Energy Efficiency

DEED grant funds GRU low-income weatherization analysis

A grant provided by the American Public Power Association’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) program made it possible to quantify the effect of weatherization in a low-income neighborhood in Gainesville, Fla.

The grant provided to the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), a public power utility, was designed to help improve outreach strategies for home energy and water audits or tune-ups for low income households.

The results of the grant are being shared with other Association members and should help inform better performance and monitoring of similar programs throughout the nation, Matthew Bruce, residential efficiency program coordinator at GRU, said.

The grant also has spurred research into the potential for converting the savings from energy efficiency programs into carbon dioxide offsets that can be used to help sustain funding for those programs.

“This grant has had a huge impact for us,” Marianne Schmink, advisory board president at the Community Weatherization Coalition, said.

The DEED grant funded the application of behavioral science techniques to increase participation in the weatherization program and the analysis of data to gauge the effectiveness of the program.

The analysis found the enhanced outreach program resulted in a mean household energy cost savings of around $40 over a six-month period.

In addition to analyzing data on the effectiveness of the outreach program, the grant also funded the analysis of past performance of the CWC’s weatherization program. That analysis, by researchers at the University of Florida, found that participants in the program were able to reduce their energy and water usage and save an average of 9% to 10% on their utility bills.

Using funding from the $85,193 grant, the Community Weatherization Coalition was able to recruit participants through its existing volunteer weatherization program and worked with social marketing specialists to design and launch a new campaign to stimulate energy-saving behavior. The Community Weatherization Coalition is a volunteer coalition made up of several non-profit organizations and GRU.

The new approach to the energy audits included greater follow up with homeowners, as well as a community-based social marketing campaign that targeted attitudes and specific behavior changes and reduced the barriers to adoption.

Community-based social marketing is a form of research that focuses on using social science methods to spur practical change. It provides a framework to improve traditional marketing techniques. As applied by the Community Weatherization Coalition, community-based social marketing is a method of listening to program participants to discover the benefits and barriers to participation in a program.

One example of the application of community-based social marketing is using “tune-up” instead of “audit” to describe an energy efficiency assessment. “We used to call them audits, but we learned from clients and potential clients that an audit is not something people want; it implies you’re in trouble,” Schmink said.

 In the first year of the two-year grant, Community Weatherization Coalition coaches – as they are called, instead of auditors – carried out 57 energy and water tune-ups.

University of Florida resource efficiency experts analyzed GRU energy and water usage data, as well as Community Weatherization Coalition data from home energy and water audits and compared those results with the results of previous audits in comparable Gainesville homes without the community based social marketing campaign.

In addition to finding savings of up to 10% on residents’ utility bills, the research showed that the savings persisted or even increased several years after the tune-ups were carried out.

The research targeted low-income households that face high energy and water costs because they inhabit older and less efficient houses. In Alachua County, which includes Gainesville, low-income households on average pay 14% of their income towards utility costs compared with only 5% paid by the population as a whole.

To address that problem, the Community Weatherization Coalition and its partners wanted to improve the effectiveness of its home tune-up process. They redesigned the weatherization outreach program and tested the results.

Schmink says the results derived from the grant suggest ways that research using community-based social marketing approaches, combined with monitoring of program impacts can improve the performance of programs to address the needs of low-income homes facing high utility bills.

The Community Weatherization Coalition also is planning additional community-based social marketing research to better understand the needs of specific client groups, such as the elderly, veterans and single parents.

The Community Weatherization Coalition intends to continue monitoring the quantitative impacts of home energy and water tune-ups with analysis that will be carried out by the University of Florida researchers, Schmink said.

That data will also be used to calculate the carbon offsets generated by the energy, water and money savings from Community Weatherization Coalition audits, and to explore the market potential for carbon offsets to generate revenue for continued weatherization programs.

Establishing the carbon offset value of the energy savings and finding ways to monetize that value is a complicated process, Schmink said. “Nothing like that exists for a program like ours,” she said. “We are trying to establish a protocol.”

The Community Weatherization Coalition is doing the work on carbon offsets with its own funds and with the assistance of We Are Neutral, a non-profit organization that works on carbon offset programs. We Are Neutral and the Community Weatherization Coalition would probably have to talk to GRU about releasing the carbon offset potential of the energy savings. Once a value is established, one avenue to pursue would be to monetize the carbon offsets by selling them to local businesses or the University of Florida, Schmink said. Any funds realized through that route would flow back to We Are Neutral and the Community Weatherization Coalition’s program, she said.

The funds realized would not be huge, Schmink said – a couple thousand dollars a year in a $100,000 to $150,000 annual budget – but it could help make the program more self-sustaining. “It would give us a future income stream.”

 “The DEED grant got us started,” Schmink said. “It is amazing to me how big an impact it has had. We are now committed to keeping that impact going.”

A webinar related to the project is scheduled for Nov. 29 at 2:00 PM eastern. For additional details and to register for the webinar, click here.