University of Utah among green power competitors in EPA challenge

When it comes to sustainability, colleges and universities have some of the most aggressive and comprehensive plans in the nation, and WAPA is proud to count some of those institutions as customers. One of our customers, the University of Utah, You are leaving WAPA.gov. is putting its climate action plan to the test in the 2016-17 College and University Green Power Challenge, which encourages higher education institutions to increase their use of green power.gpchallenge

Throughout the academic year, the Green Power Partnership tracks the collegiate athletic conferences with the highest combined green power usage in the nation. The challenge, an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency, is open to any conference in the United States. Currently, 89 schools from 34 athletic conferences are participating in the 2016-17 Challenge. The PAC 12 conference, of which UU is a part, has used 79,173,575 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power so far this year.

Drawing up plan
The University of Utah has been pursuing carbon neutrality since 2007 when the university president signed on to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment You are leaving WAPA.gov.. In 2010, the school set its official goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 as part of its first Climate Action Plan.

The comprehensive plan created the university Sustainability Office and sustainability committees to coordinate education, research and initiatives to reduce the university’s carbon emissions. The carbon commitment works hand in hand with a resilience commitment to strengthen UU’s ability to survive disruption and adapt to change. These commitments combine to form the whole of the plan’s climate commitment.

To meet its stated goals, the plan sets forth structures for guidance and implementation, and decision-making criteria for carbon reduction measures prioritized in an inverted pyramid. Avoiding and reducing emissions top the pyramid as the actions likely to have the greatest effect. Efficiency, resource replacement and offsetting fossil fuel use follow in that order. Every five years, UU will review, revise and resubmit the plan, a process that is currently underway.

Getting started
The first step on the road to carbon neutrality was gathering data on all wholly owned buildings and land area of the university and its subsidiaries. Leased facilities were not included in the accounting.

The difficulty for UU was that metering was only available at campus level when the initiative launched. “We have been working to get building-level information to better understand where we should focus our efforts,” said Myron Willson, the university’s deputy chief sustainability officer.

Data collection has led to an increased emphasis on commissioning and re-commissioning buildings and on major building system retrofits. The Sustainability Office is now looking into district-level energy planning on its health sciences campus.

In 2008, the students unanimously voted for a $2.50-per-semester student fee, the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, to support sustainability projects. Since then, SCIF has received proposals ranging in focus from food systems to solar energy, and has allocated more than $400,000 in grants to more than 100 projects. There is now support for turning the fund into a revolving loan program that could help to provide the initial capital needed for energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Power supply plays its part
Although the plan prioritizes avoiding emissions and improving campus efficiency over using green power and offsetting fossil fuel use with renewable energy purchases, those strategies still have a place. UU installed a combined heat and power plant in 2008 that provides 6 megawatts (MW) of power. There is also about 1.5 MW of distributed solar directly on campus, and another 2 MW under contract for three projects on the university’s Research Park.

The university’s latest project brings together the entire community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, neighbors and friends for a community solar energy installation program. U Community Solar offers members the opportunity to purchase rooftop solar panels and installation for their homes at 20 to 25 percent below market rate. In return for the significant discount, participants can voluntarily donate their renewable energy credits back to the university. “So far, more than 85 percent of participants have agreed to do so, generating almost 1.8 MW in the first round,” said Willson. “The second round is nearing 1 MW of power. We register those RECs through WREGIS You are leaving WAPA.gov. [Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System].”

So far, so good
In addition to leading its conference in the Green Power Challenge, UU is making progress on its carbon neutrality goals. Its emissions have remained fairly constant since the baseline survey in 2007, but the university has experienced tremendous growth in that time frame. “Our per capita and per-square-foot energy use is down in our latest report, too,” Willson added.

The university continues to move forward with aggressive building standards for new construction and for remodels that are 40 percent better than code and a solar-ready roof initiative. Demand-side incentives from Rocky Mountain Power You are leaving WAPA.gov., the university’s utility, help support efficiency and clean energy projects. “We are able to roll the funds over into next project,” explained Willson. “We have also taken advantage of several Blue-Sky grants to install solar PV.”

