Using Vision and Data to Unlock Energy Efficiency

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by Kara Gray, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, and Cheryl Harrington, NSTAR Electric & Gas

Innovation has many faces. Depending on where you stand, it can look very different. Designing and creating effective energy efficiency programs is an art.

When Massachusetts gas and electric utilities and energy service providers wanted to expand their program offerings, they decided to target the niche market of low-income multifamily housing.

Mass Save is an initiative sponsored by Massachusetts gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers, including Berkshire Gas Co., Cape Light Compact, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, National Grid, New England Gas Co., NSTAR, Unitil and Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

Mass Save sponsors work closely with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to provide a wide range of services, incentives, trainings and information that promote energy efficiency and help residents and businesses manage energy use and related costs.

The sponsors collaborated with the Massachusetts Low-income Energy Affordability Network (LEAN) to create a program to help reduce barriers to energy efficiency for owners and managers of low-income multifamily properties in which at least 50 percent of the tenants have incomes at or below 60 percent of the Massachusetts median income level.

The Low-Income Multi-Family (LIMF) program’s uniqueness lies not only in the tremendous collaborative effort that was necessary to envision, design and create it, but the approach and management of its many moving parts. Consider the enormous task of identifying qualifying landlords, tenants and properties statewide, categorizing and assessing their past and future energy needs and identifying, providing and finally installing cost-effective energy efficiency measures.

The LIMF working group reviewed all available resources that would be required to create a framework to build an effective program. One of the key components to the framework was compiling historic energy usage for each qualifying property. LEAN researched a tracking and benchmarking platform to create a way to manage the building portfolios.

LEAN determined that WegoWise, a Web-based, no-touch platform that automatically gathers monthly utility bill data, could fit the working group’s criteria best. The WegoWise platform compared buildings’ normalized energy use to identify the least-efficient buildings. It visualized the utility data and enabled users to identify outliers. With this information, the Mass Save sponsors and LEAN could prioritize energy efficiency retrofits and maximize their budget, plus send auditors and contractors to the buildings to complete the upgrades and verify performance and return on investment.

Working together, the Mass Save sponsors and LEAN used WegoWise to track and benchmark energy and water usage at more than 81,000 low-income multifamily dwelling units across Massachusetts. In one year, the platform helped identify projects that are expected to generate more than $85 million in customer benefits.

By using new technology to leverage the data that already existed, the sponsors maximized savings and increased the overall cost-effectiveness of the program. This relatively low-cost solution enabled the sponsors to scale their programs across entire portfolios and realize excellent energy savings.

The Mass Save sponsors know the value of energy efficiency. They have helped contribute to Massachusetts’ twice being named the most energy-efficient state by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). In June, the ACEEE also recognized the sponsors of Mass Save as operating an Exemplary Energy Efficiency Program.

Kara Gray is program manager of energy efficiency at Columbia Gas of Massachusetts.

Cheryl Harrington is residential program manager of energy efficiency at NSTAR Electric & Gas.

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