A Legacy of Energy Evaluation: A Conversation with Ed Vine

Ed Vine
July 2013

Since 1978, Ed Vine has been at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), focused on evaluating how technologies and behavior are helping us move toward a more energy-efficient future. When he began his work, energy evaluation experts were self-trained and few. Today, the profession is well armed with research and protocols—a much more widespread and professional field—in good part due to Ed's hard work and dedication.

After 35 years at the lab—and with a Nobel Peace Prize under his belt—Ed retired this year, leaving a legacy that he hopes will continue where he has left off. Even still, Ed won't stray far from Berkeley Lab for long: after a month's sabbatical, he'll be back part time working with the analysts and scientists he's training to continue his work.

Q: What was it like doing energy evaluation work at Berkeley Lab back in 1978? How has it changed?

A: I started work at Berkeley Lab in the Energy Analysis Program. Back then, the evaluation profession was really just a small group of people around the country talking about how to do this work. I was the only one doing this at Berkeley Lab, and to get conversations going, early on I helped organize a conference—the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference—that we've now held every 2 years since 1985.

Today, we have a national and international community, and we've held conferences in many places in the United States as well as in Paris and Rome. We have more people entering the work force in this field, employment for energy evaluators has grown in the private sector, and government agencies and non-profits are promoting this work of finding out which energy efficiency programs work and which do not work. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has designated energy evaluation as a "key area of research," and Berkeley Lab is now the primary evaluation lab for the DOE.

Generally, there are a lot more people involved, more money is being spent, and the field is more highly valued by policymakers. Energy evaluation is now quite ingrained—you could say it has finally been institutionalized in the world of energy efficiency.

Q: Why is the field of energy evaluation important?

A: Evaluation is important because it provides the necessary feedback to measure the energy and demand savings, as well as costs associated with energy efficiency programs and policies. The feedback provided by program evaluation is essential to improving the implementation of ongoing programs and to improve the design and implementation of future programs—and as input to strategic planning and resource procurement. Without evaluation, we really do not know what works and what does not work.

Q: What are the kinds of projects you've worked on?

A: Most of the projects have revolved around three elements: the evaluation of programs, policies, and technologies (new construction programs, the use of air-to-air heat exchangers, and the operation of residential thermostats, for example); the evaluation of occupant behavior in residential and non-residential buildings, looking at the willingness to accept a technology or invest in energy efficiency technology; and the administration and analysis of household surveys.

Q: I know a recent focus of your work has been on climate change. Tell us how that led to a Nobel Peace Prize for your team.

A: I've been moving my work into the climate change arena—particularly forestry projects. Working with many others, including Vice President Al Gore, our work was recognized in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and in 2007 [the IPCC was] awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The IPCC has published seminal studies on climate change, and one of their Special Reports had to do with the evaluation of land use, land use change, and forestry projects. The evaluation methods were adapted from some of the evaluation methods that others and I had developed for the evaluation of energy efficiency projects and programs.

Q: You mention that the evaluation field as a whole is starting to focus more on consumer behavior. What work have you been doing with that focus?

A: It's been enjoyable to see how the focus on consumer behavior has grown in the energy evaluation field, particularly in the last five to six years. In the past, research primarily focused on improving existing technologies and developing new technologies that can reduce energy use and greenhouse gases. Now, there has been more interest in conducting research on the behavior side: how consumers use energy and make decisions about investing in energy efficiency.

Another conference that I helped to organize was the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change (BECC) conference. This annual conference is usually held in Sacramento or in Washington, DC, and is jointly hosted by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the California Institute for Energy and Environment, and the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University.

This conference brings together researchers and policymakers examining the behavioral aspects of energy efficiency in buildings and transportation. It's interesting to see that the conference is attracting a lot more people from the academic world. Usually, conferences in the field attract consultants, utilities, and government, but this conference has about 40 percent attendees from academia. This is helping to make people more aware of what's going on with behavioral energy programs, and building a new network of practitioners, researchers, and academics. The sixth BECC conference will be held this November in Sacramento.

Q: You have also been working with the California Institute for Energy and the Environment (CIEE) for many years now.

