Persuade your customers to implement energy-efficiency projects

home-repair350Public Power Week, You are leaving Western's site. Oct. 4-10, is a good time to reflect on the public—the consumer—and on the best strategies for making our customers true partners. Empowering them to save energy and control their consumption is one proven path to increasing customer satisfaction, but first you have to convince them to implement energy-saving measures. No matter how effective a technology is, customers will only adopt it if they are comfortable with it and excited about the benefits. Here are some tips to help utilities engage their consumers.

Highlight non-energy benefits
Find out what’s important to your customers (hint – it’s probably not energy efficiency). Focus on the customer’s values and measure with a customer’s yardstick. Audit reports seldom mention non-energy benefits. But if a measure such as lighting improvements can improve worker productivity or sales even a tiny bit, that will likely trump the value of efficiency.

In Selling Energy, You are leaving Western's site. author Mark Jewel discussed how non-energy benefits allowed Lockheed Martin to achieve a 15 percent rise in productivity and 15 percent drop in absenteeism, far more significant than the annual savings on the electric bill. Highlighting non-energy benefits may be more effective than focusing on Energy Use Index You are leaving Western's site. trends.

Explore the non-energy benefits your customers value the most:

  • Reduced maintenance costs, downtime (which could be more than $5,000 per minute for a data center or industrial plant), wasted materials, water and chemical use or inventory.
  • Improved staff productivity, sales, process quality and throughput, power quality, property value, environmental regulatory compliance, safety, profit margins, public relations or shareholder value.

Speak customer’s language
Learn about your customer’s business and point of view. If the decision-maker you want to influence is a CEO, try to think like a CEO. Keep in mind that for most, it’s “Just show me the money!” Top managers are busy people so make a business case that can be stated in two minutes or less (the proverbial “elevator speech”).

  • Reframe project costs from an expense to an investment, and ongoing operation and maintenance costs as protecting that investment.
  • Speak about energy costs as percentage of sales revenue, per unit of product, hospital bed, hotel room, student, tenant, square foot, etc.
  • Note that for a business with a 2-percent profit margin, $1,000 in energy savings is worth $50,000 in sales revenue.
  • Use present value, net present value or modified internal rate of return rather than simple payback or return on investment (ROI), but include these figures as well, if that’s what they really want, and compare with that of stocks and bonds.
  • Try to monetize the value of non-energy benefits.
  • If the customer has multiple sites, suggest monitoring energy intensity and getting site managers to compete for rewards.
  • Use colors to highlight data. Everyone knows that green is good, yellow is okay and red is bad. This can help your customers when they share data with their peers and management. People often make decisions based on emotions and then justify it with numbers.
  • Convert energy savings into something the customer cares about, such as hiring more staff.
  • Make a proposal that shows how a project meets the customer’s stated needs and goals, and is easy to review and approve. A CEO may approve a two-page summary of projects with an ROI of 38 percent but reject a 30-page proposal with details for each project. Stay brief and on point, but be prepared to answer any question about the project.

Start small
Identify some “low-hanging fruit” that can bring quick success and motivate the customer to tackle bigger projects with longer paybacks. Drive by at night to see what machines, lights and appliances are left on. Go after water coolers (which run 24/7), coffee makers, photocopiers and compressed air leaks.

Work with customer’s partners
Many customers will pay more attention to what their long-term contractors have to say than to the messages on utility postcards. To become a trusted partner, provide trainings and midstream incentives to trade allies.

Customers are more apt to consider implementing a measure that jibes with their budget cycle and scheduled downtime. If they already attend trade and industry meetings, make a presentation to these groups. If one customer implements a measure, let their peers know (if that’s okay with the customer). Try to find case studies of successful projects using a similar measure in similar businesses and building types.

Make customer’s customers, occupants happy
Happier occupants make more productive workers. Shoppers in comfortable, well-lit stores spend more money. Healthy facilities reduce sick days among workers and students, whose attendance is linked to federal subsidies for public schools.

