With goal of sharing knowledge about each state’s efforts, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) teamed up with the National Association of State Energy Offices (NASEO) and the energy departments of Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia to form a multistate residential energy efficiency collaborative. Using $3 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, ADECA launched the Alabama Worthwhile Investments Save Energy (AlabamaWISE) program to help make homes in the Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama, metropolitan areas healthier, safer, and more comfortable, while lower utility costs and increasing their value.
AlabamaWISE fostered a network of local contractors who conducted residential energy assessments using the Energy Performance Score (EPS) tool and promoted and performed upgrades. The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance and Earth Advantage Institute also provided assistance to the AlabamaWISE program.
AlabamaWISE, along with Washington, Massachusetts, and Virginia, formed four distinct state-level residential energy efficiency programs with shared commonalities, including: the use of the EPS platform, community-based partnerships, financing products, and stakeholder education and training.
Managed by Nexus Energy Center, AlabamaWISE achieved success through high involvement from contractors to market the initiative to homeowners, conduct whole-home energy assessments, and complete upgrades. The program also invested in education and training for energy assessment and real estate professionals, as well as rebates and low-interest financing options. Read more in the AlabamaWISE final report.
To develop the infrastructure and workforce capacity for an effective residential energy efficiency program, AlabamaWISE engaged with partners at the national, state, and local levels.
- Residential Program Design: The program trained a team of approved contractors to provide outreach, perform assessments, and conduct upgrades. As part of the home energy assessment, contractors used the EPS tool, which allows for home-to-home comparisons of energy and carbon impacts, to educate and engage with homeowners. All upgrades completed under AlabamaWISE were subject to third-party quality assurance reviews, and an independent review of the program found that eight out of 12 customers interviewed were very satisfied with their program participation; 87% (81 out of 93 customers surveyed) were very satisfied with contractors’ work.
- Marketing and Outreach: AlabamaWISE undertook an array of marketing and outreach activities, including attendance at local events, public radio, local television, and a comprehensive program website. In an effort to minimize expenditures, AlabamaWISE invested less in broad marketing campaigns and more in building the capacity of its participating contractors, which used energy professionals to conduct outreach to homeowners on a more personal level. Messaging related to improved home comfort was found to be a better motivator for program participation than the associated financial savings.
- Financing: Each homeowner could access up to $350 in rebates for the energy assessment, and an additional $400 for approved energy upgrades. Through a revolving loan fund, the AlabamaWISE loan program offered unsecured personal loans up to $15,000 at 6% interest for upgrades in owner-occupied, single-family homes. Homeowners whose upgrades were projected to reduced their energy consumption by at least 20% were also eligible for a $3,000 rebate for solar photovoltaic system installations.
- Workforce Development: AlabamaWISE partnered with Advanced Energy to conduct tailored training sessions to improve the technical and sales knowledge of participating contractors. Earth Advantage Institute (EAI) provided trainings to assessors and contractors on the use of the EPS tool. For those in appraisals and real estate, EAI hosted an Appraising Green Homes course and a two-day Sustainability Training for Accredited Real Estate Professionals (S.T.A.R.) course. In partnership with Drake State Technical College, AlabamaWISE also offered weatherization and Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification trainings.
In addition to the knowledge gained by partnering with other state programs, AlabamaWISE learned the following lessons within its own state:
- Invest in the local workforce. The success of AlabamaWISE was largely attributed to its investment in workforce development, which created a knowledgeable and connected network of local contractors.
- Consider a long-term approach to market-building. The time constraints of grant funding combined with a lack of local capacity for energy efficiency programs required AlabamaWISE to spend quickly and learn on the fly. The program suggests that prolonged commitment to low-cost incentives, strategic planning, and capacity-building would be best to cultivate a sustained market.
- Foster engagement through homeowner-friendly energy tools. Use of the EPS tool allowed assessors to convey to homeowners energy issues and opportunities in a simple, yet stimulating, manner.
- Amplify efforts through program branding. A successful residential energy efficiency program requires both awareness and trust from local homeowners. AlabamaWISE worked to involve previous participants and well-respected community members in its branding efforts.
- Develop and maintain partnerships, both big and small. AlabamaWISE was born from a multi-state energy collaborative and implemented with the help of local utility companies, instutitions, and organizations. These partnerships boosted the program’s reputation and effectiveness, and will serve as the cornerstones of future energy efficiency efforts in the area.
By forming a network of trained contractors, engaging with local organizations, and educating the public about the benefits of home energy upgrades, AlabamaWISE built a strong base for the future:
- Nexus Energy Center will continue to operate AlabamaWISE in the Huntsville metropolitan area as a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® sponsor and continue to partner with organizations that will help with its long-term plans to support statewide residential and commercial energy efficiency programs.
- Nexus Energy Center teamed up with the Earth Advantage Institute to create an online version of the S.T.A.R. course offering, which will be used to reach broader audiences of real estate professionals.
- Final Technical Report
- Summary of Reported Data
- Data Dashboard
- Alabama’s Approach to Building a Sustainable Home Energy Efficiency Industry