BY DERRILL HOLLY
“We have the tools, knowledge and commitment to assist our members. Saving energy can also help shave peak loads,” says Manuela Heyn, an electric cooperative energy services representative.
Heyn conducted her first energy audits with very basic tools: a flashlight, laser temperature gun and candy thermometer (to check water heater output temperature). She now uses more sophisticated devices such as thermal imaging equipment.
During on-site audits, she uses all her senses to find abnormalities, such as hot water line leaks, running well pumps, damaged power cords, construction issues, disconnected ducts and lack of insulation.
She also checks household systems many homeowners seldom see or consider unless they spend time with their HVAC technician.
“One home I visited had an overflowing air handler water pan and extreme fungal growth,” Heyn says. “Some members don’t realize that their HVAC systems have an air filter. When they are dirty, they can freeze up the system and cause an increase in power consumption.”
Many of the electric co-ops that provide energy audits support professional development for energy advisors that includes exposure to building science concepts. Training focused on both new construction techniques designed to improve energy efficiency and retrofitting options for upgraded older housing are common.
“By providing a picture of how energy is used in the home, people can concentrate on what can save them the most energy,” says Eileen Wysocki, an energy auditor for electric cooperatives.
Wysocki starts with a baseload estimate of energy use based upon meter data. Talking with the member-owner, she learns about household size and behavior patterns and considers seasonal factors like heat tape used to prevent water lines from freezing.
Time spent with an energy auditor can help a member avoid ineffective upgrades or the purchase of outsized equipment that might not improve overall comfort or produce savings through recoverable costs.
An energy advisor’s home visit usually gets far more attention than a brief discussion about energy efficiency at a co-op district meeting, a county fair or other community event. Most audits are initiated following a request tied to high bill concerns, when members are really motivated to control their energy costs.
On average, a member can reduce their energy use by about 5 percent if they follow the low-cost or no-cost advice given during the audit. Additional savings of up to 20 percent can be achieved by addressing issues with big-ticket items, such as HVAC replacement, attic insulation or major duct repair discovered during the audit.
Improved energy efficiency not only helps the co-op control peak demand and wholesale power costs, it also provides opportunities to discuss services available to members. Those include rebates, weatherization programs and payment assistance.
To learn more about energy audits available to you, contact your local electric cooperative.
Derrill Holly writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.