Meet the energy consultants helping Peninsula residents lower their bills

An energy assessment can help residents find cost-effective ways to improve their energy usage by gathering and analyzing energy usage data and helping residents develop energy management plans. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

In an era where the understandable desire to save money on spiraling energy costs has dovetailed with reducing carbon footprints, home energy assessments have become a popular formula for achieving both goals.

It may become even more commonplace this year as customers of PG&E face yet another increase in gas and electricity rates, after an average annual increase of nearly $400 just went into effect at the start of this year.

The increasing demand is helping create a cottage industry in energy assessment startups in the region. Cooper Marcus and Joseph Chen are among them. Marcus founded Quit Carbon Inc. in 2022 and Chen launched Bay Enervisors in April 2023. 

Through their consulting companies, they provide residents cost-effective ways to improve their energy usage by gathering and analyzing energy usage data and helping residents develop energy management plans. 

“We are definitely seeing a growth in the number of new companies being formed,” said Marcus, who describes himself as the founder and “chief quitter” of Quit Carbon. 

Remote assessments

To cut down on their own carbon output through transportation, Marcus and his advisers at  San Francisco-base company decided to conduct online home energy assessments only. It’s a service they offer to California residents statewide. The company’s main focus is to help homeowners convert gas-powered appliances and systems to more environmentally friendly electric versions. 

They do not charge for their online consultations, but do make money off referrals to an approved list of contractors who can help clients replace gas stoves, water heaters and furnaces, among other projects.

“Our clients are also free to use their own contractors or go the DIY route,” Marcus said. “People really love the help we give them.”

He often advises clients to take the process of electrifying their homes slowly and deliberately.

“I want them to think small,” Marcus said. “Upgrade one or two (appliances and systems) at a time, like replacing your hot water heater or gas stove. I think it’s very important that this is doable for people.

“No one makes the switch all at once.”

Marcus said — not surprisingly, given the name of his company — Quit Carbon has focused most of its work on helping residents shrink their environmental footprints. The company plans to take the issue of energy savings more into account in the future, he added.

One big area of saving money for their clients, however,  is when contractors submit bids for electrification work.

“We evaluate the bids for them,” he said of his customers. “We examine the fairness of the charges.”

Over the past 18 months, Quit Carbon has advised electrification efforts in more than 3,000 homes throughout California, Marcus said.

One of them belongs to Bay Area resident Nicholas Carter, for whom quitting carbon has become an important mission in life.

“My wife and I already have two electric cars and solar (panels) on our house,” he said. Carter has replaced his gas-powered water heater and furnace with an electric-powered heat pump.

Carter also has an electric air-filtration system in his home, which he views as invaluable to provide healthy air during bouts of air pollution — including the harmful air quality  caused by wildfires in recent years.

In-person consultations

Chen’s Bay Enervisors has a different business model than Quit Carbon. 

Unlike  Marcus’ Quit Carbon, whose electrification specialists work remotely with clients statewide,  Chen provides in-home visits focused in the Bay Area only.

Growing out of his own efforts to update and convert gas-powered systems and appliances in his own 78-year-old fixer-upper home near San Bruno, Chen said he started his company to help others on the same path. He conducts Bay Enervisor work during the evenings after work and on weekends, holding onto his day job as a sales engineer at a San Francisco tech startup as he builds his fledgling business.

“This is a passion project for me,” Chen said.

He conducts in-person visits in five Bay Area counties, including San Mateo and Santa Clara, to deliver energy “scores” from one to 10 based on criteria developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

He said the only local exception for his work are residences in Palo Alto, which receive their utilities through the  City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU). The city conducts its own energy audits through the Home Efficiency Genie program. 

Chen said he assesses his clients’ scores based on their home’s energy sources, appliances, insulation, doors and windows, among other features. After assigning the homeowner a score on their residence, he refers them to contractors who can help them electrify their homes.

He also advises them on government-sponsored rebate programs that can dramatically reduce or even eliminate their conversion expenses. There are a variety of rebates, including those for  converting to electric appliances such as heat pump water heaters, induction cooktops and heat pump dryers, There also are rebates for adding insulation and  sealing ducts and windows.. 

A single 90-minute visit costs $200 but can result in up to a 35% reduction in energy costs, Chen said. Average Bay Area gas and electricity costs have soared by 70% and 58%, respectively, during the past five years, with the typical PG&E bill now at more than $240.

For homeowners reluctant to take the plunge and go all electric — consider those rebates, he said.

“There are a lot of rebate and tax credit programs available to help electrify your home,” Chen said, citing the federal inflation Reduction Act, for example. Incentives include a 30% tax credit for up to $2,000 annually for installation of a heat pump – a gas furnace replacement that provides both heating and cooling.

Juggling his full-time career with his after-hours passion, Chen of Bay Enervisors said he saw a surge of clients during recent months. He doesn’t foresee a slowdown anytime soon.

“I really enjoy helping people navigate this process after going through it myself,” he said. “Most homes have poor heat retention. I want to help homeowners improve their circumstances as cheaply as possible.”

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