Two New Programs Push the Envelope

September 01, 2011
September/October 2011
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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CattauragusThis home, served by Cattauragus Community Action in New York, received a solar photovoltaic and solar hot water system through the SERC grant. The PV system should offset 30-40% of the family's electrical usage. (DOE)

Over the past 34 years, DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has been steadily innovating and improving to deliver better energy efficiency services to low-income families throughout the nation. From the early years of performing basic upgrades, like caulking and insulating, WAP has transformed to a comprehensive, whole-house approach, with computerized audit tools and advanced diagnostic equipment. A $5 billion investment in WAP through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Recovery Act) has greatly expanded the program, and as of May 2011, over 450,000 families had received weatherization services that improved the energy efficiency and comfort of their homes. The program is also creating and supporting thousands of local jobs—over 14,500 in the first quarter of 2011—putting carpenters, electricians, and factory workers back to work installing insulation, upgrading appliances, and improving heating and cooling systems.

WAP’s history of advancement and the recent expansion through the Recovery Act have also led to two new programs designed to drive more innovation and provide even greater energy and cost savings to families across the United States.

The first, the Weatherization Innovation Pilot Program (WIPP), will accelerate innovations in whole-house weatherization for low-income families. Through this program, which began in 2010, DOE has awarded $30 million to a total of 16 grantees. Grantees are tasked with applying an experimental approach to the business-as-usual model, with a focus on improving the key performance metrics of weatherization: saving more energy and money in low-income clients’ homes, and getting the weatherization job done with less federal investment. A key component of WIPP is leveraging the federal funding. DOE has set a goal of bringing in three nonfederal dollars for every DOE grant dollar issued, which means that $120 million of weatherization services will be provided but only 25% of those funds will come from the taxpayers.

The second new program, Sustainable Energy Resources for Consumers (SERC), provides grants that allow local weatherization agencies to expand upon the technologies they install in homes, including both renewable-energy and energy efficiency technologies that cannot currently be installed under the traditional WAP. These new technologies include solar electricity, small-scale wind energy generation, various water heating technologies, in-home energy monitors, heat pumps, and cool roofs, among others.

Weatherization Innovation—a Scientific Approach

The WIPP grants address the pressing need to increase the rate and total number of low-income residential energy retrofits in the most cost-effective manner. DOE approaches these grants as 16 experiments in how weatherization might be done a little differently, and ultimately more effectively. These grantees will apply four main approaches to accomplish this: financial tools, green and healthy homes, new technologies and techniques, and workforce development and volunteer models.

Financial Tools

The pilot programs that focus on financial tools will explore how a diverse range of financing mechanisms might be used to expand the reach of the federal grant, while still providing the benefits of high-quality weatherization for low-income clients. To investigate these key issues, DOE has funded six grantees to test financial models that allow for greater private sector leveraging.

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