Overcoming the Barriers to Building Energy Efficiency Retrofits at Scale

Session Report by Reshma Singh

This was a great interactive session with a panel discussion and breakout sessions. The goal was to identify the greatest barriers to investing in deep energy retrofits, and help understand the elements required for a comprehensive policy to stimulate investment.

Emma Stewart laid the background that primary emissions reductions opportunities are afforded by buildings, followed by transport, and finally by waste.  And within buildings, although it lacks the visible sheen of renewables, efficiency is the cheapest approach.

The panelists then presented their views about both technical and institutional barriers to deep energy retrofits and their favorite solutions to overcome them.

Andria Jacob’s solution was to connect people with incentives. She shared news about the recent launch of Portland’s pioneering Home Energy Score Ordinance that requires home audit energy disclosures in real estate sales listings. Portland has also successfully deployed their Commercial Building Energy Performance Map/Report that comprises over 20,000 commercial buildings.

Andrew McAllister stressed that although the state government designs the ambitious Title-24 building energy code; they depend on the 500 local governments in California for actual implementation.  He encouraged local governments to also implement stretch codes where they can be more pointed in harnessing their local climate-relevant opportunities. Data should enable due diligence for capital investment by both private and public sector, for instance using longitudinal benchmarking for independent service operators (ISOs) for their long-term planning as well as public utility commissions (PUCs) for their procurement planning.

Andy Frank talked about  major barriers to scaling efficiency being the difficulty in contractor licensing across various counties, and a general lack of user awareness of programs such as Green Button. His company's take is that over-prescriptive command and control programs are a drag on innovation. The power of the private sector can be unleashed if one knows what to do with the data to deliver actionable recommendations and if systems talk to one other.  For instance if the DOE Home Energy Score tool spits out cost-effective measures, then how do you tie it back to the address, and how can you easily locate service providers for the recommended retrofits such as insulation, as easily as you can locate granite countertop providers.

Although storage and solar are compelling energy strategies, buildings are the original 3-dimensional real time experience. If we remove our energy nerd hats, to embrace a broader set of values and qualities to quantify co-benefits of energy efficiency, such as air quality for urban health, it can lead to better alignment in the ecosystem for deeper and scaled building energy efficiency retrofits.

Session Description

Energy retrofits represent the largest and lowest-cost GHG emission reduction opportunity facing urban areas. In addition to a range of community benefits of deep energy retrofits such as comfort, health, and the creation of living wage jobs. When retrofits includew deep energy upgrades, they can offer a range of possible energy savings, and improve ROI for owners. This session will identify the greatest barriers to investing in deep energy retrofits, and help attendees understand the elements required for a comprehensive policy to stimulate investment.

Session Lead: Emma Stewart, World Resources Institute

Emma Stewart, Ph.D., is the Urban Efficiency & Climate Director at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, where she is responsible for the Institute’s global work on urban building and vehicle efficiency, urban distributed renewables, and city climate strategy. Prior to WRI, she founded and directed design software giant Autodesk’s Sustainability Solutions department, where she led a product and go-to-market team to make sustainable design a “no-brainer” for millions of engineering and design customers.


Andria Jacob oversees a portfolio of clean energy program and policy initiatives for the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS). She has over 15 years of experience designing and delivering innovative energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainability programs. Andria has founded nationally-recognized programs like Solarize Portland and Clean Energy Works Oregon. She currently directs the Home Energy Score and Sustainable City Government programs and leads the City’s nascent efforts to develop a community-wide resilient power plan. She is a key implementer of Portland’s resolution to be 100% renewable by 2050. Andria began her career at E Source in Boulder, Colorado and worked in private-sector consulting before joining local government.


Andy Frank is the Founder and CEO of Sealed, an energy and financial technology company based that invests in home efficiency upgrades. Sealed runs the HomeAdvance program that pre-pays for energy-saving home upgrades, with customers re-paying based on the energy they waste. Prior to Sealed, Andy co-founded Efficiency 2.0, a software company that helped utilities better engage their residential customers. Andy received a B.S. in Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College.



Andrew McAllister was appointed to the California Energy Commission by Governor Edmund G. Brown in May, 2012, and reappointed in January 2017. He is lead commissioner on energy efficiency. Andrew has worked for over 25 years in a variety of capacities across the electric utility, energy efficiency and renewable energy arenas. Prior to joining the CEC, he was managing director and policy director of a clean energy non-profit; a consulting project manager in California and in a variety of developing country settings; and an energy efficiency analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He holds M.S. and PhD degrees from UC Berkeley. He is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer.