A major retrofit with an eye toward energy efficiency, including energy efficient heating, new windows, installing LED bulbs, improving insulation, replacing roofs and taking other actions to seal the thermal envelope can cut home energy use at least in half, according to an American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) study. Residential energy usage averages about 10,632 kWh annually per customer or a total of 21% of overall energy usage.
Deep retrofits would cut household energy use by 58% to 79%, depending on the age of the home, and there is an appetite for making retrofits in order to improve sustainability and energy efficiency. In a poll conducted by HomeServe on LinkedIn, 35% of those surveyed said they were considering replacing or upgrading their home’s insulation, matched by those who expressed a desire to install energy efficient windows, also at 35%, followed by those interested in upgrading to energy efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning at 30%.
However, the average cost for these retrofits from to $42,600 to $56,750, according to ACEEE – an expensive proposition. In the HomeServe poll, only 15% said they expected to spend more than $20,000, while 25% said they’d spend $10,000 to $20,000, 27% would spend $5,000 to $10,000 and one-third said they planned to spend $5,000 or less on energy efficiency measures. There’s a clear gap between what respondents plan to invest and the investment needed to move the needle on sustainability and energy efficiency.
Additionally, energy prices are the highest they’ve been in more than 40 years, increasing by almost 16% for electricity and 33% for natural gas. Partly driving the cost was a muggy summer that resulted in a record use of residential power in the third quarter of 2022.
Those mounting costs could add to mounting utility debt – U.S. families have approximately $16 billion in utility debt, almost doubled from the end of 2019, with $792 the average amount owed. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association warns that, paired with the rising costs, continued high arrearages will continued to be accrued, despite the additional $4.5 billion added to LIHEAP as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.
In HomeServe’s poll, 53% of respondents said they were interested in making their homes more sustainable and energy efficient to save money on their energy bills, while another 25% said they wanted to help protect the environment and 23% wanted to increase their home value.
Rising energy costs and households struggling with being energy burdened may have influenced the energy efficiency measures poll respondents said they would like to incorporate into their homes – the majority, 60%, were considering rooftop solar panels, followed by a smart device to monitor their energy usage at 16%, a home electric vehicle charger at 13% and a home storage battery at 11%.
Home repair plan programs contribute to energy efficiency because a member with a plan is more conscious of their appliances and, with repairs/replacements covered, more likely to fix inefficient appliances than the average homeowner. Regular tune-ups, included in some plans also keep appliances running efficiently. HomeServe plans protect members against the expense and inconvenience of HVAC, gas and electric lines, water heater and other home emergencies by providing affordable coverage and quality local service from rigorously-vetted network contractors.
To learn more about how you can bring this affordable, energy efficiency program to your members, contact us.
Heat pumps are misunderstood by many homeowners – many still believe that they do not adequately heat homes or know very little about them.
Heat pumps are more energy efficient, because they move warm air from one space to another instead of generating cold or hot air. They can save members hundreds of dollars annually in HVAC and maintenance costs, while significantly reducing their carbon footprint. However, many members are uncertain how heat pumps work and what benefits they can see from them.
Additionally, certain heat pumps – specifically ENERGY STAR-certified ones – can earn members federal tax credits. Several states, local municipalities and utilities have additional initiatives to tempt homeowners to invest, but many members aren’t aware of these benefits.
We turned to Don Johnson of Freedom Heating and Cooling in Birmingham, Alabama, to get a frontline view on how homeowners view heat pumps, from someone who is out in the field every day. Don is the president at Freedom, which has been serving northern Alabama since 2003, when Don’s father, John Johnson, first began operations. Don and Freedom joined the HomeServe team in 2020.
Don participated in a quick question-and-answer session to give a snapshot of how homeowners view heat pumps right now.
Q: If a customer is interested in energy efficiency or saving money, have they expressed interest in heat pumps?
A: Not usually.
Q: If you’ve suggested an upgrade/installation, have you encountered any misperceptions/confusion from customers? What were they?
A: Most misunderstandings are that it will not heat the house as well as a furnace. Older heat pumps were often thought to not be working because the air out of the vent was not as hot as a furnace. However, 95-degree air will warm a home, but will also “feel” cool as it blows over you.
Q: What are the most common concerns from customers about the installation of a heat pump?
A: Is it “right” for my home.
Q: Are customers generally well-informed?
Q: Do customers understand what it is? If they don’t know, do you explain it to them or sell them something else?
A: We have to educate the benefits of lower gas bills with heat pumps, especially with dual fuel systems, which combine both gas heating and a heat pump.
Q: What are the top reasons customers list to have one installed?
A: Comfort, and humidity control is better than a furnace.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to customers having heat pumps installed?
A: Electrical panel size and wiring are the biggest concerns. Proper size ductwork is more critical for a heat pump than a furnace or air conditioner.
Q: When you recommend heat pumps to customers, what benefits do you highlight?
A: Energy savings, comfort and better humidity through the winter.
Q: Are you seeing an increase in interest?
A: Heat pumps are more acceptable today than in the past.
Q: Any questions coming up frequently about heat pumps?
A: Will it heat my home as well as a furnace.
Q: How often do customers come to you with questions about heat pumps?
A: No; not often. We tend to bring up the subject.
Q: What makes the ideal customer or job?
A: Younger families with comfort concerns. Older individuals grew up with the blast of “hot” air and want that.
Educating members about the benefits of a heat pump is an uphill battle, but partnering with HomeServe can help you take it on – we have a nationwide network of pre-vetted contractors who know HVAC and can help members work out whether a heat pump is the smart move for their home.
HomeServe partners with utilities throughout North America to help educate their members, shield them from the unexpected expense of emergency home repairs and make finding a reputable contractor easier. We have an optional warranty plan for all of your members’ most vital whole-home systems, including HVAC, interior electric, interior plumbing and electrical and gas connections.
For more information on how we can help bring your customers peace of mind, contact us.
Although electric vehicles (EVs) are primarily marketed toward individual drivers, targeting information at commercial fleet managers can be very impactful in the proliferation of consumer EV ownership.
With the U.S. pledging to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in the Paris Agreement, the transportation sector is a key focus, as it accounts for the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions, with gasoline-powered light-duty passenger vehicles responsible for the greatest portion. Since fleet vehicles often have high utilization rates, they have an outsized influence on emissions, despite being only 3 percent of the vehicles on the road. The U.S. will be unable to meet decarbonization goals until light-duty vehicles are overwhelmingly converted to electric options.
The federal government intends to lead by example by electrifying the federal fleet. President Joe Biden has made a pledge to electrify the federal government’s 650,000 vehicles, but the plan isn’t new – cities around the country are already in the process of or looking at electrifying their fleets. In addition, many U.S. mayors are encouraging school districts to consider electrifying the nearly 500,000 school buses across the country, and there are even very intriguing pilots of vehicle to grid technology that can lead to greater system reliability.
While there is a considerable amount of information supporting the individual buyer, less has been focused on fleet managers. Yet, large scale conversion of fleets from gasoline to electric vehicle fleets can drive scale of EV adoption in a way individual ownership can’t.
Energy utilities have a critical role to play in the electric vehicle fleet conversion process, acting as key advisors to commercial customers interested in a move to electric vehicle fleets. Commercial fleet managers frequently juggle procurement, maintenance and usage schedules, leaving little time for learning about and navigating the electric vehicle fleet space, let alone the charging infrastructure required to support such a fleet conversion.
Yet, the cost and carbon savings associated with converting some of the most-used fleet vehicles can be incredibly impactful. An EV’s lithium-ion battery pack is one of the major factors in an EV’s higher price point, alongside the high demand relative to the supply of vehicles. As the number of models almost doubles and the cost of batteries falls $100 per kilowatt hour, EVs will reach price parity with Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles by 2025. A Consumer Reports study found EV owners saved an average of $4,600 in repair and maintenance costs over a vehicle’s lifetime. Add to this the fact that an eGallon, the electric equivalent cost to a gallon of gasoline, is roughly half as much.
Utilities have the opportunity to educate their commercial customers about the cost savings of electrical vehicle fleets or go a step further and support them with electric vehicle fleet suitability assessments that can analyze driving habits, vehicle downtime and other factors and produce a report of the financial and carbon savings a fleet can expect to see by converting from one to all of its vehicles. Utilities also can help fleet managers determine, including the number of charging stations needed at business and take-home locations to support conversion, and the expected frequency and duration of vehicle charging.
Supporting customers with data and analysis is an immensely powerful step. More than a few utilities leveraged Geotab’s FleetCarma technology to help customers assess the feasibility of electric vehicle fleet conversion and make the switch. Further, a new Geotab report shows early adoption can ease the way for a broader fleet conversion and result in considerable impact to the bottom line.
