Mar 1, 2021
What will it take for municipalities, businesses and homeowners to get on board with energy efficiency and why is this step so important? In part two of our discussion with Corey Diamond, Executive Director of Efficiency Canada, we zoom in to look at energy efficiency from a local level. We discuss the common barriers for implementing energy efficiency as well as what’s needed from city leaders and utilities to help the communities embrace it.
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Dan Seguin 00:02
Hey everyone, welcome back to this special episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. I'm thrilled you could join me for part two of our discussion about energy efficiency with Corey Diamond, the executive director of Efficiency Canada. In our last episode, part one, we talked about the importance of energy efficiency on a country's economy and its global impact on the environment. So on today's episode, we're going to bring energy efficiency down to brass tacks. We're going to sharpen our focus on the involvement and local impact for a community and for business and homeowners. So what does that look like? It's EV infrastructure, the construction of new buildings to be more energy efficient, it's retrofitting existing buildings, improving the efficiency of appliances, and electrical equipment - all of which put us on the right path to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and helping us live within our environmental means. As an electric utility company, Hydro Ottawa recognizes that our industry and service model is in the midst of a significant transformation, taking on a more decentralized, customer centric, technologically advanced and climate focus form. With that will come increases in clean energy generation, more electrification of transportation, and building heating, energy storage, smart grid control, and greater user control. And at the core of all of this is energy efficiency. What's fascinating from my talk with Corey Diamond is how much power is actually in our own hands when it comes to using energy more wisely. These actions have a positive impact on the environment, on our finances, in the long run, and even on our property values and in job creation. But is energy efficiency accessible? Can everyone and anyone participate? Similar to the last episode? Here is today's big question: What are the benefits of energy efficiency? And why is it important to municipalities, businesses and homeowners to get on board? How can cost as a barrier be addressed? Once again, please welcome Corey Diamond. Corey, thank you so much for joining me today.
Corey Diamond 03:19
Great to be here again, Thanks, Dan.
Dan Seguin 03:20
I've read that in some cases, energy efficiency investments can be as profitable or even more profitable than renewable energy investments, because they provide a higher and faster return on investment. Is energy efficiency the first step that municipalities, industry, businesses and homeowners should consider to take control of their energy uses, and helping the environment?
Corey Diamond 03:47
Yeah, that's a really good question. In fact, you know, traditionally, in this sector, they, you know, they used to call energy efficiency, quote-unquote, the "first fuel", so it was kind of like, what's the first thing we should be doing and let's, let's look at getting rid of our energy waste first. And you do see a lot of that now, as kind of the first entry point. And, you know, but actually, what's happening in the sector is very interesting, because the cost of renewables is coming down so much, that you're starting to kind of see a melding, you know, it's essentially an erosion of the traditional barriers of, you know, traditional energy efficiency versus renewable or other carbon reduction strategies like, you know, smart homes or smart technology or shaving peak and things like that. So these kinds of barriers between what's storage versus efficiency versus renewables are really starting to kind of be removed, which is really interesting. It's also interesting because the people who are doing the work can do it all, right. And so you don't have to call an efficiency expert or like an HVAC technician, and then calling a renewal person, a lot of that's kind of changing and these businesses are figuring out how to provide kind of a one stop on all of it. Guess I would say the most important thing is, you know, from a building's perspective that, that you look at the building or your home as a system, and you start to think of it not just by individual measures based on what, you know, grants or incentives may be available, but you're actually looking at as a system and what makes sense as a system to do. And so, you know, it may not make sense to put in such a large mechanical system, if you've tackled things like, you know, the insulation, or the windows and things like that, you know, as far as how it fits in with other things, our friends at the atmospheric fund in Toronto, they did significant deep retrofits of large apartment buildings. And they found actually, the one thing that brought down the ROI so much that enabled the investment in some of the larger mechanical systems or the more kind of the deeper retrofits was water, was replacing toilets, and that they actually went in and save, because these old toilets were leaking so much, they save so much money on toilets, they were able to install, you know, the top of the line technology to heat the building in a low carbon way. So it's interesting, you know, they didn't go in it just trying to find money or try to kind of force in a solution, they kind of looked at it holistically. And because of that, they were able to find the savings to cover the costs and some of the larger ticket items.
Dan Seguin 06:22
Based on the research Efficiency Canada has done across the country. And in other parts of the world. What would you say are some of the grassroot initiatives or community initiatives that have helped advance energy efficiency and municipal climate action plans?
