Technology Spotlight: The power of non-energy benefits

Most energy-saving technologies are invisible to users, but for some technologies, non-energy benefits (NEB) can be the deciding factor in getting consumers to spring for that energy-efficient new appliance or system.

NEBs are those “warm fuzzies” that keep customers happy—things like improved productivity, comfort, safety, health, process control or resale value. Commercial customers who do not excited about cutting energy costs or saving the environment might light up when they learn that a technology could reduce inventory, address regulatory concerns or cut down on maintenance. Especially for projects that don’t have a quick direct payback, NEBs can make the business case to move forward.

The E3TNW databaseRedirecting to a non-government site of new and emerging efficiency technologies, co-sponsored by Western and Bonneville Power Administration, has a field just for NEBs. Because these benefits often influence purchasers more than the energy cost savings, they can have a big impact on how quickly and deeply a new technology is adopted.

Beyond efficiency
One example is interior storm windows, which can cut window energy losses by a quarter or more. These cost-effective alternatives to window replacement are available as easily installed Plexiglas models for homes and double-pane, aluminum-frame models for commercial buildings. They can cut cold drafts and raise the temperature of the interior pane, reduce outside noise and reduce condensation that can cause mold and damage window frames. Some come with solar-controlling tints and UV filters to reduce glare, heat gain and fabric fading. Homeowners who want to be more comfortable and protect their furnishings might see the energy-efficiency performance as just icing on the cake.

Interior storm window panels not only reduce energy loss, they protect furnishings and cut down on outside noise. (Photo by Emerging Energy Efficiency Technologies Database)

Interior storm window panels not only reduce energy loss, they protect furnishings and cut down on outside noise. (Photo by Emerging Energy Efficiency Technologies Database)

LED lighting is another technology that can almost sell itself on NEBs alone. The lamps are four to six times more efficient than incandescent lamps and last about 50 times as long, a point to mention to customers with critical lighting in hard-to-reach places.Unlike metal halide or high-pressure sodium lamps, LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, can be dimmed to save additional energy in areas where daylighting may occasionally be sufficient for the task. Warehouse managers might appreciate how easily the lighting can be automated and programmed for “just in time” use—turning on and off only when occupants enter the space—without needing a warm-up period to reach full intensity. The lamps perform much better than fluorescent lamps in cold temperatures, don’t contain mercury and can change color as needed to support plant growth and intangibles such as workers’ mood and productivity.

Speaking of mood, innovative products like the Sky LED PanelRedirecting to a non-government site can liven up dreary spaces without putting an expensive and leaky hole in the building envelope. The office light fixture has images on the lens, such as clouds, that make the panel look like a skylight. Imagine the boost that could give to people in a hospital waiting room or drab office cubicle.

The Sky LED panel is an affordable and energy-efficient alternative to installing a skylight. (Photo by Smart Lighting Solution)

The Sky LED panel is an affordable and energy-efficient alternative to installing a skylight. (Photo by Smart Lighting Solution)

The Philips Hue lamp may be just the technology to get your early-adopter customers excited about LEDs. The color, brightness and timing of the lamp can be controlled remotely with a smart phone, a pretty cool app to show off to your tech-savvy friends.

Learn more
Too many program managers focus entirely on energy savings and speak purely in engineering terms. Decisions makers, from homeowners to corporate CEOs, usually have other priorities more important to them. Western’s Energy Experts hotline provides a resource for documentation and program ideas to help utility program managers figure out what their customers’ priorities are and how energy-efficiency improvement projects can address them. Contact Energy Experts at 800-765-3756 or submit a technical question online, and don’t forget to browse through Energy SolutionsRedirecting to a non-government site and Utility Options for inspiration.

Workshop focuses on improving irrigation efficiency

Inefficient irrigation systems can be costly—to the grower, the utility and the community—so Western is co-sponsoring a workshop Nov. 18 to help agricultural customers explore resources to tackle the problem.

Lots to learn
REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings—From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site will introduce participants to free equipment-testing programs, grants and incentives to upgrade their agricultural operations. Speakers from Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (NPPD) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development will share:

  • Details on free programs support through NPPD, Western and other agencies
  • Hands-on training on pump testing and using infrared cameras to identify savings on energy-related costs, such as livestock watering, grain drying and shop energy

Best of all, the workshop is free to NPPD members and their agricultural customers. “We are excited about this workshop because it offers a unique perspective,” explained NPPD Energy Efficiency Consultant Ronald Rose. “Irrigation customers will learn about the types of projects that qualify for federal, state and local incentives, and how to design energy efficiency into their projects up front.”

