Report, tools seek to boost building efficiency

Utilities have a vested interest in working with homeowners and businesses to accurately estimate and control energy costs. It is not only good for load management goals, it is also good for the local economy. A new report from Rocky Mountain Institute  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (RMI) and tools being developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can help utilities and cities move toward a more efficient building stock.

Changing real estate conversation
According to the online real estate platform Redfin, You are leaving WAPA.gov. energy bills can add as much as 40 percent to annual housing costs in some parts of the country. An MPG for Homes: Driving Visible Value for Home Energy Performance in Real Estate, the RMI report, makes the argument for incorporating energy use data into the total cost of homeownership calculations.

The authors emphasize, however, that making home energy use data more accessible is part of a greater vision. True market transformation will require a change in both homebuyer behavior and policies and approaches across several interconnected industries. The real estate, finance, home improvement and—yes—utility industry would all play a part and could all benefit in the long run from improving home performance metrics and making the data more transparent and accessible to homeowners.

RMI notes that the “green real estate” movement is already starting to catch on with online real estate portals featuring home energy scores on property listings. Partnerships between the Zillow Group You are leaving WAPA.gov. and UtilityScore, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Estately You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Clearly Energy and Redfin and Tendril You are leaving WAPA.gov. are aiming to make home energy scores a bigger consideration in buying decisions.

Recent home purchases drove 26 percent of home renovations in 2015, and preparation for resale led to 13 percent of renovations, according to Houzz and Home: Overview of Renovation. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Moreover, 67 percent of study respondents cited improving energy efficiency as an important reason for making a renovation. Clearly, renovation projects offer utilities an opportunity to promote energy-efficiency measures and programs to a receptive audience. Establishing relationships with housing professionals in the community could pay off for utility program managers in a big way.

Tools analyze home, infrastructure projects
Once you connect with customers who are interested in making energy-efficiency improvements, the next challenge is determining what upgrades will save them the most money and energy. The ResStock analysis tool from NREL provides detailed information on the technical and economic potential of residential energy-efficiency improvements and packages for 48 U.S. states.

By combining large data sources and statistical sampling with detailed building simulations, the program achieves unprecedented accuracy in modeling the diversity of the single-family housing stock. The ResStock software leverages DOE’s open-source building energy modeling platforms OpenStudio® You are leaving WAPA.gov.  and EnergyPlus You are leaving WAPA.gov. so you won’t need a supercomputer to run the program. Contact NREL to find out more.

On a larger scale, NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility is working on a demonstration project that is developing a buildings and district energy modeling tool, URBANopt. The demonstration integrates URBANopt with grid modeling software, OpenDSS, to analyze the projected dynamic energy consumption of a planned 382-acre mixed-use development. The Denver, Colorado, site includes corporate office space, retail space, multifamily dwellings, a hotel and parking and street lighting. This project will result in several tools that others can use to replicate this project across the country, including an enhanced version of URBANopt and a developer’s handbook.

Poudre Valley REA community solar project broadens access

Sometimes an idea is so good, you just want to be a part of it in some small way. That is how we at WAPA’s Energy Services felt when we learned that Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (PVREA), one of our customers, was building a community solar array with GRID Alternatives Colorado You are leaving WAPA.gov. to serve its low-income and nonprofit customers.

Solar for all
The Coyote Ridge Solar Farm will cover nine acres near the Larimer County Landfill with more than 6,000 320-watt solar panels on a tracking system that follows the sun across the sky. PVREA will make 700 kilowatts (kW) of the 1,962-kW array available to low-to-moderate income subscribers and 500 kW for nonprofit organizations in the utility’s service territory. It will be the nation’s largest community solar project of its kind, and demonstrate complex financial modeling and unique siting.  PVREA has partnered with the nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office You are leaving WAPA.gov. to develop the project.

In August of 2015, the Colorado Energy Office made a $1.2 million grant to GRID Alternatives Colorado for the express purpose of partnering with utilities to implement low-income community solar projects. That focus fit right in with a specific concern of the PVREA board of directors, noted the utility’s Alternative Energy Administrator Milton Geiger. “They were looking for a project that would bring the benefits of solar power to a greater number of our members,” he said. “Our board believes that equitable access to solar power is a cooperative principle.”

