Retrofit California Program Final Report: Successes, Best Practices and Lessons Learned Across 9 Different Pilot Program Types


Retrofit California is a program of 24 pilot projects that sought to develop and test new program models to increase participation in the energy upgrade market in California. The Program’s pilot work was conducted between 2010 and mid-2013 and funded through a $30 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program (BBNP).

The Program’s Final Report was released last month, and shares a wealth of information on successes of the Program, but also on best practices and lessons learned across the Program’s pilots. Some highlighted best practices are shared below. For the full report, click the link above.

The 24 pilot projects were operated in the following areas, and through the following Grant Partners:

  • Los Angeles County (as prime grantee)
  • Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), consisting of:
    • for Alameda County
    • Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) for Sonoma County
    • SF Environment for the City and County of San Francisco
    • City of San Jose
  • California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) for the San Diego region
  • Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD)

Across these areas, different combinations of the following 9 pilot project types were implemented: the Whole Neighborhood Approach (WNA), HVAC Contractor Training, Community Based Social Marketing, Green Building Labeling, Multifamily, On-Water-Bill Financing, Home Improvement Retail Partnership (HIRP), Energy Loan, and Flex Path.

The following are best practices and lessons learned highlights, by program (read more in the Final Report):

  1. Whole Neighborhood Approach (WNA)
    • The pilots used standardized retrofit packages, but this made participation by certain housing markets (e.g., San Francisco’s) a challenge.
    • Outreach and building program trust in a short timeframe was a challenge. Most effective in achieving this were open houses, advertisement of “demonstration homes”, and door-to-door visits by known and trusted organizations.
    • SMUD’s WNA pilot’s significant success was attributed to many factors, including SMUD offering free assessments (other WNA pilots did not), SMUD’s trusted reputation and direct use of its own staff in outreach.
  2. HVAC Contractor Training (HVAC)
    • Training programs need to make sure they are effecting change by reaching those that need training – LA County’s Energy Upgrade Quality Installation (QI) training program had good attendance, but seemed to attract contractors already complying with QI requirements. In San Diego, CCSE was able to attract new contractors needing education and support on QI by working with contractor schedules and offering multiple, shorter training sessions, as well as evening sessions.
  3. Community-Based Social Marketing
    • The most effective community-based social marketing was found to be through organizations that had existing outreach and fundraising capacity – and where interests aligned easily with energy efficiency. It was found that targeting organizations and community events focused on homeowners – rather than schools, for example – was most effective in getting the word out on home upgrades. It was also found that the partner organization already very familiar with Energy Upgrade California programming (Sustainable Claremont) was by far the most successful in delivery of upgrades – which may suggest that other partners may improve in their efforts with time/longer exposure to the program.
  4. Green Building Labeling (GBL)
    • Messaging on the value of green building labeling is still a challenge. The successes of the pilots that did occur were not necessarily found to be due to residents’ desire specifically for green labeling. Nonetheless, a study commissioned as part of the pilots conducted by UC Berkeley and UCLA found that green labeling increases the appraised value of homes by 5.5%-9%.
  5. Multifamily
    • Marketing and communications was found to be critical – successful communication of the why and the how of energy efficiency improvements led to pilot oversubscription.
    • Offering incentives was also key – most surveyed referenced capital constraints as a reason for not implementing energy-saving measures.
  6. On-Water-Bill (OWB) Financing
    • Customers surveyed saw immediate value, but work may be necessary to lower administrative burdens for water utilities.
  7. Home Improvement Retail Partnership (HIRP)
    • Partners with retail stores were complicated by needing to deal with local and corporate offices, and staff expertise in speaking to energy efficiency opportunities and programs was sometimes lacking. Customer interests with shopping were not necessarily energy efficiency, and participation was in general low.
  8. Energy Loan
    • Loans were found to play a critical role in energy efficiency upgrades. Establishment of a loan loss reserve fund by LA County allowed customers to access lower loan rates and complete more energy efficiency projects.
  9. Flex Path
    • The popularity of the “Flex Path” option in incentives for residential upgrades – which created an alternative to the “Basic Path” prescriptive and the “Advanced Path” performance-based incentives, through which the customer was able to choose the best actions for them, was noteworthy; and suggested that there are customers that the structure of the prescriptive vs. performance-based incentive model were not reaching.

It’s significant to note that across a number of the pilots, pilot performance was lowered or challenged by unexpected starts and stops to other program and funding infrastructure that the pilots were relying on. (e.g., the delay of the release of EnergyUpgrade CA incentives affecting the multi-family pilot performance in PG&E territory, or the interruptions in PACE financing affecting the pilots overall.)

Additional summary of the program is available from the U.S. Department of Energy in their “Los Angeles County (and 6 Partners) Case Study,” here.

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