Corey Diamond 06:40
Well, I can tell you a little bit about our model, you know, we set out from the beginning, not only to kind of be a traditional kind of policy shop, and you know, making sure we're advancing the right solutions or analyzing the right policies. But we also want it to be a bit of a grassroots organization that spent time organizing and mobilizing the sector. And in part one I talked about, you know, the fact that there are over 436,000 people in Canada do this work. Well, up until very recently, most elected officials didn't know that and didn't know or couldn't identify constituents, someone in their constituency that was doing this work. So we do a lot of that kind of activity where we connect people to their local elected officials and coordinate meetings, we've done over 50 calls with MPs and local constituents. And it matters a lot. And it matters because, you know, I can spew off all the stats I want on this podcast, or in a meeting and things people don't remember that stuff. But they remember stories, and, you know,you're a podcast host, you get it. And, you know, they remember stories. And so we really try to coach people on how to tell their story. And you know, making sure that those stories stick and that's starting to work. And we're starting to kind of build out a broad based political constituency. When we started, we had zero people in our database, we have over 10,000 now, you know, that we can turn on and say, you know, what, we need you, we need you, if you want to see these types of policies, here's a very simple way for you to get in touch with your elected official and make that happen. But we're not the only ones doing that, you know, I have heard anecdotally that the the youth climate groups are doing amazing work and mobilizing at the local level, the town of Whitby, just just east of where I am in Toronto, you know, just passed a green development standard, and that the youth climate folks were right in there, you know, engaged in the process, pushing for this. And it's really great to see, you know, see the passion that is coming from, from younger folks who get this stuff and pushing our elected officials to make it happen. So that gives us some inspiration as well.
Dan Seguin 08:48
As I'm sure you're aware, the City of Ottawa has a plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. With an initiative called Energy Evolution, energy efficiency for both commercial and residential buildings is one of the key strategies to achieving this goal. Looking at our local context, how can we tackle energy efficiency in the fastest, most cost effective way?
Corey Diamond 09:13
So I looked up the plan and and you know, is minded to you know, what the impact is of the built environment in Ottawa, very similar to other cities, but 37% of greenhouse gas emissions reductions in Ottawa are going to come from buildings. So that's a heavy lift. So what do we need to do you know, if you look at the the strategic approach that the City of Ottawa is laid out, you know, it's in line with what a lot of the major municipalities across the country are doing certainly Vancouver, with its six bold moves in Toronto got transformed TO, Halifax has a great new climate plan. And they're looking at, you know, a number of things and Ottawa is no different. You got to think about electrifying personal and commercial vehicles, we got to retrofit all of our residential and commercial buildings. And then interestingly, for Ottawa was around turning organic waste into renewable natural gas, which is, again, technology that is available today. So these are some things that the City of Ottawa can immediately move on, and start to kind of advance through its own ways to compliment what the province and the federal government is doing. But specifically, what can the City of Ottawa do and we've looked at different models around the country that have different ways of doing things. And, you know, I often think of energy efficiency, it does suffer a little bit from not treating it, the way we treat other aspects of our life, you know, this kind of Amazon, Netflix, kind of Uber, UberEats kind of world we're in of convenience. It's hard to renovate your house, it's hard to find out what to do, it's hard to find out, you know, the right suppliers and the right priorities and things, what we need is a concierge to kind of help us do that. And there's some great, you know, examples of that, and cities around the world have, you know, basically somebody, through an app or through phone calls, just helping you figure all that out. So that's something great the City of Ottawa could do. The second thing it can do is provide financing, you know, a number of cities around the country are instituting what's called PACE financing, allowing people to essentially put the capital cost on their, onto their property bill, paying it back through their property taxes every year. So that's a really interesting thing that is enabled in Ontario and Ottawa could, I know is thinking about it, and could move fast on that. And then, like I said, about Whitby, you know, there are opportunities for the City of Ottawa to be more aggressive on codes and standards, new buildings around supporting, you know, renovations of buildings and things like that we need to move fast. And, and Ottawa wouldn't be the only mover on this, like I said, there's municipal leaders across this country who are taking this seriously and driving it alongside the people in Ottawa.
Dan Seguin 12:10
What are your thoughts on the fact that every decarbonisation strategy assigns a major role to energy efficiency, and also places an even greater emphasis on electrifying buildings and vehicles?
