Technology Evolves – And So Do Incentive and Grant Programs

DelawareWhether they initially participated in programs or not, businesses should keep track of how energy efficiency incentive programs change over time.

That’s the main takeaway of changes to a key program in Delaware. On Sunday, DelawareOnline reported that the state’s Energy Efficiency Investment Fund had been relaunched. The program provides as much as $10,000 to companies and organizations that undertake a number of efficiency steps, the story said.

The story says that the updates are intended to “better reflect market trends in low-cost LED technology” and that the review of applications will be expedited.

The changes to the Delaware program perhaps are more extensive than the story suggests, however. LEDs remain key, but there also is a feeling that the business and commercial worlds are ready for more.

The transition to LEDs is low hanging fruit that anchors many energy projects. The program, in its reconstituted form, aims to increase the sophistication of those efforts, according to Rachel Yocum, an Energy Planner III for Delaware’s Division of Energy and Climate. “Over the last couple of program years, we learned a lot about the lighting market and how lighting projects come together,” she added. “One thing that quickly emerged was that the cost of LED lighting was coming down very quickly. We needed to adjust our incentive levels to keep pace and to avoid over-incentivizing LED technology.  As a result, several of our prescriptive lighting incentive levels have been reduced.”

But LEDs are only part of the story. Yocum wrote that there is a desire to help companies get beyond lighting when they think about energy efficiency projects. “While lighting is absolutely a first-line opportunity for capturing quick energy savings, we wanted to shape our program this year in such a way that our audience was encouraged to also consider things like heating and cooling, which can account for upwards of 30-40% of a commercial facility’s energy use. To that end, there are award limits this year that are specific to lighting projects ($400,000 over three consecutive program years), while awards for other eligible energy efficiency projects less restrictive.”

Delaware sought to adjust its approach as both the technology and the codes under which they are deployed change. “We also wanted to encourage deeper dives in energy efficiency, given Delaware’s current building energy code is about 18% more energy efficient than it was just three years ago.  We are currently referencing the ASHRAE 90.1-2010 standard in our commercial building energy code, and we are requiring grant applicants to go beyond code in this year’s Energy Efficiency Investment Fund program. By way of example, we encourage applicants to refer to ASHRAE’s Advanced Energy Design Guide series when pursuing projects in our custom grant pathway.”

Yocum added that the program now includes lighting density checks that flow out of ASHRAE 90.1-2010 and offers incentives for beating density code through daylighting, highly reflective interior surfaces and delamping, which simply is the removal of unnecessary lighting.

The program seems to have its foot in two interrelated camps. On one level, the state wants companies to go beyond simple lighting retrofits. There are great gains that can be made “beyond the typical bulb and ballast swaps,” Yocum said. At the same time, the program wants to introduce businesses to a far broader energy efficiency landscape.  The changes to the program, she said, are “intended to encourage our audience to pursue retrofit projects that touch upon at least three energy efficiency measures, so the building can realize an overall energy use reduction of at least 30 percent from its pre-installation baseline.”

There is an important implicit message to businesses both in and outside of Delaware: Technology evolves – quickly – and, increasingly, programs designed to push energy efficiency from the local, state and federal government and utilities are bound to change as well. Those that bypassed these opportunities in the past should take another look.


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