The problem

The current system of quarterly electricity bills mean that if you accidentally leave the oven on for half an hour it could be up to ninety days until you get any indication of what that slip up cost you. At which point the difference in consumption from previous bills is likely to be lost in a stack of other variations relating to seasonal differences, holidays, visitors, new appliance purchases etc.

Simply recognising your electricity bill is high and wanting to do something about it falls short of the kind of instantaneous feedback that is required to address energy wasteage in most homes. The quicker you can receive feedback on your consumption the quicker you can modify your behaviour and save yourself some money. One way of doing this in the past could have been to walk outside to your meter box every 15 minutes or so and check the reading, do a simple calculation and then walk back inside to take action. Far from practical, I can't imagine too many people having that much spare time on their hands. So how would you achieve a tighter feedback loop?
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A convenient solution

A few weeks back I was waiting for a windscreen to be repaired and decided to get a hot drink at a nearby cafe. As it turns out in a stroke of marketing genius the cafe does not rely solely on people's thirst for its business and has established other potential revenue streams. As I sat and enjoyed my drink I looked out into the remainder of the building which was actually a store specialising in sustainability-related products. From rain water tanks, grey water systems, solar panels, composting bins the list seemed endless. Prior to departing I thought I would just have a look around and stumbled upon the Efergy Wireless Electricity Monitor ( http://www.efergy.com/ - currently can't purchase from this site if in Australia). I had recently moved house and found my new electricity bill to be significantly higher than it had been previously so I did some quick return on investment calculations and decided to give it a try.

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How it works

I am not an Electrical Engineer so I will save you the details about how induction and magnetic fields work but basically the device works by picking up signals produced at the supply to your electricity meter. These are then transmitted wirelessly to a display unit that you place in a handy spot in your house. The display unit also stores the information for analysis later on. This means that when you turn an appliance on you can see the impact to your consumption in real time. The display can be changed to show you either the rate of energy consumption (kW) or the cost per hour. Other views include daily, weekly and monthly averages. The system can also be supplied with software that then allows you to analyse your consumption and identify what behaviour changes to make to reduce your bills by shifting consumption to times of the day when tariffs are lower. You don't need a fancy device to start doing this though, just contact your electricity retailer about the different times of day and associated rates and you can start making savings today.

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Installation

The manual is very clear about the fact that you require a qualified electrician to install this device. No responsibility taken by the manufacturer if you try to DIY.

Conclusion

The device is very good at encouraging you to make changes on the spot as the feedback is near instantaneous. The return on investment has the potential to be high, however, it is only early days for me so I can't skite about any significant savings to date. If you are interested in saving energy and want something that provides simple, immediate feedback on your current consumption habits this is the way to go.

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Where do you get it?

The device can be purchased online ( eg. www.todae.com.au no affiliation) or at your local sustainability product reseller ( eg. The Greenhouse Emporium, 277 Canberra Ave, Fyshwick ).

 
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A few years back a good friend of mine fell in love with the country of Norway. In so doing she worked out she would need a way to make a crust and subsequently offered here unparalleled research capability to the Norwegian multi-national, DNV (or Det Norske Veritas for those with a phobia of acronyms). The wikipedia one-liner on DNV is that they are a classification society organised as a foundation, with the objective of "Safeguarding life, property, and the environment". Basically this puts them in the business of managing risk.

As clever risk managers they worked out a smart way to address the risk of the developed world's unsustainable resource consumption and waste production. Realising the best place to start was internally they have been addressing this through changing the habits of their workforce. The following interview with Jorgen Kadal explains the journey to date as seen through the eyes of the person responsible for getting it off the ground.
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Q1 - Please provide a brief outline of the program

Below I have enclosed the original brochure for the scheme. I think this describes it quite well.

Editor's note: the brochure has been uploaded here but an excerpt is below.

What is WE do?