Corey Diamond 12:24
Well, while it's no surprise to me, yeah, I've been doing this 18 years. So you know, finally people are getting it. But you know, it's kind of one of those things where I think energy efficiency, and these kinds of things are starting to complement or essentially are becoming the engine, for lack of a better, you know, metaphor behind this great policy, ambition, you know, the world is moving towards a net zero emissions economy. This is going to be a part of us getting there and, you know, efficiency is estimated to contribute about 44 megatons of Canada's climate commitments that's gonna overwhelmingly come in cities and provinces and federal policies where you're gonna, you know, you can turn those levers. And the way I think about efficiency, too, is I may have mentioned this in the last episode, part one, but, you know, energy efficiency makes every other carbon reduction strategy easier and better. One example, just just just south of us in New York State, they have a renewable portfolio standard, where they're saying, you know, successive, you know, sets of years, we're going to continue to ratchet up the amount of renewables that are providing energy to to people in New York, well, it's much easier to do all of that if you're getting rid of the energy waste first. So you don't have to build as much infrastructure through panels and windmills and storage if you're using just less first. So there's a really nice tie in and a really strategic approach to be as aggressive as possible on efficiency to not only help out, you know, obviously customers, but to help out on this renewable portfolio standard, and they kind of work together. So we're seeing a lot more of that. And that's probably why you're seeing efficiency central to decarbonisation strategies is one of the safest bets out there.
Dan Seguin 14:25
Corey, your team at Efficiency Canada has done a lot of work to quantify the social, economic, and environmental benefits of energy efficiency. Can you talk about those benefits in a local context like Ottawa, for instance?
Corey Diamond 14:42
I can speak more stats, but I'm not going to because I like to tell stories and I want you know, we tell a lot of stories. And so, you know, if you think about it in the context of Ottawa, we look at people like Andy Coburn - Andy works as the director Education and Training at the North American insulation Manufacturers Association. He's also president of the Home Builders Association and Lanark and Leeds and Andy's you know, Andy's is Andy, he's a Red Seal, General carpenter, he's a certified Passive House consultant. He comes from this great background of understanding kind of, you know, the built environment with a passion for like construction. And, you know, he was in commercial radio, he's done marketing and trades, and, you know, he's teaching and he's worked with a lot of nonprofits. So he's kind of a really interesting guy, and you meet someone like Andy, and he kind of, you know, you bask in his passion and kind of his glow for this type of work. And there's so many of those people around the country we call it our human energy. That's the title for our campaign around that. And, and he's a perfect example of that, and I bet you there's dozens more people like Andy in the Ottawa area that are doing this every day, you know, 8-10-12 hours a day driving this and then volunteering at night to try and push another agenda. And so that's the benefit, right? That's the local context. And it was just, you know, people like Andy Coburn,
Dan Seguin 16:13
Let's tackle human behavior, from EV adoption, to performing energy upgrades. to people using public transportation. Research has shown that 30% of potential energy savings is lost due to a variety of social, cultural and economic factors. How do we address these barriers, so everyone can participate and help our economy be more energy efficient?
Corey Diamond 16:42
Yeah, it's a really good question. So let's start with the people who have the means first, you know, I was reflecting with my daughter during the Superbowl, we were watching some of the commercials. And there is a real kind of juxtaposition between the types of ads that you're seeing from government related COVID versus let's say, you're seeing from you know, quest trade and quest trade is like kind of an online investment app. And the COVID ads, you know, are typical ads that we would see around, you know, essentially scaring us about the current situation is an extremely scary situation. But almost like using fear as a way to kind of try and get people to behave in a certain way. The Quest trade ads were all about what your friends are doing, and what your neighbors are doing, and what reviews you're reading online. And it was really interesting, the language they were using around not, you should go into this app and save money, but all my friends are doing it. And that is why you should do it too. And so people get information from their peers, they get information from their friends, they get information from social norms, these are the kinds of things that affect our behavior. And the more that we can tap into that element of our brain, the more that we can see, you know, these kinds of energy behaviors and upgrades and things happen because they become social norms. So that's interesting. And that's kind of what gets us to tipping points. So that's for the part of the population that, middle upper middle class, and kind of, you know, who have had the meets. And that's I think, where you tap in, but a large part of the population, it's difficult to participate in climate mitigation, you know, people in this world, find it very difficult just to get by, and now you're asking them to carry a greater burden. And so there are lots of different ways to make that happen. There's some great examples across the country of organizations that are supporting those that have less means to participate in this transition. And they do it by you know, common sense - how do you tap into people's cultural and social norms? How do you find ambassadors that can speak the language? How do you make sure that things are done in a turnkey way, for those that don't have the means to invest capital upfront? And this is why as I mentioned, in part one around, you know, we desperately need to ramp up investment in programming for low to moderate income Canadians who are spending a lot of their income on their energy bills, and how do we make that happen? So different kinds of strategies to work with local community organizations, and different, service providers who may not be in our traditional energy sector, but have those kinds of relationships and the trust of the people in those communities. And that's how you do it. That's how you kind of tap into those communities and make that work and we're really kind of looking forward to ramping that up this year. As part of our advocacy work,
Dan Seguin 20:01
Hydro Ottawa has been providing customers access to conservation expertise while promoting designing and delivering energy efficiency programs since 2005. This focus on energy efficiency has enhanced customer value, while delivering important benefits to the electricity system. What do you think is the most important role local utilities can play moving forward in helping customers take full advantage of energy efficiency?
