Mass. energy efficiency program goes virtual to help with rise in home electricity use

BOSTON — With businesses closed during the stay-at-home advisories, electricity consumption overall is down in New England compared to the same time period last year, the operator of the region’s power grid told Boston 25 News, but with more people working and staying home, personal use is likely higher than normal.

ISO-New England compared certain dates in March 2020 to the same period in 2019 and observed between a 3 to 5% decrease in electricity usage due to the pandemic and slightly warmer temperatures. While the data isn’t broken down into residential and business use, ISO-New England said it does believe home energy usage is up as a result of most people remaining home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

That increased likelihood that personal utility bills are increasing during a difficult economic time has led energy efficiency programs like Mass Save to get creative, said Stephan Wollenburg of National Grid, one of the utilities partnering in the statewide program.

“People are spending more time at home, which means their energy consumption is likely to go up and energy efficiency is the best way to try to control those costs and bring them back down,” Wollenburg said. "We’re trying to make this flexible and we’re trying to make this work as best as we can.”

Normally, a Massachusetts resident would call Mass Save to schedule an appointment for an in-person home energy assessment. Since mid-March, Mass Save suspended the in-person practices and switched to virtual home assessments, Wollenburg said. Using either video chatting or a combination of a phone call and a handful of digital pictures, a Mass Save representative is still able to assess areas of savings opportunities, he said.

Mass Save would provide and install energy-efficient light bulbs and water fixtures during the home visit, helping people save money right away, Wollenburg said. With a virtual home energy assessment, he said those items are mailed to the customer free of charge for them to install themselves.

As for the greater cost-saving measures of installing weatherization at a significantly reduced cost, Wollenburg said that has to wait, but getting an assessment done now virtually when most people are home anyway is a great way to gear up for those savings as soon as the advisories are lifted.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “We’re working hard on that every day, but as soon as we can we’ll be out there to do that air sealing and insulation and other in-home work.”

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