Hear from experts
NPPD is a leader in managing irrigation loads and supporting agricultural customers. Over the past 40 years, connected irrigation horsepower served by NPPD has grown at an annual rate of 4.7 percent. Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of reported peak load controlled in 2010. The power wholesaler’s EnergyWise Pump Efficiency Program offers financial incentives for testing and upgrading eligible electric irrigation pumps to improve overall efficiency.

Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD's reported peak load controlled in 2010.

Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD’s reported peak load controlled in 2010.

NPPD recently partnered with a grower and vendor on an innovative pilot project, and Rose will be on hand to discuss lessons learned. The 25-kilowatt solar-powered irrigation system comprising 100 250-watt panels generated 40,000 kilowatt-hours in its first year of operation. “As far as we know, the system is the first of its kind in Nebraska,” he observed.

Visitors to NPPD’s website will find an operating-cost calculator and a status window to check on the daily irrigation control schedule. There is also information about specialized rates, incentives and applying for USDA energy grants.

USDA Rural Development provides from $22.8 to $75 million in grant funding to agricultural producers and small rural business owners interested in improving their energy efficiency or investing in renewable resource technology. The nationwide program is available to businesses in populations of 50,000 or less and to farmers and ranchers.

Veteran training provider
Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA), which is coordinating the event, has teamed with Western on many successful workshops, including popular infrared camera training. CEA’s free Lunchtime Webinar series presents a monthly opportunity to learn about cost-effective measures and technologies that can help small electric cooperatives save their customers energy and money.

Registration is required, so don’t wait to take advantage of this training opportunity. After registering you will receive an agenda and directions to the workshop site, the NRD Conference CenterRedirecting to a non-government site in Grand Island, Nebraska. For more information about registration or the workshop, contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Better Buildings Challenge drives greater efficiency in U.S. data centers

better_buildings_challenge_headerA group of data center owners and operators has committed to reduce their energy use by at least 20 percent over the next decade through the Better Buildings Challenge. According to the Energy Department, data centers consumed about 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in the U.S. last year, a number that is expected to grow.

In the first year, partners will share their results, report on the associated energy and cost savings, and develop an energy-metering plan, showcase project and implementation model. The Energy Department will make each company’s data available on the Better Buildings Challenge website.

The 19 new partners joining the Better Buildings Challenge include four national laboratories—Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense and Social Security Administration are among the federal agencies participating in the Challenge. Private industry partners include CoreSite Realty Corporation, eBay Inc., and Staples. These organizations are pledging to improve the efficiency of data centers, which altogether currently consume more than 90 megawatts of power.

As the data management and storage industry continues to grow, improving the energy efficiency of the buildings and operations will be critical to reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. The Better Buildings Challenge supports the goal of doubling American energy productivity by 2030 by working with building owners across the business, industrial, residential, government and education sectors.

Currently, more than 200 Challenge partners have committed to improving the energy intensity of their building portfolios by at least 20 percent over 10 years. The program also provides a forum for matching partners and allies to enhance collaboration and problem solving in energy efficiency. Across the country, Better Buildings Challenge partners have completed upgrades to more than 9,000 facilities with 2,100 buildings improving efficiency by least 20 percent, and another 4,500 by at least 10 percent, compared to their baseline years.

ENERGY STAR launches ‘Change the World’ tour

EnergyStarLogoEnvironmental Protection Agency Celebrates ENERGY STAR Day, Highlights Youth Leaders Protecting the Climate

To raise awareness about the value of energy efficiency to our communities, the ENERGY STAR program is taking its show on the road during the month of October.

The Change the World tour started in Pinconning, Michigan, Oct. 2, when ENERGY STAR partner Community Energy hosted an efficiency makeover of the town’s Boys & Girls Club. Tour events in Western’s territory include building energy-efficient homes in San Francisco, educating low-income customers about saving energy in Colorado and planting trees in Southern California. The tour ends in Arizona on Oct. 28, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an extensive energy-efficiency upgrade on a nonprofit housing facility for homeless veterans in Phoenix.

Get on the bandwagon
Check the tour schedule to get ideas about ways your utility could partner with ENERGY STAR to improve your community. In the meantime, you can turn every month into Energy Awareness Month with materials from ENERGY STAR. Let schools in your territory know they can download door hangers and display signs to spread the word about energy efficiency all year round. ENERGY STAR suggests other activities to turn kids into efficiency allies:

  • Take the ENERGY STAR pledge and commit to taking actions such as adjusting thermostats, adding insulation and using ENERGY STAR-certified lighting.
  • Attend local events such as energy efficiency fairs and energy-saving demonstrations and workshops. Current local events can be found on the ENERGY STAR’s Across America map.
  • Share energy-saving stories online, and inspire others to take action.
  • Sign kids up to join Team ENERGY STAR, where they will learn smart energy use with easy-to-download games, tips and tools and activities.