Ensure long-term success
Provide adequate training and documentation during implementation to make sure the measure delivers the promised benefits. Promote equipment with automated fault detection alerts and energy savings monitoring and encourage system commissioning.

Respond to concerns
Mark Jewel lists sample responses to typical customer concerns.

  • “We can’t afford efficiency improvements.” The customer is already paying for energy efficiency – or lack thereof – through higher energy bills, which will only increase. Investing in efficiency will pay for itself through reduced utility bills. Encourage the customer to explore the use of capital and operating budgets to fund improvements.
  • “Our building manager can handle it.” Building managers have many diverse responsibilities. They may lack the specialized skills and time to focus on efficiency improvements.
  • “We’ve already done the low-hanging fruit.” Tell these customers about the benefits of deeper efficiency projects.
  • “My tenants pay for energy so I get no benefits.” Efficiency upgrades increase the building value. Tenants appreciate greater comfort and will be able to afford higher rents.
  • “We’re selling the building soon so upgrading now doesn’t make sense.” Upgrading raises the value of the property, especially if building performance is certified. It’s just like fixing up your house before putting it on the market.
  • “It’s wasteful to replace equipment before it fails.” Utility bill savings over five years may exceed the cost of the new equipment.

Not just efficiency
Now look back over the list of tips, and see how many you may be able to apply to other situations besides energy-efficiency improvements. Thinking from the customer’s perspective and figuring out how utility products and services can help them address their most pressing concerns is how to put the “public” in public power first.

Source: Washington State University Energy Extension

Aspen reaches 100-percent renewables goal

A decade of striving to build a clean energy portfolio culminated in success for Aspen, Colorado, You are leaving Western's site. when the city recently announced that its municipal electric utility now receives all of its power from renewable sources.

A contract the city signed in late August with its power wholesaler Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska You are leaving Western's site. (MEAN) replaces coal power—about 20 percent of Aspen’s electricity supply—with wind energy. The MEAN purchase, which put Aspen over the finish line, will initially add less than $2 per month to the average residential utility bill.

Aspen Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director David Hornbacher praised MEAN, noting, “If it weren’t for MEAN we couldn’t be in this position. The members (of MEAN) are valued and proactive – this is a win-win for both organizations.”

Mixing it up
The City of Aspen Utilities You are leaving Western's site. energy portfolio consists of about 53 percent wind power and 46 percent hydroelectricity, with small amounts of solar and landfill gas. The wind comes through MEAN from wind farms in the Nebraska cities of Kimball, Ainsworth, Bloomfield, Petersburg and Crofton Bluffs, and one in Wessington Springs, South Dakota. In addition to an allotment from Western, generators on Ruedi Reservoir, Maroon Creek and Ridgway Reservoir make up the hydropower portion.

The Ruedi Dam and Reservoir, part of a multipurpose, trans-mountain water diversion project, provides about one-third of Aspen's power requirements. (Photo courtesy of City of Aspen Utilities)

The Ruedi Dam and Reservoir, part of a multipurpose, trans-mountain water diversion project, provides about one-third of Aspen’s power requirements. (Photo courtesy of City of Aspen Utilities)

“The challenge is to secure the most effective mix of renewables to meet the customer load reliably,” Hornbacher explained. “Each community’s energy use is unique, and each renewable energy source has its own personality.”

Getting the right mix means more than just resources, Hornbacher added. “The key is projects, conservation and efficiency and partners,” he said. “We are lucky to have such willing and supportive partners in MEAN, NREL You are leaving Western's site. [National Renewable Energy Laboratory] and Western.”

NREL worked with Aspen, MEAN and other agencies to define renewable energy, determine what projects would best fit with Aspen’s load and evaluate the utility’s conservation and efficiency measures. Those tools include a renewable energy mitigation program, green building code, tiered rate structure and energy performance contracting. “If you aren’t working with customers and managing your load, you could wind up using more energy,” said Hornbacher.

