Part 4: The customer is the partner in energy efficiency

A scan with an infrared thermal imaging camera detects energy leaks.

One way that utility companies are boosting their bottom lines is to waste less electricity. How? Through energy efficiency — use less electricity to perform the same tasks.

Low-tech and high-tech methods combine to make energy consumers important energy-efficiency partners for utility companies.

Affordable technologies such as energy-efficient lighting are actively supported by utility companies. Light-emitting diode or LED lights use about 10 percent of the energy of an ordinary incandescent lamp and can last for 20 years. Water-saving showerheads can reduce the amount of energy used to heat water.

(© Shutterstock)
LED lightbulbs are energy savers.

FROM THE GROUND UP

Energy-efficient passive construction is growing in popularity in new building projects. Less energy is required when a building is geographically sited to take full advantage of the sun for heating and the winds for ventilation and cooling.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED certified buildings are energy-efficient spaces that comply with standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED-certified buildings are now global: Canada, China and India have the most LEED-certified structures.

An energy audit can show customers in older buildings how to improve their energy use. A trained energy auditor uses an infrared camera to reveal areas of heat or cold loss, air leaks and moisture. An audit is a good first step for customers wanting to do an energy-saving retrofit. An energy audit identifies with precision where insulation should be upgraded and cracks sealed. Utility companies often provide energy audits for customers.

People doing deep energy retrofits aim to reduce energy use 50 to 75 percent by installing the highest-rated insulation and window replacements.

(© Shutterstock)
Thermal imaging shows where and how much heat is escaping from a home.

SMART TECH

Digital technology links energy providers and customers, promoting efficiency in a new way. Smart meters let both utility companies and customers monitor usage.

Utility companies now provide periodic energy-usage report cards, where a customer’s energy consumption is tracked over time and compared with the neighbors. If you are rated “great” you are using energy efficiently. If “good” or “poor,” there is room to improve.

Energy Star appliances that meet strict low-energy-consumption standards increase energy efficiency. Energy Star efficiency standards were developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, but now are internationally recognized.

Providers such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District offer customers tips on energy conservation and even financing for energy-efficiency remodeling projects.

What was once a one-way relationship from electricity company to rate payer is fast becoming a two-way interaction.

This article is the fourth in a five-part series on power grid terminology. Next up: The changing energy business.

By: Lea Terhune