Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices

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by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

Recently I met with one of my most experienced program managers, Dick Moran, whose more than 30 years of energy efficiency (EE) experience is paying dividends in his ramped-up, 2009 HVAC program.

Moran manages our Cool Smart program, a residential central air conditioning rebate program that promotes best installation practices, HVAC technician and contractor training, and sales and installation of Energy Star-qualified, high-efficiency air conditioning equipment. Like many EE programs, it depends on trade allies for implementation. Sharing EE team knowledge is one of the easiest tools program administrators can use to build and expand programs.

Dick's Design Tips

Understand past program performance. Moran starts with a full assessment of the program performance using evaluation results, assessment of the standard's impact and customer and stakeholder feedback. In the case of the Cool Smart program, today's HVAC equipment is highly efficient. Our opportunity is to enhance its performance via quality installation and verification.

Establish ongoing communication. Moran recommends stakeholders gather at regular venues to advance program ideas, gather input and feedback and share program details. For Cool Smart, he learned that HVAC trade allies' installation work is cyclic. Appending a performance-based aspect such as duct testing during off-peak periods is good for customers and trade allies who implement the work.

Offer a compelling proposition. It's an opportunity to offer incentives for customer participation and to trade allies to ensure fulfillment. The customer proposition may be as simple as direct consumer rebates or to upstream market actors to increase product availability. For a market transformationbased program such as Cool Smart, an additional opportunity is to create a proposition that targets HVAC dealers and contractors. This is accomplished through Quality Installation Verification (QIV) offerings including training and incentives, considered essential to the program's efforts, to reduce customer and contractor participation barriers. QIV services include third-party verification of optimal refrigerant charge and system airflow on existing or new central air conditioning or heat pump installation. Additional customer and contractor incentives are offered for downsizing of replacement equipment and proper duct sealing.

Leverage partners. Partners bring power and credibility. Program administrators can partner to leverage the power of aggregation and influence the market. Continuing the Cool Smart example, NSTAR and National Grid program administrators partner to leverage a common branding and marketing campaign. Additionally, partnering with established organizations at federal, regional and state levels can foster program advancement. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency influences the Energy Star brand. Regional organizations such as Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) often create programs to maximize outreach, among other benefits. State energy organizations identify state priorities and support partnerships. For Cool Smart, NSTAR in 2008 partnered with NEEP and nine other Electric Utility Efficiency Program Administrators throughout New England, New York and New Jersey in a request for proposal for negotiated cooperative promotions (NCPs) from HVAC manufacturers and distributors to strengthen, build and expand relationships with upstream HVAC industry actors. It resulted in 21 NCP plans that maximize cost-effective energy and demand savings to utility sponsors with a focus on high-efficiency HVAC equipment sales, quality installations and customer education. The Cool Smart program selected and initiated five NCP plans in 2008.

Test new delivery models. Savvy program managers test new delivery models and share and incorporate ideas and best practices with other program administrators and partners. In the case of Cool Smart, NSTAR will be the first program administrator east of the Mississippi River to test the EPA Energy Star Quality Installation (ESQI) program that blends industry-accepted installation specifications based on Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) quality-installation standards with the Energy Star label to help consumers identify high-quality installations. The ACCA quality-installation guidelines, approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), describe steps a contractor must take to ensure a good-quality HVAC installation. After a system passes inspection, the customer receives an EPA Energy Star certificate showing that the installation meets the guidelines.

The ESQI component of the Cool Smart program is another way HVAC dealers and contractors can distinguish the quality of their work, offer additional value to customers and set themselves apart from the competition.

Designing an effective EE program is the foundation to achieving significant energy savings. There is a wealth of knowledge within the EE team. Program administrators are wise to mine these ideas and tips to advance programs more rapidly and yield greater savings.


Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusets Technology Collaborative and CS Week. “Customer Service: Utility Style” was published by PennWell Books. Her new book, “Demand Side Management: Principles and Fundamentals,” will be available soon.

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