billions more around the world.

Yet for various reasons it's challenging for utilities and other agencies trying to administer energy efficiency programs for low-income households. One example: With utility bills already a hardship, affording even a portion of the costs of newer, more efficient appliances is often not possible. And homes that could benefit from energy efficiency upgrades may need extensive and costly repairs first.

Key strategies
In its Building Better Programs for Low-Income Households (free registration required to download), ACEEE outlines a series of recommendations for utilities to successfully address energy challenges of their low-income customers.

"Key strategies," the report suggests, "include integrating low-income energy efficiency into Clean Power Plan (CPP) compliance plans, increasing savings through smart partnerships with local organizations serving the target population and increasing product efficiency in low-income households."

4 best practices
The report discusses technologies and measures the authors believe are underutilized in current energy efficiency programs and ways to realize greater savings by incorporating them. It also highlights a number of best practices program administrators are using to overcome some of the challenges in helping low-income households, specifically those living in single-family buildings. We've pulled out four examples; you'll find many more in the report.

1. Offer a range of eligible measures. California investor-owned utilities offer a broad range of eligible measures in their Energy Savings Assistance (ESA) Program. In addition to traditional weatherization projects, for example, they include lighting, refrigerators and air conditioners. As ACEEE explains, tailoring energy efficiency interventions to individual household use characteristics can help households realize the highest savings. It also enables program administrators to address multiple energy savings opportunities during one visit, helping to amortize the cost of outreach.

2. Align with existing energy efficiency efforts. Consumers Energy in Michigan runs an Income Qualified (IQ) Energy Assistance Program that coordinates with local agencies providing state- and federally funded weatherization, which maximizes the number of homes that can be weatherized.

3. Deliver assistance through innovative channels. The District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility distributes energy-efficient CFL lightbulbs in locations ranging from church food pantries to community events to mobile food markets. The program includes an education component focused on efficient lighting. A follow-up evaluation found a majority of bulbs taken home are installed. In another example, Efficiency Vermont partnered with the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which offers food and nutrition assistance to low-income families, to provide refrigerator replacements.

4. Address health, safety and building integrity. Some houses need repairs before energy efficiency improvements make sense. And some utilities have incorporated ways to make modest repairs into their offerings. In Connecticut, the United Illuminating Company developed a clean-and-tune program to fix unsafe combustion appliances. The program came about as a result of demonstrated need through its low-income weatherization program. A Massachusetts program integrates heating equipment repair.

More on alleviating energy poverty:

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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