To tackle emissions from transportation, the U Drive Electric program offers U community members and Salt Lake City residents the opportunity to purchase or lease electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles at discounted prices. The collaboration between UU, Salt Lake City and Utah Clean Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in hybrid cars this year.

The University of Utah’s U Drive Electric program has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in-hybrid cars since the beginning of the school year. With almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles represent an important tool for improving air quality in Salt Lake City.

The University of Utah’s U Drive Electric program has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in-hybrid cars since the beginning of the school year. With almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles represent an important tool for improving air quality in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Sustainable Utah, Green News at the University of Utah)

Willson acknowledged that the 5-year review will bring evolution to the plan. “It is hard to know in the first years what combination of steps will bring the best result,” he said. “But we are currently working with consultants to evaluate several purchase power agreement opportunities for both on- and off-campus generation. This has helped us look at reducing peak demand, opportunities for storage, such as thermal and battery, and how to plan for future campus growth.”

WAPA wishes the University of Utah the best of luck in this year’s Green Power Challenge. But as with most energy competitions, it is not whether you win or lose; it’s how many opportunities for energy savings and load management you discover. In that, UU is already a winner.

If your college or university is interested in joining the 2016-17 Green Power Challenge, check out the steps to join Green Power Partnership for more information. To be listed, a conference must have at least two Green Power Partners and an aggregate green power purchase of at least 10 million kWh across the conference. Partner data deadlines are Jan. 4, 2017, and April 5, 2017.

ACEEE report offers strategies to improve small business efficiency programs

Webinar: Serving All Customers with Utility Energy Efficiency Programs
Dec. 6
1 p.m. MT

Small businesses represent 90 percent of US businesses, consume about 20 percent of the energy and are of vital importance to our national economy, even more so in small towns and rural areas. Yet, utilities spend less than 4 percent of their energy-efficiency budget on these customers. ACEEEresearch

A new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) looks at ways utilities can tap that potential for energy and demand savings in the small business sector. Big Opportunities for Small Business: Successful Practices of Utility Small Commercial Energy Efficiency Programs You are leaving WAPA.gov. identifies successful practices and emerging approaches for reaching those notoriously hard-to-access customers. The report then covers the major structural and organizational barriers that continue to stand in the way of fulfilling the energy needs of small businesses.

Diversity creates challenges
Those barriers include lack of staff, time and money, and the fact that many small businesses rent or lease, rather than own, their buildings. Customers across all sectors are often unaware of utility program offerings and the benefits of energy efficiency in general, and small business owners are no different in this respect.

But even addressing these challenges may not be enough to persuade small business customers to make upgrades that capture deep savings. Utility program managers, as well, may lack the resources to design, promote and provide programs that garner broad participation. The diversity of the small business sector, in terms of industry, energy uses, savings opportunities, financial needs, languages spoken, building types and cultures have important implications for program design.

Don’t stop at lighting
Facing such a broad range of needs, many utilities take a “one-size-fits-all” approach, focusing on the low hanging fruit of lighting upgrades. ACEEE research showed that even among several well-established programs, 90 percent of electric savings come from lighting—and not without good reason.

Almost every type of small, non-residential utility customer sees a quick payback and cost-effective savings from installing such measures as linear fluorescent and LED lamps, fixtures and controls. Adding direct—or even free—installation of qualified measures and high rebates make participation easier, and business owners start saving money right away.

Yet, utilities miss many opportunities by not looking at a wider variety of energy end-uses. In small grocery stores, for example, refrigeration can represent as much as 57 percent of the total electricity consumption. Also, most small business programs are electric only, and don’t provide any natural gas- and water-saving measures for space and water heating or cooking. Electric-only utilities might consider partnering with water and natural gas providers to create integrated efficiency programs.