WE do is a global environmental project that helps 8,000 people working in DNV
limit their personal environmental footprint – which is estimated to be larger or at
least comparable to the footprint from DNV’s operations. To achieve this, DNV will partially finance personal environmental measures. The upper limit is NOK 10,000 (a Norwegian Kroner is approximately AUD 0.192 or USD 0.179 at time of writing) per person, per year, regardless of location. NOK 40 million is set aside to finance the project.

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Q2 - How long did it take from the initial idea to implement the program and what were some of the critical steps along the way?

The idea was conceived during the autumn/winter 2006/2007, and the program was implemented in the spring of 2008.  (see also the interview in the DNV forum magavine uploaded here).

The idea was conceived by myself starting with my growing concern that new technology alone was not enough to reach the required targets for reduction of greenhouse gases, and my increasing disappointment with norwegian politicians who seemed not to be able to put practical measures into action. When DNV got a new CIO in early 2007, he set out to define new visions values and goals, and the synthesis of this was summed up in the statement ´Global impact for a safe and sustainable future´.

Upon reading thisI was inspired to think that perhaps my company could set an example that could inspire the world around us by showing that, through a small encouragement,DNV employees around the world would be willing to back the vision of the company by reducing their personal footprint. The next critical step for me personally was to build up the courage to approach him with this bold idea. His almost immediate response was, ´thank you, this was a great idea, we will do this´. From then on he took it and turned it into what is has become today.

A project manager was named, a project team set up and a WEdo committee consisting of one representative from each business area plus the human Resources/Safety, Health and Environment (HR/SHE) director and myself was established. The first hurdle was to get this through the board of directors.  Then came the process of conducting a global brainstorming session using a discussion forum on the intranet, and then screening the ideas based on their similarities and occurrence. Then the most popular were suggested more or less in their original form, to all the country managers for their approval. The element of local adaption of the eligible measures were included and a final list as you find in the  enclosed  brochure were distributed and a web application form was made available on the intranet. Parallel to this was an important discussion on how to administer the applications and the distribution of funding with the least possible disruption to business in the regions. This was resolved quite elegantly through using the ordinary regime for handling expense statements.

Then an initiative that was also mentioned in the original idea, to apply for tax exemption in Norway for this additional funding, was started. After a few rounds with the finance department, this was finally closed with a negative answer. This was a little disappointing, that an initiative that really showed that the private sector was highly motivated to support both Norwegian society and the global community at large, to reach the targets for reduction of greenhouse gases was seen as just another taxable benefit to the employees.

The final two critical steps where to get acceptance from the board of directors to carry on the programme over a full three year period. Acceptance for the second period was granted, and I am not sure whether acceptance for a third period has been given yet. Part of this process includes documenting the effect of the programme for the total reduction of greenhouse gases, for the satisfaction of the employees in terms of motivation to remain with the company, or be attracted to work there, and general strengthening of the brand.


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Q3 - What is the % uptake by staff members and what is the cost to your organisation as a % of profit after tax?

In the initial brainstorming Over 500 ideas were posted, 50% of employees visited the discussion forum and 100% knew about it.

For the first round of applications in 2008, 50% of the employees (4100) people applied. The cost was about 5% of profit after tax.  

Norway and China were the big doers, and there was a big geographical variation.

For the second round,  3139 people applied, and the cost ratio is expected to be slightly less as the profits are expected to be higher this year.


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Q4 - What are some of the resources employed during the development of the program? A list of key resources that I have put together for my readers can be found here.

Initially footprint calculators on the internet were used to trigger people's awareness. They were linked up from the resource pages on the intranet, and people were generally encouraged to go and try them out. Thenduring the first year, the top management distributed the book ´The hot topic´ to all employees worldwide. This was a very good and objective account for all the main factors and issues affecting climate change and the challenges we are facing to limit the effects of these.


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Q5 - What is the most inspirational employment of the program that you have seen to date?

I think the two most inspirational employments of the programme I have seen is environmentally friendly water heating for a school in china, as is described on page 41 of our annual report, and this year, to see how many people that were very far from even thinking about cycling to work, have really taken on this task and have cycled much more than the required miles to qualify for the funding and are set to keep doing this also in the future.