A: Yes, I've been wearing two hats since 1990—my Berkeley Lab hat and my CIEE hat. For the CIEE, I work with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), providing technical assistance for strategic planning and energy evaluation. In that role, one of the projects I conducted was to set up a program that funded nine behavior and energy white papers, now recognized around country as a key resource for what we know about behavior and energy. These papers helped lay the baseline for the CPUC and the utilities in their work on designing and implementing improved energy efficiency programs. As a result of all of this, behavior is now an important part of the CPUCs Long-term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan for energy use reduction in California.

Q: Of what accomplishment or work are you most proud?

A: From a work perspective, I'm most proud of the technical work with regard to evaluation and behavior. I worked with others in preparing the California Evaluation Framework report and in developing the California Measurement and Evaluation Protocols that utilities and others are using for evaluating their energy efficiency programs. I am also proud of the work that led to governmental support for research on key behavioral issues. Some of this research was funded by the CPUC and represents one important step in a long series of steps for continued research on behavior.

Q: You are in a good position to talk about trends and emerging issues in the energy evaluation world right now. What is your opinion on where the field is going next?

A: On the macro level, because of climate change, I think energy efficiency will continue to be the primary resource for reducing emissions. Moreover, there will be an increased emphasis on spending more dollars quickly to promote energy efficiency technologies, policies, and behaviors. Rather than waiting for 10 or 20 years to see significant results, policymakers and researchers are now asking how can we get more reductions in emissions more quickly.

Another important trend, that we've already mentioned, is looking at lifestyles and consumer behavior to reduce energy consumption. One big question is if we can reduce our ecological footprint in addition to becoming more efficient. What we're seeing now is that efficiency may not be enough: for example, since refrigerators now use 60 percent less energy than older refrigerators, some people are buying larger ones. And some people have two or three refrigerators and multiple computers and many televisions. So, while these products are more energy efficient than the ones in the past, consumers are buying more products. As a result, consumption lifestyles and related policies are being examined (or should I say "re-examined," since this activity was also conducted in the 1970s and 1980s).

And in the evaluation field, there is a focus on developing the appropriate tests for measuring cost effectiveness. We're now asking, "What is the right test for looking at cost effectiveness?" For example, besides energy savings, the test would include non-energy benefits (like comfort and health benefits), and lower discount rates.

Q: What are the cost-effectiveness tests that you have been examining for evaluating energy efficiency programs?

A: In California, there are two or three tests that we have been examining. The Total Resource Cost (TRC) method primarily looks at the benefits from saving energy. In contrast, the CPUC is examining a new test called the Social Cost Test. The Social Cost Test not only includes all of the costs and benefits of the TRC, but also includes environmental and other non-energy benefits that are not currently valued by the market. People have been talking about changes to the TRC for the last 6 years, and it appears that some progress will be made on using the Social Cost Test in California—and other states may follow. It's not a trivial exercise, and it may take some time for approving such a test.

Q: What will you do in your "retirement?"

A: For the month of July, my wife and I are going on a birding trip to the Galapagos Islands and then to the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador for a month. When we get to the Amazon, we'll take a small plane, then a boat down the Amazon River, then hike for an hour to a lodge. We're looking forward to the trip—and being "disconnected" from phones and the Internet!

When I get back, I'll be returning to Berkeley Lab as a part-time contractor. One of my mentoring activities over the next year is developing a core team that can carry on the work I've been doing, particularly the work on behavior and evaluation. It would be nice to see these two areas continue at the lab, with increased funding and staff. I hope this work doesn't vanish when I leave.

I'll also be continuing to work on a DOE project managing the evaluation of DOE's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program. In this program, that has been going on for a few years and is ending in 2014, DOE gave money to 40 grantees (cities or nonprofit agencies) to promote energy efficiency retrofits, mostly in residential neighborhoods. From an evaluation perspective, we've learned lots of lessons so far, focusing on what works and what does not work. The program has been successful so far is that is has really transformed these local markets.

Market transformation is when you go to a store to buy a new refrigerator or clothes washer—and there are ONLY energy-efficient versions at the store. DOE's program is working on both supply and demand. That's what this Better Buildings program is doing well, working with consumers, utilities, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to improve the energy efficiency markets at the local level.

Kyra Epstein