Legislation before the U.S. Congress could give homeowners incentives to purchase a wide-range of energy-efficiency products from insulation to appliances. However, home energy management systems like energy monitors and other energy-saving electronics may not be included in the program.
The proposed program, called Home Star (also known as “Cash for Caulkers”), will fund $6 billion in rebates to encourage immediate investments in energy-efficient appliances, building mechanical systems and insulation, and whole-home energy efficiency retrofits, according to Efficiency First, a coalition of home performance professionals such as home energy auditors.
Home Star was part of the proposed climate change bill that was scuttled, largely due to lack of support for the controversial carbon cap-and trade measures. The Home Star Act of 2010 and regulations concerning oil drilling survived to make it into another bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act of 2010 (S. 3663), which is currently pending in the U.S. Senate. At times the bill’s passage has looked promising, though action on it has been postponed until after the Senate’s August recess. Legislators also may have to find a way to pay for the program to get enough votes for passage.
In its current form, Home Star would offer two levels of rebates: Silver Star and Gold Star.
A Silver Star level offers homeowners between $1,000 and $1,500 for each measure installed in the home, or $250 per appliance, with a benefit not exceeding $3,000 or 50 percent of total project costs (whichever is less). Covered measures include air sealing; attic, wall, and crawl space insulation; duct sealing or replacement; and replacement of existing windows and doors, furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters and appliances with high-efficiency models.
There is no mention of energy management systems, energy monitors, or home automation and lighting control systems under the Silver Star level. However, Intel and a consortium of energy management systems makers are working to get energy management systems added to the Silver Star level, according to John Thomas, director of technology strategy of Intel’s Open Energy Initiative.
Don’t get your hopes up, through. Matt Golden, Policy Chair for Efficiency First and president of Recurve, an energy audit and energy efficiency installation company in the San Francisco Bay area, says there have been discussions about including energy management systems under the Silver Star level, but what constitutes an energy management system needs to be defined, and proponents have yet to do that. For example, he says, “Most lighting control systems cost energy and don’t save energy, because when you push a button 17 lights come on. Some [lighting control systems] can save energy, but how do you define that?”
Performance Modeling a Better Bet?
The Gold Star level under the proposed Home Star program offers incentives of $3,000 and more to households that conduct comprehensive energy audits and then implement a variety of measures that provide 20 percent or more in total energy savings. This technology-neutral approach is based on performance, not specific products.
While energy management systems and other electronics like lighting control systems, home automation systems and automated window treatments could help homes achieve a 20 percent reduction in energy use, including those technologies under the Gold Star level appears problematic.
“Gold Star is based on energy simulation today and in future,” Golden says, and the present modeling software required for this does not have the capacity to predict the effects of an energy management system.
Under the Gold Star program, a certified professional with accreditation from the Building Performance Institute (BPI), the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) or an approved equivalent conducts an energy audit before work begins, and a test-out when the performance retrofit is complete. Consumers could receive $3,000 for modeled savings of 20 percent, plus an additional $1,000 incentive for each additional 5 percent of modeled energy savings, with incentives not to exceed 50 percent of project costs.
While many residential energy auditors are trained to collect electric bills and input them into modeling software, most do not conduct detailed electricity load audits, says Dallas Jones, of the Home Energy Team Institute, which trains energy auditors.
“We need better training and certification and better modeling software,” says Golden. “We may be able to get to that [state] in a couple of years.” Though that would likely come after the two-year Home Star program expires.
Golden adds that there is “nothing preventing us from making the [current modeling software] work for electricity. … I haven’t seen anything reliable enough to model the changes.”
“We’re totally for [home energy management systems] and we see it as an absolute necessity as we go forward,” he continues. “But Home Star is more of a jobs creation bill and it’s just a beginning. … “Home Star is an essential step in getting us where we want to be.”
Happy thoughts aside, it appears that “essential step” for jobs creation and energy-efficiency incentives for homeowners won’t include high-tech energy-saving systems—unless Intel and others can convince legislators otherwise.