Learning by doing
Coyote Ridge is the seventh project to receive funding from the grant. Originally, the plan was to develop at least five different low-income solar projects with the grant, but GRID Alternatives knows how to stretch a funding dollar and build in community participation at the same time.

Designing a community solar array is a complex task, but assembling the parts calls mostly for elbow grease.

Like Habitat for Humanity, an organization to which it is frequently compared, GRID Alternatives invites individuals and community groups to participate in both residential and commercial-scale solar installations. Although designing a solar array is a complex task, assembling the racking and setting modules turn out to be mostly measuring, lifting, lining up and tightening screws. Low-income homeowners and church and community service groups can participate in building the facilities that will lower their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. More importantly, for those interested in long-term careers in the field, GRID Alternatives provides hours of hands-on training.

WAPA gets involved
The project came up during discussions at a community solar workshop WAPA hosted in early June. At first glance, it had everything we love to cover in Energy Services Bulletin stories: a WAPA customer developing renewable energy for the benefit of members who need it most. More than a third of the electricity produced will be offered at a reduced rate to PVREA households with income levels at or below 80 percent of their county’s median. When Geiger later explained GRID Alternatives’ involvement, and the volunteer opportunity, the story became irresistible.

So on a cold, rainy September morning, Energy Services Director Ron Horstman, Electronics Engineer Kevin Hogg and Energy Services Marketing Coordinator Kevon Storie (me) showed up at the site near the Larimer County Landfill, ready to build some solar. For a little background, our personal experience with solar construction runs the gamut. Horstman installed a 3.2-kW solar array on his own home in 2009, while it was Hogg’s first time working on an installation. I have—well—I’ve seen a lot of pictures of photovoltaic systems.

Satisfaction guaranteed
The crew was 53 strong that day, including several individuals, a group from a Unitarian church and engineering students from the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University and Denver University.

When we arrived, the rack for the lower half of the array was partially assembled, but many hands made light work. The crew first learned to install the vertical “arms” that hold up the solar modules, and then moved on to mounting the modules themselves. Shortly after lunch, the array was completely assembled and ready to be wired by professional electricians in the coming week. The crew put up a total of 999 solar panels and continued working on the racking on the second section of the solar farm.

The work was hard and the weather was dreary, but the experience was enlightening. Hogg, who lives in Loveland, Colorado, was gratified to see community engagement in action, and is now interested in adding a solar array to his home. Horstman enjoyed talking to the students about their studies and about WAPA. (Note to utilities and related industries: Volunteering for GRID Alternatives is a great way to meet intern candidates.) For my part, I increased my minimal understanding of solar construction and was delighted to see so much progress in the space of a single day.

“We’re from the government and we’re here to help!” WAPA Volunteers from left to right: Kevin Hogg, Ron Horstman and Kevon Storie.

Size, site matter
PVREA joins other WAPA customers in working with GRID Alternatives and the CEO. Empire Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Delta Montrose Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Holy Cross EnergyYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Yampa Valley Electric AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins UtilitiesYou are leaving WAPA.gov. San Miguel Power AssociationYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Grand Valley Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. have all been partners in developing community solar farms that offer solar credits to low-income subscribers. Once constructed, the facilities become utility-owned assets.

Each installation demonstrates a unique characteristic that makes it work for the utility. In the case of PVREA, Coyote Ridge is sited on a large tract of unused land next to the Larimer County landfill that will have minimal environmental impact. The size of the farm is another key aspect of the project. “It drives the economy of scale and makes it replicable for other utilities,” said Geiger.

Replicability is central to the Low-Income Community Solar Demonstration Project. GRID Alternatives, the Colorado Energy Office and utility partners are demonstrating that the benefits of renewable energy are for everyone, one solar installation at a time.

New solar learning videos target local code officials, other building professionals

The United States is on track to install 4 million residential solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays by 2020. Ensuring that these installations meet current codes and standards is the job of building and electrical inspectors. To help code officials, architects, builders and solar installers keep up with the latest solar codes and safety requirements, Interstate Renewable Energy Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IREC) has added new informational videos to its suite of training resources.

