California Dream 2.0

Energy Efficiency: A Resource For The Masses

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog.

By: Jessica Feingold, EDF Financial Policy Fellow

EDF believes that On-Bill Repayment (OBR) can do for efficiency what the third-party finance model has done for solar.

A recent post on, entitled ‘Solar is for the wealthy? Not anymore!’ highlights the growth of residential solar projects in middle-income markets (areas with median incomes of $50k-$100k) at the same time that financing became widely available from the private sector. While wealthier people have always been more likely to be able to afford the upfront costs of a solar installation, the introduction of solar leases and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) has extended the opportunity to a much wider range of consumers. This increase was described in detail in the 2012 California Solar Initiative Assessment. The success of solar among middle income households – achieved by eliminating upfront costs and allowing for monthly repayment through a solar lease or PPA structure – lends support to the notion that low-cost financing will be critical to making similar advancements in energy efficiency.

EDF has been working to create an OBR program in California that would provide financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades. OBR uses private capital to finance these clean energy upgrades at no upfront cost to consumers. However, OBR differs from the existing clean energy financing models in that it allows for repayment of a clean energy investment on the customer’s monthly utility bill. This reduces the administrative burden of an additional bill, while at the same time strengthening the credit of the loan by leveraging historically strong utility payment history. Thus, OBR would provide low-cost capital to consumers for clean energy upgrades.

Middle-income earners, in particular, stand to benefit from OBR, since they otherwise do not have access to low-cost, unsecured financing. Middle-income households are highly price-sensitive and likely do not have sufficient savings or home equity available to make clean energy investments that would reduce their utility bills, resource use and reliance on grid power. That is precisely why private sector financing was critical to promoting solar among middle-income households. Energy efficiency projects, on the other hand, have not yet attracted the low-cost private capital needed to achieve such widespread success.

OBR is an innovative financing solution that would allow middle-income households to realize the long-term benefits of energy efficiency, and provide more affordable financing for renewable energy projects as well.

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Smart Meters Are Key To A Smart Grid

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Energy Exchange Blog.

By: Cassandra Brunette, EDF Office of Chief Scientist Research Associate

Source: PG&E

A well-designed smart grid is critical to the clean energy revolution we need – enabling significantly greater use of clean, renewable, domestic energy resources and improved air quality to protect the health of millions of Americans now harmed by dangerous air pollution.

Smart meters are a key component of the smart grid. They unlock air quality, climate pollution and public health benefits by enabling two-way, real-time communication that gives households, small businesses, manufacturers and farmers (and the utilities that serve them) the information they need to cut energy use and electricity costs. These devices help ensure that every day energy users reap the many benefits of the smart grid.

However, as a recent PBS NewsHour report explained, some activist groups and individuals in areas where smart meters have been deployed have expressed concerns over exposure to radio frequencies (RFs) resulting from the use of this technology. EDF supports further research and opt-out programs for those concerned. But what is missing from the PBS report is a clear account of the current, available scientific evidence on smart meters and health. EDF uses the best available science in all of its programs, and our smart grid initiative is no exception.

I am a member of EDF’s science team out of the San Francisco Bay Area and have dug deep into the peer-reviewed literature on health effects of smart meters, as well as independent assessments by agencies and industry groups and reports from government agencies. Here is what we know:

Research shows that every day humans come into contact with RFs from a wide variety of sources, including – but not limited to – wireless or cellular phones, microwaves, wireless internet routers, hair dryers, baby monitors and wireless laptops. Each has varying levels of exposure that depend on the technology and – importantly – on distance from the source.

One example in our daily lives is the use of a cell phone. A study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) found that during a call, cell phones held at the ear generate exposure levels between 1000-5000 microwatts per square centimeter (µW/cm2). In comparison, when transmitting, smart meters create exposure levels of approximately 8.8 µW/cm2. And that’s if a person is standing right in front of the meter. In homes and businesses, people are much farther away from their electric meter, so exposure levels are far lower. This means that a cell phone call exposes a person to hundreds of times more RFs than a transmitting smart meter. Moreover, smart meters only transmit signals roughly 2-5% of the day (approximately 30-70 minutes).

Source: CCST

The chart to the right (units in µW/cm2), from a report by the California Council on Science and Technology, puts smart meters in context with other RF emitting technologies. Keep in mind that this chart compares smart meters at a hypothetical maximum exposure level with transmission occurring during 100% of the day. Even at these hypothetical maximums, exposure from smart meters is significantly lower than other technologies already in use.

Assessments also show that impacts from RFs come in two forms, thermal (heat-related) and non-thermal. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets safety standards for thermal impacts. Smart meter exposure levels fall well below the FCC’s limits for safety for thermal impacts. As for non-thermal impacts, the cumulative impacts of low-dose, long-term exposure are uncertain. To date, there is no scientific evidence of non-thermal impacts from smart meter RF emissions. EDF supports continued research on any possible health impacts of all RF emitters, but given the current standard for thermal impacts and uncertainties of non-thermal impacts, there is no evidence that the public would benefit from additional standards.

EDF’s number one priority is environmental and public health safety. We advocate for a “smart grid done right” to quote a message by EDF’s President Fred Krupp, and we are not alone in this effort. Though the PBS NewsHour story references “environmentalists” broadly opposed to a smarter grid, EDF is one of many environmental organizations strongly advocating for grid modernization as the clear path to lessening our dependence on fossil fuels and moving us toward a clean, healthy, low-carbon energy system. Our science team will continue thorough assessments of the best available science on this topic and our work with utilities, regulators and the smart grid industry to protect the environment and the health of customers.

For more information on the many benefits of the smart grid, please view EDF’s fact sheet here.

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