This February, Efficiency Vermont launched an innovative incentive to motivate customers to integrate HVAC systems with lighting or other building systems to enable deeper whole-building energy savings and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. Through this incentive, Efficiency Vermont commits to paying 40 percent of labor costs associated with integration (i.e., programming labor, troubleshooting installation, and ensuring schedule override is done safely) when integration work is completed, and 10 percent of the labor costs at 9 months after a report is provided—for a total of 50 percent of the total integration labor costs.
“Efficiency Vermont serves as a unique example of energy efficiency programs taking the lead and making significant contributions towards smarter buildings,” said Felipe Leon, Integrated Lighting Campaign lead. “We hope other energy efficiency programs will consider similar incentives to mitigate the cost barriers of these types of integrations.”
With the high granularity of lighting sensors, sometimes up to one sensor per luminaire (i.e., luminaire-level lighting controls), integrating a lighting system with an HVAC system can boost energy savings. The lighting sensor signals can inform the building’s HVAC systems to turn on in specific spaces as they become occupied and set back the temperature and/or set back /turn off ventilation to the space when it becomes vacant. This kind of smart building integration can significantly reduce operating costs and make buildings more efficient. It can also enable greater flexible load management or demand response opportunities in the future, which Efficiency Vermont is enthusiastic about. Potential energy savings can vary depending on various factors, but Efficiency Vermont notes that buildings that have successfully integrated lighting and HVAC have seen anywhere from 10 to 15 percent savings. Early U.S. Department of Energy related projects have found 20% or more HVAC savings at four sites from this integration.
Although the long-term benefits of recurring energy savings from the integration of systems are becoming clear, sometimes the capital and labor expenditures associated with these types of upgrades can be a barrier to adoption. This is where utility incentives can help mitigate the cost barrier. Traditionally, utilities have often taken either a prescriptive or custom incentive approach. Through prescriptive incentives, utilities offer fixed rebates for investing in more efficient products or systems, such as a more efficient water heater or furnace, a networked lighting control system, or better building insulation. Custom incentives typically require building owners to show proof of savings through utility bills or metering.
The Efficiency Vermont incentive is unique in that it offers the structured custom rebate so customers know at the onset of the project that Efficiency Vermont will cover 50 percent of the costs of labor—which sometimes can entail a significant portion of the expense. This innovative approach to utility incentives for enabling deeper whole-building energy savings from integrated building systems could serve as a model for other energy efficiency programs considering similar programs and create a smooth path towards sustainable, more efficient buildings. “We’re excited to be able to help advance both state and collective nationwide goals here in Vermont,” said Lauren Morlino, Emerging Technologies and Services Manager at Efficiency Vermont.