This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of Strategies, AESP's exclusive monthly magazine for members.
By Michael Turns
Rising baselines present significant challenges to the implementation of cost-effective energy efficiency programs, especially Residential New Construction (RNC) programs. While RNC programs offer significant and long-lasting energy savings, their cost-effectiveness is often hampered by cost tests that curtail measure lives and incorporate savings from only one fuel. This discussion focuses on RNC opportunities, but similar opportunities exist in nonresidential sectors.
RNC program baselines are typically based on a combination of state-adopted energy code and federal minimum appliance and lighting standards. The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), a national model energy code, typically serves as the basis for building thermal envelope and duct system efficiencies while federal standards govern HVAC and major appliances. Lighting baselines are a mix of energy code requirements for high-efficacy lighting and federal efficiency standards (EISA). In many cases, states make their own amendments to the model code, which are then also included in the baseline. Less commonly, the baseline is based on industry standard practices.
Between 2006 and 2012, the IECC went through a period of rapid advancement with each three-year code cycle bringing an efficiency increase of around 15 percent. This resulted in an RNC baseline that is roughly 30 percent more efficient than a decade ago. These efficiency increases came mainly from greatly reduced limits on building envelope and duct leakage, but improvements in envelope insulation, windows, and lighting also contributed to the change. At the same time, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2017 has increased the lighting savings baseline by 25 percent and could eliminate lighting savings altogether unless proposed EISA rollbacks take effect.
With these advancements, the easy-to-obtain RNC savings have largely been wiped out. But, as states adopt more efficient energy codes, they might not be reaping the intended savings. Energy code compliance can be very inconsistent as code enforcement usually occurs at the level of the local municipality or county. This results in widely divergent enforcement and compliance and the realization of only a fraction of the anticipated savings. This gap presents opportunities for utilities and program implementers to provide services that result in real savings.
A Novel Approach to Achieving Savings
A seminal paper1 written by a team led by The Cadmus Group on behalf of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), describes an innovative program type where utilities claim savings for providing energy code training, outreach, technical assistance, and other compliance support activities. The basic premise is that energy code compliance is less than 100 percent and that services provided by utilities and their implementers can improve compliance and yield measurable energy savings. The paper describes a general method for utility attribution that involves executing a baseline assessment of energy code compliance, engaging in compliance improvement activities, and performing a post-intervention assessment. Strategies for determining the resulting energy savings include direct empirical measurement, indirect estimation, and expert judgement.