Customize, partner
Report authors studied leading small business efficiency programs to find emerging trends that are delivering results today and point to a future for program designs and features. A more customized and customer-centric model is the key, according to the report. Recommendations include:

  • Segment your market and design customized offerings for each sub-segment
  • Provide personalized and relevant messages through targeted marketing and communications
  • Offer zero- or low-interest financing to encourage comprehensive retrofits and deeper savings
  • Offer a wide set of eligible measures, for multiple end-uses, based on target market research and data analytics
  • Where possible, assign dedicated project managers to give customers direct technical assistance, education and support
  • Establish partnerships with the local Chamber of Commerce, small business advocacy organizations and community groups to gain access to more commercial customers and engage them as trusted local partners

Download the report to learn more, or register for Serving All Customers with Utility Energy Efficiency Programs You are leaving WAPA.gov. on Dec. 6. This upcoming webinar looks at providing energy efficiency for hard-to-reach customer groups, including small businesses. ACEEE is partnering with Efficiency Cities Network You are leaving WAPA.gov. to present a series of webinars on cities and the transformation of the utility industry. Past topics include:

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 11/21/16

Imperial Irrigation District brings 33-MW battery storage system online

California once again showed its leadership in integrating battery storage into the electricity grid last month, when Imperial Irrigation District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IID) commissioned one of the largest battery energy storage systems (BESS) in the North America.

Imperial Irrigation District built a new substation to accommodate the battery energy storage system near its El Centro gas generating plant

Imperial Irrigation District built a new substation to accommodate the battery energy storage system near its El Centro gas generating plant. (Photo by Imperial Irrigation District)

Representatives from IID joined Coachella Energy Storage Partners (CESP), electric industry leaders and local and state officials, Oct. 26, to launch the 33-megawatt (MW), 20-megawatt-hour (MWh) system. IID installed the lithium-ion BESS to increase reliability while integrating renewable energy resources into the local grid. The storage system allows the utility to balance power, arrest frequency decay, provide spinning reserve, mitigate large fluctuations of energy, increase voltage stability and deliver “black start” power restoration capabilities for the nearby El Centro gas generation plant. A black start is the process of restoring an electric power station or a part of an electric grid to operation without relying on the external transmission network.

Integration poses challenges
The dedication ceremony was the culmination of more than three years of assessment and planning.

Like many utilities, IID is feeling the pressure of increasing amounts of renewables on its electric system. Those pressures are likely to grow as the state pushes toward its goal of a 50-percent renewable energy supply by 2030, especially since IID is located in such a resource-rich area. IID’s grid already carries 900 MW of clean energy—mostly geothermal and solar—with another 1,200 MW of new generation seeking to interconnect to its system.

“Specifically, the integration of solar generation was affecting our balancing authority, and our control performance standard began to suffer,” said Jesse Montaño, IID manager of planning and engineering.

Battery storage was a cost-effective solution to address ramp, regulation, capacity, ancillary services, system reliability and power quality. It is also environmentally friendly because smoothing the power supply and providing a spinning reserve are functions usually performed by expensive fossil fuel generation.

Putting pieces in place
After settling on the appropriate battery storage solution, IID issued a bond and drew on its capital spending budget to finance the $38 million project.

CESP won the district’s solicitation for 20 to 40 MW of grid-scale energy storage, beating out eight other vendors in the final round to serve as general contractor for the project. The company chose the energy project management company ZGlobal Inc. You are leaving WAPA.gov. to oversee construction and General Electric to build the system.

GE supplied a comprehensive package which includes the lithium-ion battery with its inverters, plant controls, transformers and medium-voltage switchgear in a single enclosure. This is one of GE’s largest energy storage projects to date and one of its few lithium-ion storage projects. The company recently rebooted its lithium-ion battery business and also won a contract in April for an 8-MWh battery energy storage system for Con Edison Development You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Central Valley, California.

