Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Discusses Development of National Guidelines for Residential Energy Efficiency Retrofits
August 13, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) held a webinar recently on its current efforts to develop a suite of national guidelines for the work and workforce involved in residential energy-efficiency retrofits, such as glazing replacements and installations. Benjamin Goldstein, project lead for the National Residential Retrofit Guidelines (NRRG) at EERE, led the presentation.

“[The NRRG] are set of national guidelines for the work and workforce involved in residential energy-efficient retrofits,” Goldstein said. “They are developed by industry with project oversight and management of the National Renewable Energy Lab and will be delivered to my office of EERE for use in the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and also for delivery to the vice president’s office as part of the Recovery to Retrofit Interagency Process.”

Goldstein said there are four components of the NRRG, which he bundled into two groups: workforce components, which include job task analyses and essential knowledge, skills and abilities; and the work components, which include the technical standards reference guide and standard work specifications.

He also explained that the genesis of this effort has two different origins.

“The first is in the WAP Training and Technical Assistance Plan that was designed last year in accordance with the massive ramp-up of appropriations and funding for the WAP as part of the recovery act,” he said. “The training and technical assistance plan outlines some measures and steps that the WAP would start to engage in to construct a more robust future for the program itself post recovery act, understanding that the $5 billion appropriation was a one-time deal and looking forward for what will be the requirements of the program in the coming years.”

He pointed out that one of the tasks was the notion of developing national standards for the certification of workers and accreditation of training programs, but such a development is something that will not happen until later.

The second genesis was born in the Recovery Through Retrofit Interagency Process. He explained that in May 2009 Vice President Biden called on the Council of Environmental Quality to develop a plan for Federal action to lay the architecture for a self-sustaining home energy-efficiency retrofit industry.

In response to the question, “if home energy efficiency retrofits are such a win, win, win … then why has the industry not stood up on its own thus far?” Goldstein said the answer lies in three market barriers: consumers do not have access to straight forward and reliable information; consumers and industry want access to consistent workforce standards and a national certification; and homeowners need access to financing to pursue investments in energy efficiency.

In response, the Recovery Through Retrofit Interagency came up with six recommendations:

  • Develop a national home energy performance measure and audit tool;
  • Develop an energy performance scale and label for homes;
  • Support municipal energy finance programs;
  • Improve energy-efficiency mortgages;
  • Expand state energy revolving loan funds; and
  • Establish voluntary national standards for workforce certification and training program accreditation.

“So, the question becomes why standards? The answer is in the fact that there is not a comprehensive set of standards for the entire range of whole-home energy retrofit interventions,” said Goldstein, explaining that existing standards “are an assortment of technical standards, but also core competencies, work protocols, best practices; a very confusing medley of ingredients in this kind of standards ecosystem. So part of our job at the outset was to identify what the different types of standards were out there and to help delineate between them.”

He also pointed out that the WAP community, home performance industry, consumers, financiers, manufacturers and retrofit program administrators are also all looking for consistent national standards.

“And lastly, it’s really time for Federal leadership and leadership from the DOE in collaboration with industry,” he said. “I’m thrilled that this project has represented that critical partnership.”

Goldstein also talked about the process used to develop the NRRG.

“This has been a feat of unbelievable work on behalf of the Federal government, the National Renewable Energy Lab and the industry to produce such a substantial document in only a few months and the reason for the urgency and expediency is a September 30 deadline established by the vice president’s office for delivery of a draft for public comment,” he explained. “After that the public comments will be incorporated and the final guidelines issued.”

Next, he said, is moving from guidelines and toward a certification architecture and accreditation architecture.

“That again is a bigger, phase two question. There are a number of challenges that currently exist,” Goldstein said. For example, among the challenges he said the lack of a credentialed workforce is an impediment for WAP and the home performance industry. Also, there is no nationally recognized workforce credential for WAP and market-rate retrofits; there is a wide range of WAP certifications across states; and no existing energy-efficiency personnel certification entity accredited to the ISO 17024 standard.

But once completed, Goldstein said the NRRG will enable WAP officials and other retrofit program administrators to strengthen field guides and other work manuals by incorporating the standard work specifications contained in the Retrofit Guidelines; will assist training providers in developing course content and curricula consistent with an industry-recognized suite of job task analyses; increase workforce mobility up career ladders and across career lattices by establishing a clear set of essential knowledge, skills and abilities upon which worker credentials should be based; build confidence amongst consumers and the energy-efficiency finance community that retrofit work will be completed in a quality manner and produce the expected energy savings and health benefits; and lay the foundation for a more robust worker certification and training program accreditation architecture.

A Retrofit Workforce Summit is planned for this fall, either in October or November.
Additional information and program updates are available on the EERE’s Weatherization & Intergovernmental Program website.

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