Heating calculator helps utility promote electric heat
The Energy Services tools pages have a new graphic look
that identifies the tools as a joint product of Western and
Washington State University.
In the continuing battle to control energy
use and costs, Western's online Energy Services tools are a weapon
that utilities and consumers can turn to any time to improve energy
Just ask Marketing Representative Dave
Holte of West River Electric
Association in Rapid City, S.D., branch office. "I was just
using it an hour ago," Holte responded when recently asked
about the Heating
Fuel Calculator. "A customer came in and wanted to know how
an electric furnace would stack up against his forced air gas unit.
I plugged in the current rates and was able to give him an
The Heating Cost Calculator is part of a suite of tools
Washington State University 's Extension
Energy Program created for Western's Energy Services. The tools
include heating and cooling fuel calculators, the Energy
Solutions database, the Utility
Options case study library and an Energy
Comparing fuel, efficiency, climates
The heating calculator compares yearly operating costs for two
different heating systems based on the heaters' efficiency, the
distribution system and cost of fuel in the user's area, assuming an
equal amount of space in both cases.
To get a comparison, the user first selects his current heater
and distribution system. The menu offers a choice of 27 different
units fueled by electricity, natural gas, geothermal heat, propane,
oil or wood pellets. There are six choices for distribution systems,
which are categorized by the level of duct insulation and sealing.
The user then selects a new heater and distribution system, and the
calculator compares the efficiency of the two systems, BTUs per fuel
unit, dollars per million BTUs and heating cost per year.
The site notes that factors such as home insulation, climate and
building size affect heating costs. Overall, however, Holte has
found the calculator to be very accurate. "After the heating
season is over, I'll compare actual fuel bills on the electrical
side," he said. "They are usually pretty close to the
The air conditioning cost calculator works in a similar way. A
map of the United States divided into climate zones gives users the
estimated annual cooling hours in their location. It also indicates
where evaporative "swamp" coolers provide an effective
alternative to air conditioning. Users can compare 17 types of
electric air conditioners and six distribution systems, and compare
air conditioners to swamp coolers.
Incentives, calculator persuade customers
The marketing representative learned of the Fuel Calculator from
Energy Services Representative Ron
Horstman when the online tools were first launched, and he has
been using it almost daily since. "Customers who are familiar
with the Energy Services tools use them frequently and often comment
on their value," said Horstman.
"Western continually searches for
innovative new tools that will help the customer, like the Online
Key Accounts Toolbox we're adding in 2006. If customers have an
energy services idea or need, we want to hear about it," he
The calculator has been especially useful this heating season,
Holte noted, with energy prices going up. "It gives consumers a
reference they can use when shopping for new systems," he said.
"The calculator has definitely helped to persuade some
residential homebuilders and contractors to go electric."
West River 's electric heating incentives undoubtedly increase
the motivation. The utility offers rebates on air-to-air and
geothermal heat pumps, and radiant wall and floor systems, and has
special heating rate of 3.7 cents per kWh from Oct. 1 to April 30.
"Electric heating is still quite a bargain," said Holte.
The heating and air conditioning calculators have been so useful
to West River and its consumers that the utility recently placed a
link to the tools on its own Web site. Holte also suggested an
addition to make the heating calculator even more useful. "I'd
like to see an electric boiler/radiant floor system added to the
menu," he said. " Rapid City is experiencing a residential
housing boom and a lot of builders are installing those
Suggestions help Web site evolve
"The Energy Services Clearinghouse
receives lots of user comments from utilities, mortgage lenders and
contractors to name only a few," said WSU's Energy Program
Coordinator David Shepherd-Gaw.
"We've acted on user suggestions before, like adding the ground
source heat pump, and we are looking into implementing West River's
If you have used the Energy Services tools lately, you may have
noticed another change—a new graphic look. The redesigned pages
combine elements of Energy Services with the Extension Energy
Program to identify the tools as a product of Western's partnership
with WSU. A notice alerting users that they are leaving Energy
Services, a Federal Web site, has been added to comply with
"The new, improved look is just another
step in the evolution that has provided Western's customers and
their end-users with energy-saving opportunities since 1994,"
Managing energy costs can be hard work, but high-quality,
up-to-date information makes it easier. Western will continue to
enhance its Energy Services Web site to make sure the energy-saving
tools and resources our customers need are right on their desktops.
Please visit our home page at http://www.wapa.gov/es/pubs/esb/default.htm
25, No. 1