The data will also help facility managers to determine whether they need to work with their local utility to upgrade their electrical service to handle the additional load. Many utilities have already initiated fruitful partnerships with their commercial customers for load management to determine the best times for charging to benefit both the fleet and utility.
Recognizing many fleet vehicle are taken home, fleet managers need to consider how to outfit employee homes with EV chargers, maintain that equipment and reimburse employees for the electricity used when charging vehicles at home.
To encourage the timely expansion of electric vehicle fleets, utilities should be working closely with fleet managers to educate them on the cost and environmental benefits of EVs and illustrate how they can fit into their business models.
HomeServe can help with concerns about installing EVSE at home, making it easier for fleet managers to monitor how much electricity fleet vehicles are drawing at employees’ homes and providing a warranty to cover the cost of any unexpected malfunctions, helping manage their maintenance costs. For more information, contact us.
Natural gas is shrinking the energy industry’s emissions, while utilities continue to improve decarbonization efforts with innovative processes and technological advances.
Natural gas has been playing an understated role in limiting climate change by becoming the largest fuel source in the global energy mix as dependence on coal begins to wither. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in the last ten years 103 U.S. coal-fired power plants were converted to or replaced by natural gas-fired plants. This was driven by stricter emission standards, an abundance of low-cost natural gas, and more efficient natural gas turbine technology. Coal’s share of electricity generation has shrunk to under 24 percent, and it’s expected that trend will continue, with coal making up less than 20 percent of global demand by 2030.
In the U.S., coal use for electricity generation dropped by 18 percent just in 2019, causing overall electricity generation emissions to fall by nearly 10 percent, because natural gas generates approximately 50 percent less emissions than coal and 30 percent less than oil. Although the number of renewable energy sources has risen sharply, it is natural gas that is replacing coal as the most dependable choice for electricity generation, removing a net 150 million metric tons of emissions. This means that, for the first time, the energy industry has fewer overall emissions than the transportation industry, because natural gas has enabled the energy industry to reduce emissions to 1980s levels.
Currently 38.4 percent of the U.S. energy mix is generated by natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel. The sector has made significant strides in decarbonization efforts, spending billions of dollars annually to eliminate fugitive emissions from supply lines by replacing leak-prone cast iron and bare steel pipes that could potentially release methane into the atmosphere. More than 17 percent of pre-1970 pipes were replaced between 2005 and 2019, and improvements in monitoring technology and methodology have made it easier and more cost effective than ever to find leaks. Tracking fugitive emissions is becoming more sophisticated, including collecting data from satellites.
Utilities know that they must be transparent about their decarbonization efforts because members are concerned about climate change and regulators are considering penalizing heavy emitters.
The natural gas industry continues to innovate, decarbonizing through carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) and implementing new plant technology. Presently 90 percent of CO2 can be captured and sold to a variety of industries such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR), concrete and fertilizer, and food and beverage, which are significant CO2 producers without a clear path to decarbonization.
A range of sequestration methods are also being employed, including afforestation and reforestation and saline aquifer injection. Approximately a quarter of carbon emissions are captured by forests, farms and grasslands, making landscapes a reliable source of carbon sequestering. Utilities are extending the opportunity for customers to support sequestering as well – for example, in Missouri, Spire gives customers the option of reducing their carbon footprint by planting trees.
Range and grassland are especially resilient, thriving even in the semi-arid environments of the western states. Grasslands are more efficient at storing carbon than forests in drought- and wildfire-prone areas. They are wildfire resistant because they store much of their carbon below ground in the roots.
Not only is CCUS good for the environment, but it’s good for the economy – from the supply chain for the energy industry to supported industries such as carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery, CCUS maintains current jobs and creates new ones. Since the U.S. is a leader in CCUS technology, U.S.-based utilities stand to play a significant global role in clean energy.
While gas will be part of the clean energy mix as it replaces heating oil and coal in the medium term and nuclear energy in the long term, natural gas is less expensive than electricity. Natural gas also allows utilities to firm the grid when renewables produce intermittent energy and where there are peaks in demand.
Unfortunately, one of the places gas utilities can’t improve decarbonatization efforts is in the end user’s home – a leaking service line or a laboring furnace can cause safety and efficiency issues for your members. Members may even be aware of inefficiencies but are unable to afford repairs. HomeServe plans cover gas and electrical service lines, water heaters, in-home electrical and plumbing systems and HVAC systems. To learn more about how our programs educate and protect your members, contact us.
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