In just a few short years, the number of residential solar installs in the US has increased exponentially.

In just a few short years, the number of residential solar installs in the US has increased exponentially. (Artwork by Interstate Renewable Energy Council)

IREC partnered with the International Association of Electrical Inspectors You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IAEI) and the International Code Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (ICC) to develop resources for code officials to learn the key aspects of solar technology related to their trade. The educational videos target a broad audience by highlighting the inspection process. Code officials who have experience inspecting solar installations will be reminded of important details of the process. Inspectors who are new to solar PV will be introduced to essential aspects of the inspection and referred to more detailed training.

“Officials involved in the planning, inspection and permitting of residential solar installations now have access to solar training and education in their office, at home and in the field,” says IREC Director of Workforce Development Laure-Jeanne Davignon. “The wide variety of tools allows code officials new to solar and experienced professionals to learn in the format they choose: in-person, online, printable documents or videos.”

IAEI CEO David Clements called the videos a “must-see” and an excellent resource to educate code officials and inspectors working in the field on residential solar installations. “Training from the NEC® You are leaving WAPA.gov. (National Electrical Code), along with other codes and standards, has become a critical combination to ensure a safe installation,” he stated in a press release. “Knowledge and knowing how to apply it will ensure a code compliant installation.”

ICC and IAEI regional chapters have begun hosting one-day trainings where code officials can learn the steps of accurate, consistent solar permit plan review. The trainings focus on the pre-inspection work of reviewing and approving the plan. To complement what they learn in the class, or as an introduction beforehand, participants can watch two new brief videos on the details of residential solar inspection. Residential Solar Inspection Best Practices Part 1: RooftopYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Residential Solar Inspection Best Practices Part 2: Ground Level You are leaving WAPA.gov. both run a little over four minutes. Professionals can take a deeper dive into field inspection practices in a self-paced online trainingYou are leaving WAPA.gov. All classes and resources are free to participants as part of the Department of Energy SunShot Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) program.

More than 5,000 professionals have engaged in the PV Online Training since it became available in 2012. The new in-person plan review course is being very well received, too, with more than 2,500 participants to date. Evaluations from participants have applauded the hands-on approach to the material and the way it connects the different aspects of inspection to each other and to real-life scenarios.

For more information on these training opportunities, contact IREC at 518-621-7379.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 9/13/17

APPA webinar series offers strategies to modernize customer relations

Oct. 31 and Nov. 16
12-1:30 pm MT

As more and more businesses offer instant, effective and personalized communication, customers are naturally going to expect their power providers to do the same—and that is in addition to all the other challenges facing the utility industry.

Web-based customer engagement programs and activities offer public power utilities a way to build ongoing interactive connections with consumers. The American Public Power Association (APPA) is inviting utilities to learn about these opportunities with Customer Engagement: New Tools and Strategies for Modernizing Customer Relations, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a two-part webinar series beginning Oct. 31.

The material is designed to showcase the potential of online solutions for a broad range of utility professionals, from senior executives to renewable and energy service program managers to customer service representatives. Public communications professionals and information and operations technology personnel will also benefit from the webinars.

Oct. 31 – Boosting Community Solar Program Success Through Customer Engagement explores the often misunderstood and undervalued process of strategic, long-term customer engagement and management.

The success of a utility community solar project depends on keeping subscribers happy and committed to the program. Utilities with active community solar programs or those considering implementing one will not want to miss this webinar. Presentations will examine some engagement strategies and tools needed to improve the customer experience while saving valuable internal team resources and bandwidth. Attendees will gain a greater understanding of how to best prepare their teams to transition smoothly to the evolving world at the grid edge.

Nov. 16 – Using Online Customer Engagement Strategies to Improve Satisfaction and Program Participation looks at best practices and lessons learned from implementing digital communications strategies such as personal energy forecasting and customer service representative applications.

Public power officials will use case studies to present proven strategies for using a variety of digital platforms to build customer relationships and drive up energy program participation. Speakers will also address how to create a web presence and digital strategy that will appeal to customers under 35.

The registration for each webinar is $99 for APPA members and $199 for non-members. A discount is available for registering for both webinars, however you can register for the individual events. APPA will be recording the webinars and making them available for playback later in case enrollees miss the live event.

