When Energy Efficiency Programs Are About More Than Saving Energy

About the Author

Glenn Barnes

Glenn Barnes worked at Environmental Finance Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2006 - 2019, ultimately serving as associate director.

Government-backed energy efficiency programs provide opportunities for all types of buildings to reduce their electricity consumption and save money—from single family residences and affordable housing facilities to small businesses and industrial plants.  These same energy improvements also have positive environmental benefits, reducing the pollution caused by electricity generation.

There are also several acknowledged economic development benefits to energy efficiency programs.  If the program helps a small business with thin margins save money on its energy bills, it might help that small business stay open.  And investments in energy efficiency create demand for local jobs for contractors, auditors, and other related fields.

Most energy efficiency programs measure success in projects completed, kilowatt hours saved, energy costs avoided, and pollution reduced.  These programs, though, should also take time to measure the non-energy impacts as well.

In Washington, the DC Sustainable Energy Utility is “designed to help District households, businesses, and institutions save energy and money through energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.”  They offer rebates for appliances, energy systems, lighting, and other products and provide technical assistance on reducing the energy consumption in buildings.

According to their annual report, creating meaningful employment opportunities for DC residents in “green collar” jobs is a goal of the program along with energy savings and environmental impacts.  They reported the following actions to meet this goal:

  • DC SEU established the business and technical qualifications needed for contractors wishing to conduct business with the DC SEU.  Contractor qualifications and certifications varied by DC SEU program area and included technical qualifications and certifications necessary for successful energy efficiency work in both the residential and commercial markets. Also included were basic business qualifications and certifications necessary for successful and responsible contracting.
  • DC SEU assessed the business and technical knowledge of potential contractors, and filled in gaps with (1) information sessions on contracting opportunities; (2) information sessions on how to present a winning response to an RFQ or RFP; (3) in‐class training sessions on program technical requirements and protocols; (4) in‐class training on administrative and reporting requirements for programs; and (5) in‐field technical training and mentoring.
  •  DC SEU also partnered with existing training providers in the city to help develop the skills of an effective workforce.  As an incentive, the DC SEU used “placement awards” that went to Training Providers whose candidates were hired.

DC SEU then measured the success of these workforce development efforts in both outputs (such as the number of workshops held and number of attendees) and outcomes (such as contractors prepared to begin field work) and stated the results in their annual report.

Economic and workforce development gains are a product of any energy efficiency effort, but programs should consider emulating DC SEU and others by setting specific goals and activities geared towards economic development and then measuring the results.  That way, programs can show their benefits beyond energy efficiency.


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