Lessons Learned from a Successful Efficiency Program

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Better Buildings Neighborhood Program Offers Lessons for Energy Efficiency

Energy Manager Today, September 24, 2015. Image credit: PublicDomainPictures

The Department of Energy’s detailed warts-and-all evaluation of its $500 million stimulus-funded Better Buildings Neighborhood Program (BBNP) — an innovative initiative to explore the potential for new marketing strategies and program designs to encourage building energy upgrades that result in significant energy savings and economic stimulus – shows that comprehensive efficiency programs can be successful if they overcome the reluctance of homeowners and others whose participation is needed at the local level.

The four-year program, which leveraged multiple funding sources including private capital in addition to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funding, supported energy efficiency improvements in almost 120,000 homes and buildings in communities nationwide. This evaluation verified that, on average, participating single family residential homes saved 15 percent of total energy use. Along with cutting energy bills and improving the comfort of the buildings, the program’s objectives were to expand the building energy improvement industry, test program delivery models and marketing techniques, and to create jobs.

There are several very candid takeaways in the six-volume evaluation released last week, including:

  • Significantly improving the efficiency of America’s existing buildings, primarily residential homes and apartments in this study, will take time because “comprehensive” upgrades that include multiple efficiency measures in one go are not an easy sell for many building owners.
  • Government incentives will likely be needed on a continuing basis due to the complexity of these programs, the need for educating building owners, and the importance of contractor skills training to provide these services.
  • Successful programs require local buy-in and support, and perform better when there are staff involved with long-term experience with energy efficiency

A fourth and equally important takeaway is:

  • Improving America’s existing buildings, resulting in lower energy bills and a more livable planet, is imminently doable provided there is enough enthusiasm, money, and patience by all the partners involved. 
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