Community driven
Customer support for a local renewable energy supply dates back to the 1980s when the Aspen city council decided to build the plants at Ruedi Reservoir and Maroon Creek. The community formalized the plan to go 100-percent renewable 10 years ago. “Aspen residents have always had very strong environmental values,” said Hornbacher. “It helps to live in a town where the civic leadership is representative of the community.”

Built in 1980, the Maroon Creek hydroelectric project was one of Aspen's first foray's into local renewable energy development. (Photo by City of Aspen Utilities)

Built in the 1980s, the Maroon Creek hydroelectric project was one of Aspen’s first foray’s into local renewable energy development. (Photo by City of Aspen Utilities)

Smaller municipalities so far have a clear edge on large metropolitan areas in “going green.” The mountain resort town of 7,000 joins Burlington, Vermont, You are leaving Western's site. (pop. 45,000) and Greensburg, Kansas, You are leaving Western's site. (pop. 800) in becoming the first cities in the nation to reach the all-renewable energy goal. Georgetown, Texas, You are leaving Western's site. (pop. 47,000) plans to follow these leaders next year with a 25-year contract to buy 150 megawatts (MW) of clean power from new SunEdison You are leaving Western's site. solar plants.

Hornbacher noted that being small is not necessarily an advantage, although a smaller load opens up the possibility of fitting smaller projects into the portfolio. “It is important to note that each of these communities took a different course to reach their goal. You have to look carefully at your own situation,” he cautioned. “One important takeaway is that renewable energy does not automatically translate to higher rates. Aspen’s residential rates are still among the lowest in the state.”

Going above, beyond
Aspen’s vision does not stop at the city limits, however. Hornbacher hopes the city’s accomplishment will spark a dialogue on the state level and challenge other municipalities to engage with their energy supply.

The media beyond Colorado have taken notice as well. Television stations from California, Utah and China have interviewed the utility to find out how a small town in Colorado achieved the big goal of shifting its energy supply to renewable resources. “We’ve demonstrated that it is possible,” Hornbacher said. “Realistically, we hope we can inspire others to achieve these higher goals.”

That is the kind of attention Western likes to see its customers receive. We congratulate the city of Aspen on setting their sights high, sticking to their plan and creating a clean, reliable energy future.

Energy Experts hotline, website discontinued

As part of an effort to serve our customers more effectively, Western has discontinued the Energy Experts hotline and website.  Our Energy Services website still provides plenty of technical assistance resources and information on integrated resource planning, along with a direct connection to your Western regional representative.

Watch for new tools and calculators to help you plan your load management programs and consumer energy programs. We welcome suggestions from customers who have found online tools that proved useful in their planning efforts.

We are still here to answer your questions about energy-efficiency measures, new technologies and customer service programs. Contact Western’s Energy Services program manager at 720-962-7419, and please don’t hesitate to share other ideas and feedback about how Energy Services can best support your utility.

Sioux Valley Energy dips toe in solar power for members

The words “renewable energy” and “South Dakota” usually call up images of wind turbines rather than solar panels, and rightly so—the state has almost 900 megawatts (MW) of installed wind capacity, compared to less than 300 kilowatts (kW) of solar. Under those circumstances, you might expect South Dakota consumers and utilities both to have a lot of questions about solar power. Sioux Valley Energy You are leaving Western's site. is taking the do-it-yourself approach to finding answers by installing a small solar array on one of its facilities.

Sioux Valley Energy employees work together to install a 24-kilowatt solar array on the cooperative’s Brandon, South Dakota, service center. The demonstration project is a learning experience for both the electric cooperative and its members. (Photo by Sioux Valley Energy)

Sioux Valley Energy employees work together to install a 24-kilowatt solar array on the cooperative’s Brandon, South Dakota, service center. The demonstration project is a learning experience for both the electric cooperative and its members. (Photo by Sioux Valley Energy)

The 24-kW array on the Brandon, South Dakota, service center consists of 80 panels, aimed in three different directions to determine which configurations work best during peak energy use times. In addition to siting, Sioux Valley is also collecting data on selecting equipment, cost benefit and installation.