And don’t forget to share your plans and events with Energy Services so we can brag about your accomplishments in the Energy Services Bulletin.

Help for utilities, consumers
For more than 20 years, the ENERGY STAR program has provided utilities with reliable resources for managing loads and building lasting customer relationships. Americans have saved nearly $230 billion on utility bills, preventing more than 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, the ENERGY STAR label can be found on more than 65 different kinds of products, as well as new homes and buildings. Products that have earned the ENERGY STAR designation prevent greenhouse gas emissions by meeting strict energy-efficiency specifications set by the government. For more information about ENERGY STAR, call 888-STAR-YES (888-782-7937) toll free. Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 10/2/2014

Report: Utility-contractor partnerships affect success of energy-efficiency programs

Fast Water Heater CompanyRedirecting to a non-government site has released a white paper suggesting that utility energy-efficiency programs built around strong cooperation between contractors and the power provider are likely to get more customer participation.

Approaches on Utility-Contractor Partnerships compared the experiences of two utilities marketing very similar rebates for an almost identical product over a similar time period. The major difference between the programs was the level of contractor engagement and accountability—and the results. A large utility serving 5 million customers used a conventional, partner-neutral business model with minimal contractor evaluation. The second utility, with 700,000 customers, actively collaborated with approved contractors on program promotion and follow-through.

The results, summarized in an article in Intelligent UtilityRedirecting to a non-government site, were strikingly different. The utility using the partnership model achieved a 63-percent penetration rate, in contrast to the 8-percent penetration rate of the program relying on the traditional approach.

The effect that the difference in the size of the utilities might have had on the results does not get much attention in the article, but may be explored in more depth in the report. Also, the report doesn’t state whether the utilities are investor-owned or public power, which might reflect on the pre-existing relationships with their customers. Even so, the correlation between the partnership model and program success is worth noting.

The author, who is the CEO of Fast Water Heater subsidiary Demand Management Installation Services, addresses some of the reasons utilities prefer contractor neutrality, offering credible arguments for a more hands-on approach to energy-efficiency programs.

Studies like Approaches on Utility-Contractor Partnerships will be the focus of the Smart Cities conferenceRedirecting to a non-government site, Nov. 3-5, in San Diego, California. Innovative utilities and industry leaders will be presenting case studies and hosting discussions on the future of the energy and water efficiency as well as municipal-level sustainability programs.

Sharpen public outreach skills at APPA Customer Connections Conference

Communicating with utility customers is becoming an increasingly important part of our job as power providers. The Customer Connections ConferenceRedirecting to a non-government site in Jacksonville, Florida, Oct. 26-29, is an excellent opportunity to explore the challenges of engaging our consumers, and the strategies and tools that can help.

American Public Power Association sponsors this annual event for utility professionals who work in customer service, economic development, energy services, key accounts and public communications. Meet with colleagues from utilities across the country to network and find answers to questions communicators face every day.

Program looks at today, tomorrow
This year’s agenda offers 40 breakout sessions highlighting the latest trends in communication, including:

  • DIY: Creating and Using Compelling Visual Communications
    Learn how to connect with customers through low-cost, easy-to-produce yet high-impact photo and video.
  • Five Ways to Measure What Matters
    Discover the latest trends and tools to measure results for your media relations, website performance, social media and marketing efforts.
  • Are We Communicating Effectively with ALL of Our Customers?
    This session looks at the challenge of engaging different audiences and shares secrets that can help meet the challenge.
  • Taking a Seat at the Strategic Planning Table
    Explore the lifecycle of the strategic plan from creation with utility executives to execution, and communicating with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Public Communication Roundtable
    Join your public communications colleagues for two open discussions on key challenges and tactics for success in the communications field.
  • Surviving the “Info Avalanche”
    Learn tips and tricks to process all the news, articles, feeds, blogs, emails, reminders and tweets that inundate utilities daily. Be ready to share and gain support from fellow infoholics.

