October is Energy Awareness Month, a federal effort to help increase energy efficiency for governments and organizations. With increasing legislative and market pressures, energy efficiency programs are common. However, at many utilities, energy efficiency is seen as one of the main causes of flat or declining kWh sales. It is true that energy efficient lighting, insulation and weatherization reduce energy use, but that isn't the entire story.
This Energy Information Administration article from a few years ago shows that changes in heating degree days are also an important factor in declining per capita sales. With increasing climate uncertainty, it can be hard to plan for or predict changes in heating or cooling load.
In fact, that same article shows that there doesn't appear to be a strong relationship between per capita energy efficiency spending and reduced kWh sales.
If energy efficiency alone isn't the cause of declining sales, is there a way for utilities to increase sales and increase efficiency? The key is electrification.
When residential customers switch their home heating and transportation away from fossil fuels, they are not only being more energy efficient, they're increasing their electrical use. This is due to added technological efficiency of heat pumps and electric vehicles. Rather than just giving out light bulbs and thermostats, utilities should actively promote electrification. Their customers will see lower energy bills, and will enjoy the latest technologies, while increased sales can help turn the tide of declining sales.
When utilities focus on real energy efficiency and not just reducing existing electric load, everyone wins.