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Energy efficiency goes mainstream with help of regulations, demand

The light bulb aisle looks vastly different from when Craig Bonzo started working in hardware stores 25 years ago.

Gone are most of the incandescent bulbs that the federal government prohibited over the past few years, replaced by more energy-efficient models with lower wattage, compact fluorescent lights and light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

Bonzo, manager of the T&M Hardware & Rental store in Bellevue, expects more changes after next week when he sees the spring product lineup from co-op Do It Best.

“LED is the way everything is going to go, we’re hearing. And the prices are coming down,” he said.

The energy-efficiency movement, once seen as the exclusive purview of environmentalists, has gone mainstream with the help of government regulations and higher consumer demand for appliances and light bulbs that don’t eat as much electricity.

Efficiency programs are starting to show an impact as the nation’s largest regional grid operator, Montgomery County-based PJM Interconnection, prepares to lower its forecast for peak demand, mostly because of more efficient lighting and appliances in homes.

Electricity suppliers competing for more energy-savvy customers and utilities under state mandates to lower consumption are in many cases leading the push, even though the end goal is for people to use less of the product they sell.

“We educate consumers and give them tips,” said Heather Farber, managing director for northeast retail at NRG Energy. Its NRG Home company supplies electricity through competitive markets in deregulated states such as Pennsylvania and includes options through which 25 percent of a customer’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

In related news, Obama to sign bill to boost energy efficiency in buildings.

Last year, suppliers Direct Energy and Constellation Energy teamed with companies to provide programmable thermostats to new customers.

“There are things consumers can do that are simple, small changes but together can add up to a meaningful change for them,” Farber said. “It’s not like we want them to dramatically change the comfort of their life. Small changes can impact the quantity side.”

Changing light bulbs might be the easiest example of that. The Department of Energy predicts that increased use of LEDs in homes and businesses will cut overall lighting energy consumption in half by 2030, when sales of those bulbs will account for 84 percent of the market.

The federal government’s phase-out of traditional bulbs between 2010 and last year helped start that move, though higher prices for the long-lasting bulbs kept some buyers away at first, Bonzo said.

“Those prices are coming down, and that will be a bigger driving point,” said Bonzo, who is seeing more demand for LED and has installed some in his home.

State government has pushed Pennsylvania’s largest utilities to reduce demand through Act 129 of 2008. In phases, the law prompted utilities to offer rebates and other savings programs for customers who bought certain energy-efficient appliances or performed audits of power use in their homes.

“The benefit for them is if you can curb the growth in demand, the peaks and spikes, you take a lot of strain off their system,” said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for the state Public Utility Commission, which monitors utilities’ compliance.

Utilities and suppliers can further reduce peaks through demand response programs, in which large commercial customers get rebates if they agree to dial back use on the hottest days of the year. NRG is piloting a program with utilities on the eastern side of the state that allows residential customers to join those programs.

In response to all of the programs and efforts, grid operator PJM said it is seeing lower peak demand and has redone its formula to predict those loads with efficiency in mind. The amount of electricity PJM expects to be used on the hottest and coldest days of the year will likely be about 3 percent less than once thought under the new formula.

“It’s really becoming more widely adopted, and the equipment is becoming more efficient,” said Tom Falin, manager of planning at PJM.

This article was written by DAVID CONTI from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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