Carrie Law, the cooperative’s director of Communications and Government Relations, explained, “Our members want to know more about distributed generation and how solar panels perform in our climate. We wanted our employees to get experience with the systems, too,” she added. “In the long run, that experience is likely to be worth more than the small amount of power the system generates.”

Well-rounded solar education
The demonstration project became something of a crash course in solar for Sioux Valley employees. A committee drawn from customer electrical services, customer service, accounting and engineering was involved at every step, from surveying members about their interest in solar to designing and installing the array. “The board asked us basically to throw everything solar on the table,” said Reggie Gassman, manager of Customer Electrical Services.

Installation turned out to be one of the easier parts of the project, noted Law. “Panels are designed now so that it is not that difficult to put them up,” she said. “From a safety standpoint, though, it is always good to work with qualified technicians. We want our members to know that their utility can provide that expertise now.”

All fired up
The array began generating power in May, with the south and southwest panels being the high performers. “That was pretty much to be expected,” said Law. “It will change come fall and winter. We will need to collect a lot more data before we are ready to draw any conclusions about performance,” she added.

If members are interested in learning how solar performs in the local climate, the utility wants to know more about how it performs in relation to peak demand. Once a winter-peaking utility, Sioux Valley now faces the challenge of a diverse load that includes agriculture customers, data centers and a growing residential territory. East River Electric Power CooperativeYou are leaving Western's site. one of Sioux Valley’s wholesale power suppliers, connected the array to a SCADA system. “That should give us some good information on peak offset,” observed Gassman.

Waiting, watching
Now that the solar array is up and generating, members are taking a wait-and-see approach. That is not surprising, given that the survey the employee committee conducted last fall showed that people wanted more data to help them make informed decisions. “We already knew that our members are very interested in solar power, and that came out in the survey,” Gassman noted, “but so did their concern about costs and payback. That is why we chose the demonstration route.”

In the meantime, members can see the solar system when they drive by the service center, which is located on a main road between Brandon and Sioux Falls. Managers from other co-ops have toured the facility, and Gassman recently gave a presentation on the project to the local chapter of the Izaak Walton League You are leaving Western's site. conservation group.

Members can also follow the array’s output from an online dashboard You are leaving Western's site. that displays the kilowatt-hours generated each day and a monthly comparison. “We have been urging members to use the website, and one recently came up to me on a camping trip to tell me that he is monitoring the project,” said Law.

Next step for renewables
The data Sioux Valley is collecting will help the co-op determine how solar fits into its overall mix and what direction a member program might take. Gassman thinks it may take several years for solar to really catch on in South Dakota. “We have such affordable rates right now that renewable energy doesn’t really pencil out for most people. But the survey indicated that members believe renewables should play a part in Sioux Valley’s future portfolio,” he acknowledged.

The co-op’s portfolio already includes about 15 member-owned solar systems, hydropower, waste heat recovery, a small amount of biogas from manure digesters and wind. Most of the wind comes from generation-and-transmission co-ops East River and Basin Electric Power Cooperative You are leaving Western's site..

Future regulation, new technology, changes in the economy and environmental concerns are likely to factor into shaping Sioux Valley’s energy mix, as well. The one thing utilities can count on today is that tomorrow will be different. Fortunately, with a board, staff and members who are willing to learn something new, Sioux Valley Energy will be prepared for whatever comes next.

In-home events jump-start outreach, says DOE Better Buildings program

Keeping customer outreach programs fresh is a challenge for even the most customer-oriented utility. The Marketing and Outreach Handbook from the Energy Department’s Better Buildings Program recommends using in-home events to show customers the real-world benefits of energy-efficiency upgrades.InHomeProvenPractices

Unlike remodeling projects, the benefits of a home energy upgrade are generally not immediately visible to the casual observer. Strategies that demonstrate tangible benefits from upgrades can help customers understand the value of such projects and motivate them to invest in improvements.

