Energy Efficiency Conference: PG&E, Customers Keep California in Leadership Spot

By David Kligman

SAN FRANCISCO — In February, President Obama challenged Americans to reduce by half the energy wasted by homes and businesses over the next 20 years.

But for Californians, energy efficiency isn’t a new concept. In fact, it has been around for decades, and PG&E has been leading the way to help customers cut their energy use, said PG&E’s Janice Berman.

PG&E’s Janice Berman discusses how the utility has contributed to California’s flat energy use since the 1970s compared with the rest of the United States. (Photos by David Kligman.)

Berman, who gave a keynote address today (July 29) at Greentech Media’s Avant EE Innovations Reshaping the Energy Efficiency Market conference, pointed to the fact that in 1970 Californians and the rest of the country were using about the same amount of energy per capita. Since then, California’s energy consumption has remained relatively flat while per capita consumption throughout the rest of the United States has doubled.

“You know what, do you feel deprived?” asked Berman, senior director of customer energy efficiency strategy. “Because I don’t feel deprived. We have all of our gadgets here in California. We use the same stuff as everybody. We’re just doing it a little bit more efficiently than everyone else.”

Since California began committing to energy efficiency, the state has saved $56 billion, avoided the building of 30 large power plants, produced about 50,000 jobs and reduced carbon emissions equivalent to removing 200,000 cars from the road.

California policy puts energy efficiency first

So how has California done it?

“It’s not magic,” Berman said. “It’s been a consistent policy focus, a focus by all of our commissions and regulators to put energy efficiency first ahead of construction of power plants.”

By 2020, California’s goal is to remove 800 million metric tons of carbon from its emissions mix.

But another key, she said, was the decision in the 1980s to separate or “decouple” the sale of gas and electricity from company earnings.

“We’re just as happy to sell less energy,” she said.

PG&E has contributed in many ways to helping reduce energy, including demand response programs that encourage customers to shift their load to off-peak hours. PG&E also has a long partnership with the Energy Star label and works closely with appliance manufacturers, distributors, retailers and installers.

Berman said the old approach to energy efficiency was reactive.

“You’d put boots on the ground, give customers an audit and then give them a rebate check,” she said.

Home energy reports sent to 1 million PG&E customers

The emergence of data from SmartMeters already is having a huge impact, she said, with about 1 million PG&E customers receiving home energy reports that let them know how energy efficient their homes are compared with similar  nearby homes. Another trend she pointed to is the use of automated controls for lighting and temperatures and approaches to energy efficiency that tackles an entire building as opposed to one-off problems.

PG&E’s Dave Canny, center, participates in a panel on lessons learned from utility energy efficiency programs. Also pictured: Ted Reguly, left, of San Diego Gas & Electric, and Ryan Warren, right, of Nexant, Inc.

Much of the work is done behind the scenes.  Almost half of PG&E’s energy efficiency budget is directly spent with third parties and government partners.

“It’s very important for us to all work together in order to get the best possible outcome for energy efficiency,” she said.

Ultimately, she said, energy efficiency is a commitment that has to happen over time to get the maximum benefits. She then shared a recent interview with PG&E Corporation CEO and Chairman Tony Earley, who called energy efficiency “one of the great success stories of PG&E.”

“To be effective in energy efficiency, you have to understand customers’ needs, their objectives if they’re a business, how they live their lives if they’re residential customers,” Earley said. “To be able to go to them, analyze their bill and then give them very specific ways to reduce their energy usage so that their total bill goes down, that’s the heart of affordability.”

The one-day event, held at PG&E’s auditorium, also included an address from Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, the managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and a roundtable panel on utility energy efficiency programs.

Dave Canny, manager of PG&E’s residential energy efficiency programs, said one of PG&E’s successes was partnering with other West Coast utilities to create an incentive program for manufacturers, distributors and retailers to sell energy-efficient flat screen televisions.

“We certainly found we were very successful when we engaged with other utilities and other organizations to talk to national players like major retailers and chains about the way they stock and sell their televisions,” Canny said.

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