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CEEA’s Efficiency Matters Blog

How do we talk when we talk about energy efficiency?

Times have changed and energy savings are no longer enough

It’s not just about saving money anymore. Consumers need to be educated about climate change too.

Predictions and forecasting are only as good as the quality of information you can draw upon. At CEEA we have always strived to determine what the future holds for energy efficiency, after all our members are forward-thinking innovators and entrepreneurs. Now that I am a board member of the Green Ontario Fund, that privilege is certainly giving me a good idea of where the future is going. The opportunities to drive energy efficiency have never been better, but one interesting development is that the language has changed

For years at CEEA we focussed on energy savings – initially because the research we had conducted showed consumers cared about pocket book issues more than environmental issues. And it was a primary focus when the Harper government was in power because the business case for energy efficiency was on the agenda. Energy savings is a valid argument, but it’s only part of the story of energy efficiency.

Now the words “energy savings” are no longer enough. We have a Liberal federal government which immediately renamed a ministry as Environment and Climate Change Canada, a coming out of sorts for the term climate change after years of being dismissed. So the argument for energy efficiency has pivoted even more clearly from saving money and energy to also reducing GHG emissions.

The IEA’s Energy Efficiency Market Report 2016 noted that energy efficiency is the only common global fuel and that it will ultimately help us meet 49 per cent of our climate goals by 2030. To accomplish that everyone who is in the energy efficiency business is going to need to talk about climate mitigation. And not just talk, we need to examine which programs make more sense when the outcome needs to be GHG mitigation. We can continue to promote energy savings because people still want them, but for government programs to work the conversation must also include the cost per ton of GHG avoided. Program designers at utilities, agencies and consultancies must be adept at how to layer new climate programs onto existing programs responding to rate regulation. The other reality is that in some provinces energy efficiency is regulated, which means in places like Ontario climate programs and energy efficiency programs must work in tandem – you can’t compete with regulated programs you have to cooperate.

How do we convince consumers about energy efficiency?

Consumers are going to have to be convinced that this is important – that homes can operate more effectively and be more comfortable. And this means reducing heating costs and reducing carbon foot prints. We’ve done some work studying the mindset of millennials and what motivates them to conserve. They’re interested in doing the right things, especially for their children. This is why CEEA is so concerned with the implementation of HERD, the Home Energy Rating & Disclosure program which is part of the federal Pan-Canadian Climate Framework as well as Ontario’s climate plan.

To be successful the challenge going forward will be to learn to speak the new language and deliver goods and services that consumers can understand and desire. That’s one thing the Green Ontario fund is trying to do. The new provincial agency is funded by Ontario’s carbon market and its goal is to cut GHG emissions in industry and buildings to meet the province’s emission reduction targets. Overseeing rebates and programs for saving energy, the fund launched a website which is aimed to be the place for Ontarians to access GreenOn programs and utility programs across the province. Users have instant access to information by entering their postal code. The website marries saving money, reducing energy use and carbon footprints and is easy to participate.

Of course there are critics of this concept from the likes of the Fraser Institute. Criticisms include that energy efficiency rebates do not save money and actually make people use more energy. The Fraser Institute is the grouchy relative who always says no and calls anyone who disagrees hysterical.

It’s no longer just about saving money.

Posted September 26, 2017

McDonald Interior Colour 2014

Elizabeth McDonald is president of CEEA

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