Early bird learns more
Those who can make it to Jacksonville early will be rewarded with an impressive menu of pre-conference sessions on Sunday, Oct. 26. These seminars offer a deep dive into hot topics, with smaller classes, longer class times and a more interactive format. Sessions include:

  • Managing Change: Creating a Playbook for Utility Success
    This course will cover how to prepare for some of the most important industry changes that are coming in the next few years (new technologies, environmental regulations, economic pressure, market dynamics, new customer expectations, etc.) and provide practical examples of and a comprehensive approach to developing effective change management and strategic planning skills.
  • Customer Engagement for Advanced Grid Technologies
    A new guidebook to be published by APPA in the summer of 2014 provides information and resources on how to better communicate with customers about new grid technologies and their advantages. The tools and resources in the guidebook will be previewed at this pre-conference seminar.
  • Build Your Brand, Tell Your Story: Developing and Marketing Web & Social Media Content
    Participants will learn how to build a strategic content development plan and use video and social media to broaden the utility’s reach. The instructors will use a public power case study to demonstrate how rich content and social media channels can be used to market stories to media and customers while engaging all audiences.

Both pre-conference seminars and main conference sessions may be eligible for Continuing Education Units, Continuing Professional Education Units or Professional Development Hours. APPA provides a recommended credit level for each session.

Meet, eat, recognize excellence
In addition to abundant education opportunities, you will hear from expert speakers, network with colleagues and honor creativity and ingenuity in communications.

The opening keynote speaker, Dr. Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence,Redirecting to a non-government site will talk about the issues that will dominate the coming year, and how they will affect our communities. Consultant Dennis Snow, a former Disney executive, will wrap up the conference with a presentation on creating a service-driven culture.

Special events include networking receptions hosted by industry sponsors, meals with friends at local restaurants, and “The Year in Public Power Videos” reception. Attendees will view video submissions from other utilities and present their own at an informal reception. Viewers will then vote for their favorite video and the “Audience Choice Award” will be presented at the closing session on Wednesday. All spots must be received by Oct. 10, and a utility representative must be at the conference to present the entry.

Upcoming deadlines

Learn what controlled electric water heaters can do for your utility

Oct. 21, 2014
12-1:00 pm CDT

Balancing energy use from systems as simple as water heaters against energy generation opens all kinds of new possibilities for an affordable, clean energy future.

Explore innovative approaches to demand response, demand-side management and renewable energy storage during Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site free October Lunchtime webinar on electric water heaters. The Surprising Benefits of Controlled Electric Water HeatersRedirecting to a non-government sitecould change the way you see the future of the electric utility industry.

Leader speaks
Gary Connett, director of member services for Great River Energy Redirecting to a non-government site(GRE), is the featured speaker. The Minnesota generation and transmission utility has been a leader in utility demand response for decades. Today, more than 200,000 households and businesses served by GRE distribution utilities participate in demand response programs. The utility controls 15 percent of its peak load, which is equivalent to 370 megawatts of capacity.

Controlled electric water heaters are a proven component of the demand-response portfolio, along with controlled air conditioners, controlled irrigation systems and other strategies. More important, GRE has learned that electric water heaters can serve as energy storage devices—like batteries—so that customers are unaffected when the utility uses new grid-interactive control technologies to fine-tune water heater load control over shorter and shorter time horizons. Anticipating load control needs a day ahead is valuable, but anticipating those needs only an hour ahead—or less!—is even better. Today’s grid-interactive controlled water heaters may even provide frequency regulation, an ancillary service that balances the minute-to-minute variations in generation resources, including wind and solar.

Balancing tool
The heat energy a water heater stores becomes, in effect, the storage medium in a battery. When the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, it is possible to “charge” this thermal storage battery. And when the electricity is needed for other purposes, the water heating elements shut off. Connett says GRE has more than a gigawatt-hour in thermal storage capacity today.

The possibilities on the horizon promise even greater integration of renewables and demand response. Some measures are suited for homes, and others for larger businesses. Connett explains, “We start to see the utility’s purpose as working with both demand-side and supply-side resources, rather than simply increasing generation to meet whatever electricity needs customers create.”

In coming years, utilities will continue to give customers the energy services they want, achieving that goal by tapping both demand-side and supply-side energy resources.

Overcoming barriers
Hurdles to success in grid-interactive water heating remain, however, the first being public perception. Until recently, well-intentioned energy-efficiency advocates dismissed electric water heating as an inappropriate use of generation resources—“like cutting butter with a chainsaw,” as Amory Lovins once put it. Pending energy-efficiency regulations on water heaters could hold the strategy back. But many clean energy advocates, including researchers affiliated with Lovins, say they are willing to take another look at electric water heating today, if it means a more reliable grid, more reliant on wind, sun and other clean, renewable resources.

The Lunchtime Webinar series highlights measures, programs and technologies public power providers serving small towns and rural areas might use to provide better service to their customers. To learn more, register for the webinar or contact Clean Energy Ambassadors.

SRP recognized for excelling at customer service

Congratulations to Western customer Salt River ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site (SRP) for landing a spot on JD Power’s 2014 list of customer championsRedirecting to a non-government site.

