Power Utility Partners On Energy Efficiency Upgrades

Power utilities are often considered the passive beneficiary of energy efficiency. Lesser demand during peak hours means less strain on the power utility's resources. When we save energy, we pay less to the power utility, so what is their interest in energy efficiency? Essentially, it is the same concern we have - the cost of energy resources is increasing. When we reduce demand, the utility has some relief from the price of energy resources. For that reason, more and more power utilities are sponsoring energy efficiency education and assistance programs.
One utility, New Jersey's Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), serving 2.2 million electricity customers, offers a wide variety of programs, energy calculators and references to help their customers save energy. According to Anne Hoskins, the utility’s Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Sustainability, in 2010 their energy efficiency programs helped saved “the equivalent of a 30-megawatt power plant running continuously - without generating any pollution."
She says the utility "stands ready" to deliver "the economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency." Rather than spending "scarce subsidy dollars” on "market encourage investment in conventional electric generation" she believes resources should be devoted to "supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency." Hoskins estimates that an energy efficiency program targeting multifamily, lower income and senior citizens housing could save annually "up to 350,000 megawatt-hours of electricity" and provide "$1.3 billion reduction in energy cost over the life of the installed efficiency improvements."
Now PG&E does not have an angelic reputation in New Jersey. Complaints about their customer service outnumbered positive comments by 10-1 on an online ratings site. But PG&E provides multiple tools to help the residential power customer become energy efficient. A variety of online calculators are available in their online toolkit.
The home energy calculator provides a detailed report and a pie-chart on your estimated annual and monthly electric costs, tables providing estimated electric costs by appliance, and similar charts and tables for annual and monthly electric use. It asks you to fill in information about your home type and usage, air leaks and insulation, windows and glass, heating and cooling systems, water heating, refrigerators and freezers, televisions and lighting, other appliances and pools and hot tubs to produce the report..
The calculator then produces the pie charts and tables, and provides a diagnostic analysis. My report told me that
- If I lower my heat settings two degrees I could save up to $191/year
- Replacing 50% of my light bulbs withe CFL bulbs savings could be $49/year
- Upgrading my heat system to a new high efficiency model could save up to $1,400/year
- Replacing single-pane windows with high-efficiency windows could save $1,067/year
- Professional weatherization could save $46/year
This calculator's usefulness is not restricted to New Jersey or PSE&G residents, though it's estimation of power rate and weather impacts are particular to New Jersey. Additional special purpose calculators determine:
- What your home's appliances cost to operate (you input your local power rate for the calculation)
- Savings from replacing older central air conditioning with higher efficiency units
- Purchase price and operating cost of CFL's versus standard incandescent bulbs
- Savings achievable by using a programmable thermostat
- Annual costs of current heating system versus other heating options
While day-to-day delivery of services in New Jersey remains controversial, they are investing $227 million in energy efficiency "putting people to work and helping lower energy bills." Their website says "there is no cleaner or cheaper kilowatt-hour than the one that is not used." They say they will have created 1,000 jobs through the energy efficiency program, saving a total of 58 megawatts annually, reducing participant’s utility bills by $31 million.
PSE&G Is focusing on lower income areas where energy efficiency is usually lower and harder to achieve as residents can't afford improvements. PSE&G has installed over 5,700 programmable thermostats and provided 169,000 CFL bulbs in Urban Enterprise Zones in 2010. This effort not only reduces energy consumption directly, it also aids the power customer who will spend a smaller percentage of their income on utility bills.
The utilities Whole House Energy Efficiency Program provides free in-home energy audits, free in-home air leakage testing and sealing, a free appliance safety test and a free programmable thermostat to designated New Jersey cities, totaling up to $1,400 in free services.
It is in power utilities' interests to achieve energy efficiencies. As they strive to save fuel costs, we strive to save on our electric bill and on our contribution to the carbon load caused by excess power demand. The result is a rare partnership indeed, but in the new world of energy strategies, an effective one.

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I am a Seattle-based writer. Energy efficiency and the achievement of human potential are my goals. I have worked as a legislative aide and a database manager, and recently started building a money- and energy-saving household goods online store featuring sensible and affordable home environment solutions including ENERGY STAR qualified products. Contact: Twitter: @Greenbespoke @SaveWattsatHome