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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Risk transfer via energy savings insurance


Among the key barriers to investment in energy efficiency improvements are uncertainties about attaining projected energy savings and apprehension about potential disputes over these savings. The fields of energy management and risk management are thus intertwined. While many technical methods have emerged to manage performance risks (e.g. building commissioning), financial risk transfer techniques are less developed in the energy management arena than in other more mature segments of the economy. Energy Savings Insurance (ESI) - formal insurance of predicted energy savings - is one method of transferring financial risks away from the facility owner or energy services contractor. ESI offers a number of significant advantages over other forms of financial risk transfer, e.g. savings guarantees or performance bonds. ESI providers manage risk via pre-construction design review as well as post-construction commissioning and measurement and verification of savings. We found that the two most common criticisms of ESI - excessive pricing and onerous exclusions - are not born out in practice. In fact, if properly applied, ESI can potentially reduce the net cost of energy savings projects by reducing the interest rates charged by lenders, and by increasing the level of savings through quality control. Debt service can also be ensured by matching loan payments to projected energy savings while designing the insurance mechanism so that payments are made by the insurer in the event of a savings shortfall. We estimate the U.S. ESI market potential of $875 million/year in premium income. From an energy-policy perspective, ESI offers a number of potential benefits: ESI transfers performance risk from the balance sheet of the entity implementing the energy savings project, thereby freeing up capital otherwise needed to "self-insure" the savings. ESI reduces barriers to market entry of smaller energy services firms who do not have sufficiently strong balance sheets to self-insure the savings. ESI encourages those implementing energy saving projects to go beyond standard, tried-and-true measures and thereby achieve more significant levels of energy savings; and ESI providers stand to be proponents of improved savings measurement and verification techniques, as well as maintenance, thereby contributing to national energy savings objectives and perhaps elevating the quality of information available for program evaluation. Governmental agencies have been pioneers in the use of ESI and could continue to play a role in developing this innovative risk-transfer mechanism. There is particular potential for linkages between ESI and the ENERGY STAR (registered trademark) Buildings Program. It is likely that ENERGY STAR (registered trademark)-labeled commercial buildings (which have lower performance risk thanks to commissioning) would be attractive to providers of energy savings insurance. Conversely, the award of energy savings insurance to an ENERGY STAR (registered trademark)-labeled building would raise the perceived credibility of the Label and energy savings attributed to the Program.

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