Berkeley Lab study shows publicly owned utilities have lower energy efficiency costs

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A study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, found the cost of saving electricity in publicly owned utilities, or POUs, is lower than in those that are privately owned.

The study found energy efficiency at POUs to cost an additional $0.024/kWh, meaning it would cost an additional 2.4 cents to save the energy it would take to power a 1,000-watt appliance. In comparison, according to a study conducted in 2018, it costs $0.025/kWh to save energy at investor-owned utilities like PG&E — 0.1 cents more than POUs per kilowatt.

Berkeley Lab reached this conclusion by using data from the American Public Power Association, annual reports and regional collections.

The research is intended to provide insight into the spending, implementation and resource-planning of energy-efficient endeavors, according to study co-author Greg Leventis.

“Energy efficiency helps ensure electricity system reliability at the most affordable cost as part of resource adequacy planning and implementation activities,” Leventis said in an email. “Energy efficiency helps ensure electricity system reliability at the most affordable cost as part of resource adequacy planning and implementation activities.”

Leventis also said the information could be used to predict how much power communities need and the cost of efficiency programs to meet those needs.

In contrast to prior research, this is the first study focusing on publicly owned utilities, which served about 15% of U.S. electricity consumers in 2017, according to the study.

“We turn for the first time to programs funded by customers of publicly owned utilities,” the study reads. “POUs account for 60 percent of all U.S. electric utilities.”

Since 2013, Berkeley Lab’s Electricity Markets and Policy Group has been studying energy efficiency, and the current research is part of its ongoing project.

The research analyzes the amount being spent by consumers on energy-efficient systems and the differences according to geographic regions, types of sectors, program types and trends in time.

“Some reasons that costs differ have to do with what types of programs are offered, the region they are offered and the size of the program,” Leventis said in an email.

The study also found there was variability in costs depending on the sector being examined. Commercial and industrial sectors cost the least for consumers at about $0.02/kWh, while low-income sectors cost the most at about $0.133/kWh.

The four regions studied in each sector were the Midwest, Northeast, South and West. According to the study, there is far more variability region-wise in the low-income sector because of potential inconsistency and overlap in the reporting.

Overall, the study projects spending on energy efficiency to increase by 3% per year until 2025.


Contact Devaki Dikshit at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @DevakiDevay.