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The Rise of the Energy Efficiency Utility

Vermont's efforts to curb electricity demand are working, and Delaware is starting the most ambitious plan yet

5 min read

7 May 2008—A Vermont farmer decides to get rid of electric heating for his greenhouses and instead burns waste oil collected free from area restaurants, saving about US $25 000 in four years, after an initial investment of $12 000. A woman living uncomfortably in an old, drafty house insulates the attic and walls, buys new windows, and weather-strips doors, cutting her electricity costs by 30 percent and her heating bills by half. Similar improvements, plus new energy-efficient fans for a walk-in freezer, helped a village general store reduce its annual energy costs by $1800, with an initial investment of $8000.

All those energy-reduction success stories and many, many more can be traced to the activities of Efficiency Vermont, an independent nonprofit provider of energy-efficient services. Similarly structured service providers are now operating with positive results in a number of other states. Established in 2000, Efficiency Vermont helps electricity customers find ways to cut their consumption, often just by providing them with free technical advice—as with the farmer switching to waste vegetable oil—but sometimes by subsidizing the purchase of energy-efficient products like lightbulbs or boilers. The program, administered by the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), is funded by a 4.5 percent fee attached to each customer’s electricity bill.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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