Helping Alberta save energy, from home to business

Monica Curtis talks about the resounding success of Energy Efficiency Alberta’s programs

Mario Toneguzzi sat down with our CEO, Monica Curtis, to discuss our programs.

What is Energy Efficiency Alberta and its mandate?

Curtis: Energy Efficiency Alberta is working hard to become the province’s expert on saving energy through efficiency – the most cost-effective fuel source. We’re a relatively new provincial agency with a three-part mandate.

The first part is about education: raising awareness about the many benefits of reducing energy use, including saving money, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making homes and buildings more comfortable and safe, and increasing the competitiveness of businesses.

The second part is about designing and delivering programs to help Alberta families, businesses, institutions and non-profits save energy and develop small-scale renewable energy.

And the last part of our mandate is to help expand our province’s energy efficiency and renewable energy sector, to create jobs and grow our economy. This includes making current sectors of our economy, including oil and gas, stronger and more competitive.

In our first full year of operation, I’m proud to say we worked with Albertans across the province to deliver on all three parts of our mandate. By installing nearly 13 million energy-efficient products, 2,300 jobs are being created and Alberta’s economy is growing by $475 million. And Albertans are saving $3 for every $1 invested in energy efficiency, and more than $330 million in energy costs. We published our first annual report back in November – it includes a short video on our first year performance, and lots of stats and stories.

What are the key ways people can reduce their carbon footprint?

Curtis: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one benefit of greater energy efficiency, and for some people they also want to save money and add value and comfort to their home or building.

It used to be that people had to make sacrifices to reduce their energy use – the old “shut off the lights and put on a sweater” approach. While little actions can still add up to real savings on energy bills, energy efficiency today is more about the incredible technology advancements that make saving energy easy. Products like LED lights, smart thermostats, timers, dimmers, power bars and motion sensors. And upgraded insulation and appliances.

For businesses, the availability of energy-efficient equipment is impressive, too, for whatever business you’re in – from food services and hospitality, to arenas, to oil and gas. Our Business Energy Savings and Custom Energy Solutions programs offer lots of energy-saving options for businesses; and our new Home Energy Plan is great place for households to start.

Is this a message that is resonating with people today?

Curtis: I’m pleased to say it is. Our initial suite of programs launched in 2017 and have been hugely popular with Albertans. We’ve been fine-tuning our programs based on feedback and launching new ones to meet Albertans’ unique needs. This includes our Methane Emissions Reduction initiative that is part of our Custom Energy Solutions program for commercial and industrial facilities, our NEET (Non-Profit Energy Efficiency Transition) program for non-profits and an Affordable Housing program.

We’re also offering a Green Loans Guarantee program to make capital improvements easier for industrial and commercial businesses investing in energy-efficiency upgrades or renewable energy installations.

Given Albertans’ strong interest in saving energy, our province’s energy efficiency sector is growing big time. We currently have more than 1,200 businesses – from solar installers to home improvement companies to contractors – offering our programs to their customers. If you’re interested in growing your business, you can learn more about our Efficiency Professionals Network by emailing epro@efficiencyalberta.ca.

What are the biggest challenges in changing people’s behaviour when it comes to energy efficiency?

Curtis: Probably time. Families are busy with lots of things to do in a day and figuring out how to become more energy efficient might not be on the top of their list until it’s time to replace an appliance or do a home reno.

And for businesses, it can also be about time but also competing priorities for capital investments and the technical know-how to understand and better manage energy use. We’re here to change this perception; to show it’s easier than you might think to manage your energy use.

Our financial incentives, rebates and services can make these choices more affordable, allowing you to invest the energy savings in other parts of your family life or business. Information on all our programs is available at efficiencyalberta.ca.

How do you spread the message of energy efficiency in the province?

Curtis: There are several ways we are doing this, and we’re always looking for feedback on how we can reach even more Albertans.

First, we partner with Alberta businesses delivering energy efficiency services. Our network of efficiency professionals is a great source of energy efficiency education and support. These are private businesses already working in your community – engineers, retailers, contractors and solar installation companies. They are the ones who help you understand what the heck an ECM furnace motor is, or why you might need to start with more insulation in your attic before you install a smart thermostat.

And for businesses, there are a growing number of contractors who can help you understand how to save energy – in addition to the useful information and services already being provided by utilities.

We are very active on social media, sharing tips on how to be more energy efficient for no or low cost, plus information on our programs using graphics and short videos. Using social media for education is a very cost-effective way to reach a wide range of Albertans in rural, urban and suburban areas. Some of our educational videos are getting over 100,000 views.

We support community organizations already doing great work in technical training, plus youth, newcomer and seniors’ education. Through grants, we’re helping these organizations do more of what they are already experts at, reaching more Albertans in their homes, classrooms, businesses and communities.

We’re also active in events across the province, from home shows to summer festivals to industry conferences. Last year, we attended more than 400 events and engaged with around 40,000 people. And of course we love it when people share the benefits of energy efficiency. If you’ve participated in one of our programs, or have a great energy-saving tip, give a shout-out on social media. We might feature you or your business in one of our videos.

– Mario Toneguzzi

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