J.D. Power selected the 2014 Customer Champions based on an independent and unbiased evaluation of customer feedback, opinions and perceptions gathered from J.D. Power studies conducted in the United States in 2013. The companies performed the highest among more than 600 evaluated brands across nine industries, based on the J.D. Power 5 Ps: People, Presentation, Price, Process and Product.

SRP’s accomplishment is even more impressive, given the industry’s current reputation for indifference—at best—to customer needs. The secret to the Arizona utility’s success, according to a story on the industry news site Intelligent UtilityRedirecting to a non-government site, is making a priority of providing value to the consumer.

In the interview, SRP Chief Communications Executive Gena Trimble explained that customer service was SRP’s culture, and pointed to a menu of large and small programs that illustrate her point. Programs such as a prepayment service, time-of-use rates and collaborating with other utilities on energy-saving concepts keep the focus on customer needs. Every day, SRP employees share both negative and positive stories from inside and outside the company and industry. These “customer service minutes” give everyone a better understanding of customer issues and challenges.

Other factors that are key to supporting a customer service culture include hiring and cultivating employees who share that value, doing research to find out what customers want and investing in technology that improves operations. SRP Associate General Manager Mike Lowe also advises really listening to customers—easy to suggest, but not so easy to implement. Listening may involve monitoring channels, taking in feedback and making the effort to ask and follow up. These are time-consuming steps that ultimately pay off in loyal customers who are more likely to work with their utility through changing times. Source: Intelligent Utility, 9/16/14

Around the web: The NEED Project


Utilities would have an easier job if consumers were better educated about energy use. Teachers are always on the lookout for comprehensive science materials to use in the classroom. The NEED ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site bridges those interests with energy education curricula that can forge a strong partnership between utilities, students and teachers.

Far-reaching goals
The mission of the NEED Project is to promote an energy conscious and educated society by designing objective, multi-sided energy education programs. Energy companies, government agencies and organizations work with NEED to create timely and balanced curriculum materials that focus on easy-to-implement program modules and professional development opportunities for teachers. To deliver these programs, NEED builds networks of students, educators, business, government and community leaders.

Almost 35 years ago, the project began as National Energy Education Day, a one-day celebration of energy education. The fundamental principle of NEED programming is to encourage students to explore, experiment and engage, and encourage teachers to embrace student leadership in the classroom. NEED’s work in after-school programs, student clubs, scouting groups, and home school networks also continues to grow.

For teachers
Because energy affects every aspect of our lives, NEED curriculum resources are available for all classrooms and grade levels, from kindergarten to high school and beyond. Students may explore the physics and chemistry of energy, calculate savings from energy-efficiency measures, write and perform plays about energy or discuss the impact of energy use on history and society.

Educators will find the curriculum guides grouped by grade level—primary, elementary, intermediate and secondary—topic or subject. A blueprint for success provides an outline of a basic energy curriculum unit and the NEED Graphics Library offers high-resolution graphics for classroom presentations and handouts.

Supporting material includes curriculum correlations to all state science content standards and national common core standards. Several of the most popular curriculum guides are available in Spanish. A current catalog provides book and kit pricing.

For students
To encourage students to take a greater interest in energy use, the NEED Project offers games, activities, recognition and study guides. The resources were created in collaboration with several partners, including Energy Kids, a program of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and Energy QuestRedirecting to a non-government site, from the California Energy Commission.

Energy Infobooks cover basic scientific concepts like motion and light, energy history, alternative and conventional energy resources and energy conservation. Students at all levels can find ideas for science fair projects in guides developed with a grant from the National Network of Energy and Environmental Education Professionals. Projects range from simple experiments with ice melt and changing colors to advanced explorations of technologies like waste-to-energy and cryogenics.

Students participating in NEED's National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement attend a national ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Students participating in NEED’s National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

For students who are inspired to take energy learning beyond the classroom, the NEED project holds an annual National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement. The program combines academic competition with recognition to acknowledge everyone involved in NEED during the year. Students and teachers set goals and objectives, and keep a record of their activities that students then combine into presentations and submit online each April. Participants attend a national ceremony in Washington, D.C., in June.

Missing links
Overall, the NEED Project is a rich resource for utilities and schools looking for ways to increase awareness about the importance of energy to our communities and lives. Unfortunately, the website has some significant oversights, including failing to provide a link to the science fair planning guide. The games and activities page is also incomplete, offering only certificates for participating in the games but no instructions or materials for the games.

Visitors can contact the NEED Project to request these materials or report other missing resources. Some states also have active NEED programs that teachers can contact for more information.