Energy Efficiency 101

New to local government energy efficiency, and looking for some information to get started? See information in the four main categories below – or, check out some of the new, highlighted resources.

Highlighted Resources:

Energy Efficiency 101 Presentations (SEEC Forum Workshop):

Why do local governments care about energy efficiency?

Local government leaders across California are motivated to further energy efficiency (EE) goals for a number of different reasons:

  • Cost savings: one of the top motivating factors that speaks to everyone is cost savings. Using less energy means spending less money on energy. Spending less on energy reduces overhead, frees up funds for other projects, and reflects smart, responsible management. Energy efficiency is the gift that keeps giving, since the amount you save is not a one-time event: if a $100,000 energy-efficient lighting project saves you $20,000 per year on your utility bills, you will continue to save $20,000 a year over the lifetime of the project – and you will have paid off the project’s cost in $100/$20 = 5 years.
  • Health benefits: reducing energy used reduces emissions, which can improve air quality. (For more on air quality, click here.) Energy audits and building improvements also improve buildings’ functioning.
  • Sustainability and climate change: avoiding wasted energy is good for the environment. Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions (for more on energy efficiency’s role in greenhouse gas emissions reductions and climate change mitigation see the California Energy Commission (CEC)’s 2015 Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR)‘s first chapter highlighting EE as the focus of the report).

See even more reasons – including resiliency, job creation, local economic development, and operational benefits (comfort, savings) in this SEEC presentation on Why Energy Efficiency.

What does local government action on energy efficiency look like?
  • Develop an energy efficiency, sustainability, or climate action plan. A plan is a power tool to transparently set goals, get the many stakeholders of energy projects on the same page, optimize project selection, and check baselines to ensure you can measure project success. Follow the strategic planning or climate action plan links for more resources covering planning, and for examples of climate action plans drafted and adopted by other California local governments. SEEC also provides trainings on use of the no-cost ClearPath tool for development of a strong climate action plan.
  • “Lead by example” and make EE improvements to the City. Implement energy efficient improvements in your own buildings. Improvements may include capital equipment upgrades (to lighting fixtures, boilers, air conditioning units, fan or pump motors, wastewater or other industrial facility energy-consuming equipment), or retro-commissioning of how that equipment works (e.g., checking the setpoint temperatures, scheduling, and staging of equipment, ensuring controls are working properly, testing and balancing, etc.).

EE improvements may be integrated into existing capital planning – EE improvements may also paired with clean energy installs or a campaign to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by implementing an employee carpool program.

If you’re looking for data on the most cost-effective project to start with, it may be a good idea to benchmark your buildings first and learn what buildings are using what amounts of energy. For more information on benchmarking, visit the Benchmarking Resources page. Looking for benefits of benchmarking? Check out this post.

Some local governments may prefer to start leading by example by implementing a program to encourage energy-efficient employee behavior (e.g., encouraging turning off the lights, using energy efficient computer setting, or low hot water usage). For best practices in implementing successful behavioral programs, see this post.

  • Educate, promote and support EE improvements in the community. Local governments are a critical source of information and organization for their communities. Local governments can support residential, commercial, industrial, and/or agricultural energy efficiency by promoting programs offered by the state, utilities and others, or by offering programs themselves. Programs may include community challenges and campaigns motivating behavioral changes, residential or small business assessments, direct installs, or incentives for energy efficient lighting or HVAC, green business programs, and more.
  • Set ordinances or local codes that raise the bar on EE in the City and community. California’s energy code (aka California’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards, or Title 24, Part 6) spurs energy efficiency by requiring energy efficiency construction. Your jurisdiction can raise that bar even higher by adopting a Tier 1 or Tier 2 “reach” code to set energy efficiency requirements 15 or 30 percent higher than the energy code. Or, rather than taking a percent-above approach, you can hone in on measures or specific installs that may clarify the requirements and help you meet goals in your climate or energy action plan (for example, requiring solar photovoltaics, or cool roofs). For more on this see reach codes.
  • Support and increase EE code compliance. The energy code is a major driver of energy savings – but your community won’t see the benefits if it’s not enforced. Make sure your building department staff know the current energy code, and consider what your jurisdiction can do to encourage compliance from the building community – including technical assistance and energy efficient recommendations during plan review (either by city staff or by a volunteer buildings or energy community committee), online permitting, permitting expediting or fee reductions, and/or connection to energy efficiency incentives.

All of these types of activities are actions promoted under the CPUC’s California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan.

For numerous examples of what actions local governments are taking, check out Local Government on the EE Strategic Plan.

Where are resources local governments can leverage for energy efficiency activities?

There are many different resources for planning and implementing EE in California – including technical assistance, funding, financing, and more. In general, it’s good practice to keep tabs on the following entities for assistance:

  • Your utilities. The Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) of the state are Administrators of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programming, which includes financial incentives and technical assistance for energy efficiency activities. The IOUs also work with local governments on special projects under the Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, through local government partnerships (see examples here). Contact your utility to learn more. Publicly-owned and municipal utilities also often provide incentives and support for energy efficiency. (If you don’t know who at the utility level you should be contacting, contact the Coordinator.)
  • Regional Energy Networks (RENs) and other EE Program Administrators. So far, the non-IOU Administrators of energy efficiency programming are BayREN, SoCalREN, and the Consumer Choice Aggregator (CCA) Marin Clean Energy (MCE).
  • State agencies. You can see energy-relevant resources and workshops offered by the California Energy Commission (CEC), the CA Air Resources Board (CARB, or ARB), and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) by clicking on these links. A great 101 EE overview of the makeup and resources of these agencies, presented by Jody London, is available here.
  • The Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative (SEEC). SEEC was organized by the state for the very purpose of assisting local governments with energy efficiency goals. Visit the About SEEC page to learn more about tools and resources offered through SEEC – including the Beacon Program, the Annual SEEC Forum, the ClearPath climate action planning suite of tools, and more.
  • Consider developing an energy efficiency fund. A great way to find funding for energy efficiency is to take the savings from a funded, implemented energy efficiency project, and develop a fund for further projects. For resources on this – and example funds led by California local governments, click here.

Visit the Funding Opportunities tab to review funding resources, or click on the funding or financing links to review posts on funding or financing.

How do I keep track of energy efficiency program and policy changes relevant to local government?

Energy efficiency in California is a hot topic, and constantly evolving. Some things local governments may want to keep track of include:

  • Changes in how Administrators of EE programs (IOUs, RENS, and eligible CCAs) plan and make programming accessible under the “rolling portfolio” process.
  • The implementation of building benchmarking and energy use disclosure requirements (assigned to the CEC) under AB 802.
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