I am also very inspired by the way this programme has been used in the annual report to illustrate the commitment of the employees of DNV.


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Q6 - What are some of the benefits of this program to your organisation?

One of the main benefits has been referred to as motivation of the employees (implicitly contributing to retention rates and attracting competent people). Many people report back that this programme makes them proud to work in DNV.

Another has been that of motivating employees to align with the vision and goals for DNV to have global impact for a sustainable future through the way they deliver and contribute to further develop our services.

And yet another has been to strengthen DNV's brand as we are trying to position ourselves in the many business opportunities that open as the world tries to tackle climate change issues.


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Q7 - What advice do you have for organisations considering implementing similar programs?

It was definitely a success criteria to involve the whole organisation in the forming of the programme. This created a unique ownership among the employees and helped take down a lot of discussions that could well have strained the management organisation during implementation.

Another success criteria has been to make the administration of the programme as lean as possible so that it is not seen as another large overhead to the organisation.

Another piece of advice that we wish we had established earlier, is to implement measures and calculators for the organisation to measure the effect of the programme along the way. A lot of good energy and motivation (for example to choose to cycle to work) can be created from measuring achievements over time. 

Finally, a strong foundation of committment from the top has been a key element to the success of our programme. 

Thank you Jorgen for a wonderful insight into DNV's WE do program. Any readers who have experiences they would like to share about their own organisation's sustainability programs feel free to leave a comment.

 
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Inaction is a terrible thing. Reasons for inaction abound and at the end of the day one can always look back and say 'well we could have moved a bit quicker on this or that'. One common reason for inaction is cost. We see a potential change we would like to make and we think that we can't afford it. Long term return on investment calculations take time and tire our brains so we simply avoid the cost. This single factor is a massive barrier to the kind of changes that need to be made in order to wind up a lot of unsustainable practices. The following are some examples of what exists in a lot of homes today:

 - archaic hot water systems;
 - no or ineffective insulation;
 - short eaves leading to negligible summer shading;
 - single glazed windows;
 - low voltage (but high consumption) downlights; and
 - plumbing systems and stormwater systems that let a lot of good water simply run away from your property.
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The choice to let these practices continue is a result in some cases of people not being aware of the alternative but in many cases simply being averse to the expenditure. In Australia the time has come to try and reverse a bit of that. In their first budget announcement back in 2008 the Federal Government allocated funds to a Green Loans program. The steps are as follows:

1. Register. Home owners register for the service by calling 1800 895 076 or visiting environment.gov.au/greenloans (I recommend calling for a more speedy result);
2. Assessment. A Home Sustainability Assessment is conducted by an accredited assessor who makes recommendations on what needs to be done to improve the sustainability of your home in terms of energy and water consumption;
3. Obtain Finance. You apply for a $10,000.00 four year interest free loan through one of the nominated financial institutions; and
4. Reap The Benefits. You spend the money on the necessary home improvements and pay the loan off over four years interest free.
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Bargain. Based on a personal loan rate of 13.40% this is a saving of $2,972.70 over the four years or approximately $62.00 per month. The really cool thing about this is that it can be used in conjunction with other rebate schemes. Whether you feel like spending the money or not I strongly recommend booking in for the Home Sustainability Assessment as it will help you with future planning regarding repairs and renovations. There is nothing like the view of an independent professional to help shed some light on the options available.

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But Jud, what if I don't own my own home?

Then get yapping and pass this onto people you know who do.

But Jud, what if I don't live in Australia?

Then alert your member of parliment to what is a great example of a Governement taking the initiative.

I don't want to spend $10,000.00, I have other financial committments, what is the value of this to me?

Although you may not feel like spending it now if you make the assessor aware of your situation they can identify relatively cheap or heavily subsidised options that can save you money in the long term, potentially make your home more comfortable and reduce the impact your lifestyle has on our precious resources.

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Have you had a Home Sustainability Assessment done? What was it like and what were the recommendations? Have you implemented them?

More to come in future posts as Rebate Hound continues snooping. In the meantime pickup the phone if you haven't already.