Source: American Public Power Association, 9/25/17

Upper Great Plains taps South Sioux City for Administrator’s Award

WAPA Administrator Mark Gabriel will present WAPA’s prestigious Administrator’s Award to South Sioux City, Nebraska, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Oct. 18 at the Delta Hotels in South Sioux City.  The presentation is part of 2017 National Bioenergy Day, You are leaving WAPA.gov. an event that will be attended by local, state and federal officials and high-ranking industry representatives. Gabriel will also deliver the keynote address, “The Importance of Renewable Energy Diversification,” at Bioenergy Day. The event will also include a tour of the new Green Star Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. gasifier power plant.

Despite its small size—a population just over 13,000—South Sioux City has consistently delivered innovation along with affordable, reliable power year after year, warranting the honor the award confers on a WAPA customer. But these accomplishments feel almost secondary to the vision that made them happen. South Sioux City is well known among its peers and many other WAPA customers for being exceptionally forward thinking and tenacious at finding and leveraging win-win partnerships.

Leading in renewables
South Sioux City is pursuing clean, low-carbon electricity with a unique mix of projects.

A 2.3-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic array is only the latest example of the town’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The 21-acre solar park began operation in January and generates the equivalent of 5 percent of the city’s total electricity needs. South Sioux City also recently selected a firm to build 15 MW of new wind power and signed an agreement to begin receiving generation from it in 2018. Both the wind and the solar projects are public-private partnerships.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs.

South Sioux City’s Solar Park: 2.3-megawatt array (1,200 panels) located on a 21-acre solar park south of the city, alongside C Avenue. The array generates enough energy to provide 5 percent of South Sioux City’s electrical needs. (Photo by Nebraskans for Solar)

In a region where agriculture and related businesses are the leading industries, biomass represents an energy resource that South Sioux City has captured through different projects. Three major food processing plants divert animal, grain and other wastes to an anaerobic digester that extracts methane from the stream and feeds it into the natural gas pipeline. The nearby Siouxland Ethanol Plant You are leaving WAPA.gov. displaces up to 9 percent of its natural gas needs for ethanol production with landfill gas from the LP Gill landfill.

The Scenic Park campground was the site of a pilot program in 2015, using a gasifier woody biomass system to generate 50 kilowatts of electricity from wood waste from storm damage. The unit was so successful that South Sioux City entered into an agreement with Green Star Energy to build a 3-MW gasifier. The new power plant will take city and industrial waste wood and dead and dying trees destined for the landfill and convert it into electricity.

Another potential project with Green Star Energy shows that South Sioux City has not lost sight of the tried-and-true renewable resources. The partners are seeking funding to build an innovative hydropower generator along the Missouri River that flows through the south end of the city. The run-of-river turbine design resembles a boat dock, would be safe for fish and aquatic animals and could produce enough electricity to save South Sioux City about $450 each day.

Conserve, reduce, manage
Energy innovation in South Sioux City is not limited to developing new resources. Planning and wise use are just as important to creating a cleaner, sustainable energy supply.

When peak demand needs to be curtailed, the city takes a two-pronged approach. First, a major industrial load voluntarily ramps down its demand by 11 percent to save not only its own energy costs but the energy costs for the city as a whole. On the residential side, the municipal utility has placed demand meters into service to control peak demand from air conditioner use. Both strategies have helped the community to contain electric costs.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy.

South Sioux City has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities, and made improvements to systems such as lighting and heating and cooling, to save energy. (Photo by Ammodramus)

The municipal utility has performed energy audits on all city buildings and facilities to identify energy-saving opportunities. Improvements included adding variable speed drives, converting street and signal lighting to LED and installing LED office lighting. Energy-efficient heating and cooling measures and practices have also been implemented in city buildings.

To address the need for backup support and electric demand relief during peak times, the city is designing a 5-MW, state-of-the-art natural gas-powered generating station. Excess generation from the unit will be offered to the Southwest Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. markets.

Practicing stewardship
South Sioux City was the first city in Nebraska to implement a paperless city council. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, the approach simplifies the archiving of council activities and makes it easier for the public to access more information. A voice-activated council chamber video recording system allows citizens to access live and archived meetings.