Utility-sponsored house parties and demonstration homes help make energy efficiency real by showing potential customers what a home energy assessment or upgrade entails. In some cases, the hosts of these events were interested or satisfied customers—trusted marketing sources—who invited friends and neighbors to their homes. Utility program staff and contractors were typically on hand to walk the guests through an assessment of the house or to point out the efficiency measures in upgraded homes, and to answer any questions.

The handbook offers case studies of successful home tour programs across the United States. A few proven practices that make upgrade benefits visible include:

  • Show how assessments work
    Energy Impact Illinois used “house parties” to build momentum for energy assessments and upgrades. Trusted neighbors hosted contractors who showed guests where energy was being wasted and explained ways to improve comfort while saving energy.
  • Hold house tours
    New Orleans, Louisiana Worthwhile Investments Save Energy gave open house tours in the upgraded homes of happy clients. Signs highlighting completed work were posted throughout the house, and the upgrade contractor was present to talk about the associated energy savings. These showcase events produced high-quality leads who were likely to undertake projects.
  • Invite the whole neighborhood
    ShopSmart with JEA, You are leaving Western's site. a Florida utility rebate program, threw a Home Energy Makeover: Block Party to raise community awareness about its rebate opportunities. Homeowners who had received home energy assessments from a local energy professional hosted block parties for their neighbors. The energy professional reviewed the assessment and upgrade process, discussed rebate options and answered questions from friends and neighbors who attended.
  • Make efficiency personal
    The California Center for Sustainable Energy You are leaving Western's site. provided demonstration tours in homes that completed upgrades in Chula Vista, California. Potential customers could learn about their neighbors’ experiences, ask questions of the home performance professionals who installed the upgrades and sign up for an energy assessment of their own home for less than $50.

Start here for success
You will find more residential energy-efficiency outreach tips, step-by-step instructions and program examples in Marketing & Outreach – Develop Implementation Plans to jump-start your outreach program. If you haven’t used the Better Building Residential Program Solution Center, take a tour through its resources for key lessons and best practices drawn from the experience of utilities, energy organizations and their partners.

Source: DOE Better Buildings Program, 8/25/15

Around the web: Celebrate Public Power Week with these resources

Public Power Week, You are leaving Western's site. Oct. 4-10, is a great excuse to remind your members that they are the “public” in public power, and to educate them about energy issues. America Public Power Association (APPA) has put together a list of online resources to help cooperatives and municipal utilities in their public outreach efforts, during Public Power Week and beyond. You can link to them from your website and include the resources in your publications and communications. 

  • DOE Energy Saver
    What better way to celebrate Public Power Week than introducing your members to this treasure trove of tools and information on saving energy and money at home. If your utility already shares Energy Saver tips through your website and bill stuffers, consider tying topics from Prices and Trends to a big-picture story about how public power benefits the community.
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Student’s Corner
    Very few people outside the power industry now what FERC does or the part the commission plays in keeping our lights on. Even adults could learn a thing or two from the games, quizzes and other multimedia on this website.
  • APPA Pride in Public Power campaign
    This campaign encourages public power utility managers, staff and governing bodies to promote the benefits of public power to the communities they serve. Find programs and tools to help you tell your story.

Source: American Public Power Association

Learn about irrigation strategies for West Coast growers

West Coast Irrigation Efficiency
Sept. 28, 2015
1 p.m. MDTCA-irrigation

Agricultural growers are more concerned than ever about increasing both water and energy efficiency in addition to improving crop yield and quality. Knowing when, where and how much to water can improve a grower’s bottom line in good times, and save the business in an ongoing drought such as California is experiencing. Join Western Area Power Administration on Sept. 28 for a free webinar You are leaving Western's site. focusing on technology and best practices in precision irrigation for West Coast agricultural customers.

Changes in irrigation technology over the last two decades have helped farmers in the Golden State make impressive reductions in water use. For example, the Almond Board of California You are leaving Western's site. claims that using drip irrigation has reduced the amount of water it takes to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent.

However, achieving this kind of success requires an understanding of smart controls and monitoring tools, as well as data on crops, soil, weather, topography and more. Irrigation districts, water utilities and municipalities are challenged to persuade agricultural customers that relearning everything they know about irrigation is worth the effort, and to connect growers with the experts who can help them.