Corey Diamond 20:31
Yeah, it's a good question. And you know, utilities across the country have something going for them. And that's authority - you're coming from a place of authority. And so the information you provide is, is meaningful to people and, and it's stable, it's a stable institution in this country, and people get information, and they can definitely trust it. So I would spend as much time as possible, you know, maximizing that level of trust. You know, the other thing is, energy efficiencies come a long way, and how we communicate it. And it used to always just be that Oh, save energy, save money, and then kind of realized, you know, what, people waste money all the time people buy $5 coffees, you know, when they could make it at home, like, people buy sports cars that are 10 times the cost of what it takes to get around. And, you know, money isn't necessarily the motivator, saving money isn't the motivator we thought it was. But, you know, Hydro Ottawa should be, you may already be doing this, you know, talking about efficiency is a comfort issue, talking about it as a convenience issue, talking about it as something that builds communities - these are things that puts people to work in your local community. These are the reasons why people like efficiency. And yeah, let's save a bit of money as well. But it's typically not the primary kind of motivator and these other kinds of things can be exploited or tapped into. And so you can make sure that you're maximizing the programs that you have,
Dan Seguin 22:06
In what ways, has the energy efficiency sector been impacted by the pandemic - positive or negative?
Corey Diamond 22:15
That's a tough question. I mean, there's not a lot of data yet. On this, we've heard some anecdotes that, you know, on the one hand, programs in the commercial and industrial sector have been doing quite well. I mean, you've got empty buildings, you've got a workforce that's, that's moving, you've got, you know, maybe some money lying around that can be invested. So when there's shorter term paybacks, it makes sense. You know, I think small businesses - they've been hit, those types of programs have been hit, because small businesses have been in so many ways, they just cannot put, you know, an ounce of energy or any time towards thinking about this, in the US has been a lot worse. I think in the US, you saw a lot of job losses in this sector, the clean energy sector, and energy efficiency in particular was hit extremely hard. It's starting to bounce back. But they didn't have the same kinds of government support that we had for small businesses through the types of federal programs. So we didn't see as many of the types of layoffs and things that you saw south of the border, but that story's still being written. So I don't have a complete answer yet. But at some point, there'll be some reflection looking back and, and hopefully some lessons that we learn from that to kind of make sure that the sector remains a resilient part of Canada's economy.
Dan Seguin 23:37
Are you ready to close us off with some rapid fire questions?
Corey Diamond 23:42
All right, let's do it.
Dan Seguin 23:44
Okay, here we go. What is your favorite word?
Corey Diamond 23:48
Triskaidekaphobia - It's the fear of Friday the 13th.
Dan Seguin 23:52
What is the one thing you can't live without?
Corey Diamond 23:55
My record collection
Dan Seguin 23:57
Now, what habit or hobby have you picked up during shelter in place?
Corey Diamond 24:05
You know, I don't know if it's a habit or a hobby, but the best thing is, I have lunch every day with my family. And it's amazing. I never used to take lunch. I would eat my desk. And now I eat lunch with my family every day. And it's awesome.
Dan Seguin 24:20
If you could have one superpower, Corey, what would it be?
Corey Diamond 24:25
Dan Seguin 24:27
Now, if you could turn back time and talk to your 18 year old self, what would you tell him?
Corey Diamond 24:33
Calm down. I guess I'm telling myself that right now. It's still to this day.
Dan Seguin 24:41
Lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector?
Corey Diamond 24:46
It's got to be the people. I mean, we're all humans on this planet. And you know, the people we interact with every day are the best and it's just a joy to work with the people. I work with. With that Efficiency Canada, our team is amazing. If anybody out there has had any interaction, you probably agree. And but just the external stakeholders, the people in the sector everywhere, just such good well meaning people trying to change the world and it's an honor to work with them.
Dan Seguin 25:19
Okay, well, Corey, we've reached the end of another episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. I truly hope you had a lot of fun. And thank you for joining me today. Cheers.
Corey Diamond 25:31
I did. Yeah, it was really cool. I hope people enjoyed listening to it. And thank you. You're a great host!
Dan Seguin 25:38
Thank you for joining us today. I truly hope you enjoyed this episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. For past episodes, make sure you visit our website hydroottawa.com/podcast. Lastly, if you found value in this podcast, be sure to subscribe. Anyway, this podcast is a wrap. Cheers, everyone.