Tree health and sustainability are important to South Sioux City, which has qualified for the Arbor Day Foundation’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. Tree City USA designation for 25 years and earned the Growth Award for 10 years. For the past eight years, the city has planted one new tree for every 30 residents.

Residents enjoy the city’s two community gardens and the more than 200 fruit trees the city planted in 2014. The orchard is part of a facility designed in partnership with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to provide storage and opportunities for youth outdoor learning activities. The new building is the first compressed laminated timber structure in Nebraska. Ash tree planks salvaged from emerald ash borer kill and milled by the Nebraska Forest Service side the building. The project received the 2017 Community Enhancement Award from the Arbor Day Foundation.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

South Sioux City’s extensive trail network earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year. (Photo by South Sioux City)

Quality of life is part of environmental health too, and South Sioux City actively promotes healthy lifestyles. The city’s extensive network of developed trails earned the first “Bicycle Friendly Community Award” in Nebraska in 2006. The trail system connects to 60 miles of trails in four cities and three states, and hosts many rides, runs and other events throughout the year.

Partners make it happen
Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum and partnership is as critical to South Sioux City’s efforts as vision is. City Administrator Lance Hedquist acknowledges that the city’s success with energy efficiency and renewable energy projects results from the support and trust of the mayor, council and staff who share his passion to make the city a great place to live and work.

South Sioux City’s collective approach to innovation, partnerships, governance and trust would be impressive in a city many times its size. In a small municipality, it deserves recognition: WAPA is proud to honor South Sioux City with the Administrator’s Award.

Online training takes aims at energy, water use in food service

According to the Food Service Technology Center You are leaving WAPA.gov. (FSTC), an energy-efficiency and appliance testing facility funded by Pacific Gas and Electric, the industry has a $40 billion utility bill and is five to 10 times more energy intensive than other commercial customers. Since food service employs one in 10 U.S. workers, the chances are good that you have at least one restaurant in your service territory. That gives you the opportunity to help an important customer segment succeed, support your local economy and conserve critical resources.

Teaching food service employees to manage energy and water costs the same way they manage their food cost has the potential to reduce billions of dollars of waste annually. But behavior change takes education, and delivering training to a diverse, busy and mobile workforce is a big challenge, to put it mildly. FSTC has tackled this challenge by introducing online sustainability training to turn food service professionals into energy-efficiency experts: FE3 You are leaving WAPA.gov. certification.

Industry-wide application
Based on 28 years of lab and field work, energy surveys and design consultations by industry experts, FE3 has built a practical curriculum focused on results. Like most industries, food service encompasses not only those involved in day-to-day operations, but also a wide network of supporting trades and employees. FE3 training can help all of these professionals understand their role in improving sustainability.

Restaurant owners, managers and staff will learn how to operate and maintain an efficient kitchen and how to choose more efficient equipment. Utilities and suppliers will learn about the industry’s energy challenges so they can develop programs and services to help restaurants become more profitable. Facility designers, equipment manufacturers and service agents can gain skills that will make them resources for restaurants seeking to increase sustainability.

Culinary and hospitality schools can add the sustainability curriculum to their programs. FE3 derived the online course material from classes taught live to university, college, community college and culinary students for over a decade.

Convenient, comprehensive learning
Recognizing that hectic schedules can be a big barrier to training in the food service industry, FE3 makes the six modules available online 24/7.

Each module covers a different area of food service energy and water use with interactive exercises. Topics include:

  • Intro to energy efficiency – How energy use relates to sustainability and why energy efficiency is a necessary component of a commercial food service sustainability program
  • Efficient and effective lighting – The basics of electric lighting and how to choose lighting products that use less energy, look good and meet the special needs of commercial food service
  • Efficient refrigeration – The basic principles of refrigeration and how to select and maintain energy-efficient refrigeration systems
  • Water conservation – The basic principles of water use and conservation in a food service operation and how to select and compare energy- and water-efficient dish machines
  • Energy-efficient cooking equipment – The basics of food-prep and cook-line energy use and how to reduce cooking appliance operating costs
  • Commercial kitchen ventilation – The basics and best practices to optimize kitchen ventilation systems

The material is narrated, loaded with easy-to-understand graphics and employs gamification and avatars to make learning more fun. Modules conclude with a short exam that reinforces learning.