West Coast Irrigation Efficiency features presentations on emerging technologies for precision irrigation. Speakers with expertise on both drip and pivot irritation systems will discuss how to turn a mountain of raw data into an actionable plan and design for an irrigation system.

Brian Bassett is founder of H2O OptimizerYou are leaving Western's site. a company that provides data- and technology-driven strategies to maximize returns in production agriculture. The company has been working with the Fresno Water, Energy and Technology Center You are leaving Western's site. to improve drip irrigation technology.

As the Agricultural Technical Lead for Bonneville Power Administration, Tom Osborn has developed programs and tools to help Northwestern growers improve water and energy efficiency. His areas of specialization include scientific irrigation scheduling and irrigation system testing and performance.

Presentations will offer examples of successful irrigation efficiency programs, along with contacts for participants who wish to learn more. A Q&A period will follow the speakers.

Western encourages growers, utilities, irrigation consultants, researchers and policy makers to attend West Coast Irrigation Efficiency. There is no cost to participate in the webinar, but registration is required.

Source: Washington State University Energy Extension, 9/14/15

Upcoming deadlines

Energy Department offers $6 million for Native American clean energy

Western, DOE Office of Indian Energy, present free webinar for applicants
Sept. 16
1-2 p.m. MDT

The Energy Department (DOE) announced on September 2 a $6 million grant opportunity to establish clean energy and energy efficiency projects on tribal lands. The Department’s Office of Indian Energy is soliciting applications from Indian tribes (including Alaska Native regional corporations, village corporations, tribal consortia and tribal organizations) and tribal energy resource development organizations to install facility-scale clean energy and energy efficiency projects and community-scale clean energy projects on Indian lands.

Accompanying the funding announcement, DOE issued a report showing that threats to tribal energy infrastructure are expected to increase as climate change exacerbates extreme weather conditions. Tribal Energy Systems Vulnerabilities to Climate Change examines in detail, region by region, how climate change is likely to affect the energy supply system serving tribal lands—including many system components that are not directly owned or controlled by tribes. The report concludes that tribes that own and operate their energy infrastructure have greater self-determination in building resilient energy infrastructures.

The Office of Indian Energy, in coordination with Western, is hosting an informational webinar on the funding opportunity on Sept. 16, 2015,  from 1–2 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time. Attendees will hear who is eligible to apply, what the application needs to include, cost share and other requirements, how to ask questions and how applications will be selected for funding. There is no charge for the webinar, but advanced registration is required.

Applications must be submitted by Dec. 10, 2015, 5 p.m. ET.

Source: Green Power News via EERE Network News, 9/9/15

Free webinar examines LED replacement lamps

Sept. 24
1 p.m. MT

Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) Emerging Technologies Showcase series presents Mogul Base LED Lamps for Retrofits, You are leaving Western's site. a free webinar on Sept. 24 at 1 PM Mountain Time.

High intensity discharge (HID) lamps with large screw-in “mogul” base sockets can be found lighting roadways, parking lots, building exteriors and high bay interiors. Although HID lamps represent only 2 percent of all installed lamps in the U.S., they account for 26 percent of the nation’s lighting energy use. Retrofitting with LED, or light-emitting diode, replacement lamps is an opportunity for strategic energy savings.

This webinar describes performance and safety tests of a selection of mogul base LED replacement lamps for energy efficient retrofits. Researchers used criteria from the DesignLights Consortium You are leaving Western's site. (DLC) to determine lamp efficacy and application. DLC, a program for advancing efficient lighting technology, is still in the process of establishing categories for LED replacement lamps.

There is no charge for participating in the webinar, but registration is required. Find recordings of past webinars in the series on the Energy Efficiency Emerging Technologies (E3T) website. You are leaving Western's site. E3T is a program of Bonneville Power Administration for evaluating the performance and market potential of new technologies. BPA sponsors the webinar series with support from Western.