Hidden Barriers To Energy Efficiency

by | Aug 30, 2013

Energy efficiencyAside from the common, well-known barriers such as high initial costs that block large scale investment in building energy efficiency, there are several hidden barriers that don’t receive attention, and an American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report attempts to explore them.

The report, Cryptic Barriers to Energy Efficiency, says there is a class of barriers that don’t arise from the market failures that have been the focus of so many studies, but have several different underlying problems — such as regulatory uncertainty, archaic or legacy regulations and inaccurate ratings and standards.

ACEEE cites one example of regulatory uncertainty as contractor reluctance to install a technology not yet familiar to code inspectors in their jurisdiction. If challenged, the contractor still has to invest in an uncertain waiver request process, which adds additional costs if the project schedule is disrupted. In turn, this makes familiar designs and equipment more attractive.

Archaic regulations that have not responded to changes in the technology of the products or building techniques that they regulate become cryptic barriers when they no longer serve the original purpose for which they were written and instead inhibit innovation and further development. ACEEE notes that sometimes these regulations even begin to affect products or techniques they were never intended to regulate.

When it comes to ratings, a rating method should be the simplest feasible test that gives reasonable predictions of performance in the field, for all present and anticipated products. However, to a greater or lesser degree depending on use volumes and patterns, for example, comparisons of conventional storage water heaters to newer tankless water heaters can be uncertain, at best.

The issues with the federal water heater efficiency rating method were so pervasive and important to industry that legislation was enacted to require development of a new “uniform descriptor” method; the Department of Energy (DOE), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and Air Conditioning, Heating,and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) are all developing proposals now.

The more accurately ratings reflect the actual efficiency of appliances in the specific conditions in which they will be used, the more incentive manufacturers will have to improve overall efficiency and the more likely consumers will be to purchase equipment that most efficiently meets their needs.

After exploring the barriers in detail, the ACEEE report has come up with recommendations to resolve them, including:

  • Codes and standards should be reviewed and evaluated regularly
  • Standards should be performance-based instead of prescriptive, because prescriptive standards become obsolete sooner
  • Lack of regulations can also be barriers, since the uncertainty drives contractors away from equipment without oversight
  • In accurate rating procedures that don’t correctly reflect installed conditions can inhibit innovation in energy efficiency

In March, the ACEEE previously released a report that highlights 16 policies that would remove market barriers across the economy to investments in energy efficiency, which, if enacted, could save the country approximately $1 trillion in energy bills and 19 quads in energy consumption.

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