After successfully completing the FE3 training, students will understand basic energy terms and have practical skills that will positively impact their restaurant’s bottom line. They will be prepared to choose the right lighting for specific tasks, calculate the cost of water leaks, properly maintain refrigeration, select energy-efficient cooking appliances with online tools and troubleshoot and optimize commercial kitchen ventilation systems.

Help for key accounts
Although FE3 training was developed by the California-based FSTC, the curriculum is relevant to food service employees across the country, as are many other resources the center offers.

Utility key account supervisors should explore FSTC, bookmark it and share it with their food service customers. Let restaurant owners and operators in your territory know about the recommendations for energy-efficient kitchen equipment, design guides for water and ventilation systems, equipment test results and a variety of calculators. Tell them about the presentations from FSTC seminars and webinars archived online. Share the industry links and publications with your local coffee shop or five-star dining establishment. In an industry with notoriously thin margins and high turnover, utilities can make a difference.

Webinar: Improve chances for success of your community solar project

Oct. 5
11 a.m.-12 p.m. MT

The Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. is back with a free live webinar on Oct. 5.

What Makes the Biggest Difference in Achieving Community Solar Success? You are leaving WAPA.gov. will feature utility industry journalist Herman K. Trabish discussing case studies he covered for Utility DiveYou are leaving WAPA.gov. CSVP leaders will join Trabish to share case studies that illustrate their best-practice picks.

The discussion will be divided into coverage of the following questions and more:

  • Where’s the balance point between utility freedom and regulatory push?
  • Which lessons-learned are most often ignored—and at what price?
  • Which utilities have found the best pricing solutions, and how?
  • How do you speed up the program-design process?
  • Do pilot programs help or hinder?

Besides looking inside the machinery of successful community solar programs, speakers will explore the question of what kinds of policies most help—or hurt—community solar program innovation.

The webinar will also include an advanced look at CSVP’s new Solutions Toolkit, which offers practical approaches in the six top challenge areas CSVP has identified through its work with utility partners. In addition to some familiar analytic methods and guides that CSVP has field tested this year, the toolkit features brand new resources to help utility program designers make community solar better.

This webinar is free, but registration is required. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn the keys to making the most of your community solar project.

Source: Community Solar Value Project, 9/11/17

LES looks to cloud for better program implementation, evaluation

Maintaining a successful utility efficiency program involves a never-ending quest to improve the customer experience and evaluate the effectiveness of each measure. Moving its Sustainable Energy Program You are leaving WAPA.gov. to the cloud has given Lincoln Electric System (LES) of Nebraska a win on both fronts. 

Launched in 2009, the Sustainable Energy Program was intended to show that energy efficiency and demand-side management were viable alternatives to building new generation and buying expensive energy to meet peak demand. “It had a healthy participation rate relative to our expectations from the beginning,” said LES Energy Services Manager Marc Shkolnick. “But you still have to keep refining and evaluating.”

Always room to improve
In its current iteration, the program provides incentives to residential and commercial customers for whole-building sealing and insulation and high-efficiency heat pumps and air conditioners. Lighting and prescriptive energy-efficiency measures are available to commercial and industrial customers, as well.

The Sustainable Energy Program offers incentives for whole-building insulation and sealing to both residential and commercial customers.

The Sustainable Energy Program offers incentives for whole-building insulation and sealing to both residential and commercial customers. (Photo by DOE Weatherization Assistance Program)

For end users, participation in the program is simple and straightforward by design. Customers select a participating contractor to install the measure, LES pays the incentive to the contractor when the work is completed and the contractor passes it on to the customer as a credit on their invoice. Beyond searching the online trade ally list, the customer does very little paperwork, and that did not change with the move to the cloud. “The big difference for end users is that the system makes it easier to keep our trade ally list up to date,” Shkolnick noted.

For contractors and utility staff, however, the cloud system has significantly streamlined the process, Shkolnick said. “There was something of a learning curve the first year, with transitioning to a paperless system,” he recalled. “Once the contractors got their information entered, it became much more efficient for them.”

Given that more than 90 percent of the customers who use the Sustainable Energy Program come in through contractor recommendation, LES has a big stake in improving their trade allies’ experience. Make life easier for the people who are driving customer engagement in your efficiency program and your program will become stronger, too.

Learning from data
Evaluation, measurement and verification is one of the greatest challenges of customer program management, and one of the biggest attractions of automating program administration. In the two years since LES converted the Sustainable Energy Program to cloud management, the system has confirmed hunches and revealed trends.

LES customers who took advantage of the air conditioner incentive also had a high response rate to the post-project survey.

LES customers who took advantage of the air conditioner incentive also had a high response rate to the post-project survey. (Photo by Energy Star)

The post-project survey the customers can complete online has proven highly useful to Shkolnick. Air conditioning customers respond at a high 20-percent rate. One question in particular—“How much impact did the incentive play in your choosing the higher-efficiency unit?”—has allowed LES to adjust the deemed energy savings attributed to the program. “You know there are ‘free riders’ who were going to spring for a high-efficiency unit, incentive or not, but we now have a better idea of how many participants that is,” he said.

Another lesson from data is that incentives play different roles in motivating residential customers as opposed to commercial customers. This is a fact that experienced program managers already grasp intuitively, but, “The difference is just stark,” Shkolnick declared. “Businesses clearly look at efficiency as an investment, while a lot of homeowners give as much weight to comfort, convenience and other intangibles.”

A significant number of customers have given their names and addresses on their surveys, allowing LES to contact them for testimonials to include in future outreach. But negative responses are just as valuable. “Customer experience is the part of the program where we have the most control,” explained Shkolnick. “If someone rates their experience as poor, we can contact them, find out what went wrong and use that knowledge to improve our customer service.”

Future is cloud-y
In choosing the cloud system, Shkolnick observed that flexibility was a top priority. “We are in an ever-changing industry, so we needed a system that would be easy to modify from year to year,” he said.

The LES Technology Services department was very helpful in developing the requests for proposal (RFPs) and evaluating bids to ensure that the system was easy to use for trade allies, had robust reporting abilities and had a reasonable price tag. “One thing we learned in the RFP process is that the market space is not overly populated with services targeting utility programs,” Shkolnick acknowledged.

Perhaps software developers will take note and address that gap in the near future. A great deal of industry attention has been focused on systems and devices that track consumer energy use and assist with load management. But LES knows that building more responsive, effective customer programs is just as important, and the cloud has helped the utility do just that.

Source: Public Power Daily

Upcoming deadlines

Plan your celebration for Energy Efficiency Day 2017

Oct. 5 is fast approaching, and the message for Energy Efficiency Day 2017—save energy, save money—is one your customers will surely appreciate.

Following the success of last year’s first-ever national event, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy You are leaving WAPA.gov. is looking to expand participation and awareness of the event. More than 175 were official supporters in 2016. Your utility could join the more than 175 government agencies, companies, power providers, cities and other organizations that supported Energy Efficiency Day in 2016.

Outreach includes a website, a Facebook account, You are leaving WAPA.gov. more official declarations and a challenge to save energy in homes and businesses. An ACEEE blog post  lists four suggestions for challenging your community to save energy.

  • Sign up on the new event website You are leaving WAPA.gov. as an individual or as an organization. You will receive ideas and fun facts to share on social media as Energy Efficiency Day gets closer.
  • Urge your residential and commercial customers to take the Lightbulb Challenge or the Office Lighting Challenge.  Challengers agree to replace at least one light bulb with an LED. If each US household purchases just one LED bulb, consumers could save $500 million annually.
  • Share your own energy efficiency story. Promote your news about Energy Efficiency Day and the benefits of saving energy–and money–through blog posts, emails, newsletters and social media. Create your own content with videos, photos, graphics or other messages. Sign up on the EE Day website to get more material you can use from ACEEE.

You can use your imagination, too–creativity and humor are welcomed. And don’t forget to share your ideas with ACEEE and WAPA. We would love to highlight your activities in an Energy Services Bulletin story.

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 9/5/17