Now playing
Construction took about one year to complete, demonstrating that a storage battery can be sited and deployed relatively easily. However, every system is different and poses its own challenges to integration. “The BESS replaces some of our need for spinning reserves, but it was continually reacting to mitigate the slow ramping capabilities of IID’s generation fleet,” said Montaño. “We had to adjust reaction parameters on the BESS in order to economically and reliably balance the system.”

Testing followed so that when the BESS came online in October, it was ready to provide benefits to IID and its customers. On top of the operational benefits of increasing reliability and bringing more flexibility to the utility’s system, the BESS offers economic advantages, as well. It enables load shifting that reduces the need for expensive spinning reserves and is expected to result in significant cost savings to rate payers over the life of the project.

Every utility has a different power mix and different load, so battery storage must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But IID’s project illustrates many of the technology’s potential benefits and should give power providers elsewhere in the country much to think about.

Source: Public Power Daily, 10/31/16

Upcoming deadlines

Co-op uses drone for home energy audits

While regulators hammer out rules for utilities using aerial drones, some power providers have figured out how to put unmanned vehicles to use on the ground—or underground—for home energy inspections.

A recent article in Electric Coop, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the weekly newsletter of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, highlighted a custom-made drone being used in Indiana to inspect members’ crawl spaces.

Energy Advisor Steve Hite designed a home inspector that is immune to distractions like bugs, rodents and standing water.

Energy Advisor Steve Hite designed a home inspector that is immune to distractions like crawling creatures and water puddles. (Photo by Hendricks Power)

Home inspectors know that doing an energy audit can be hard on the back and knees and sometimes involve close, personal contact with spiders, rodents, snakes or standing water. A co-op energy adviser at Hendricks Power You are leaving WAPA.gov.  in Avon, Indiana, realized that robot technology might be able to eliminate the worst of the job.

Steve Hite developed a drone that carries a digital camera and transmits real-time video and still images to a laptop screen. Inspection Bots, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a Colorado-based vendor and customizer, built “Robbie” for the co-op in 2015, and it has been used in dozens of audits since then.

According to inspectors who have used Robbie, it is similar to operating a remote control car. The device enters the crawl space through the door and provides a thorough visual inspection while the energy advisor operates it from above. “The drone has two speeds and seems to move through crawlspace areas with ease,” said Hite.

Homeowners can watch the inspection and discuss the findings with the auditor as it occurs. Hite said he sometimes allows the member to take the controls, if they are interested (who wouldn’t be?). Hendricks Power has also loaned the drone to other co-ops in the area to use in their home inspections.

Using robotic technology for overhead power line inspection will have to wait for the future, but with a little innovative thinking, drones can be improving efficiency, safety and customer service today.

Could a drone like Robbie help your utility conduct inspections in tight underground spots? Contact WAPA’s Equipment Loan Manager and cast a vote to add it to the Equipment Loan Program.

Source: Electric Coop, 10/31/16

EERE Network News gets facelift, new delivery date

One of your best resources for the latest developments in clean energy and wise energy use (besides the Energy Services Bulletin, of course) is about to make some changes. Starting Nov. 10, the EERE Network News will become the EERE Weekly Digest of Clean Energy News and arrive in your inbox each Thursday.
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There’s more: The new weekly newsletter will spotlight some of the fresher content offered by EERE, including videos and blogs. Browse the video gallery for short features on topics ranging from efficiency programs to technology to competition to financing. The EERE blog covers current Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy projects, interviews with energy experts and success stories about EERE’s technology offices and national laboratories.

If you don’t already subscribe to the EERE newsletter, You are leaving WAPA.gov. there is no time like the present to change that. Just a sample of what you missed in this week’s issue includes stories on the 40th anniversary of the DOE National Weatherization Program and Zillow’s partnership with the Sunshot Initiative.

You can also subscribe to newsletters that focus on specific technology programs. Key accounts managers may be interested in advanced manufacturing or building technology updates. The FEMP Digest offers valuable news for facilities managers, federal and otherwise. For resource planners, publications on wind, solar, geothermal, bioenergy and fuel cells highlight activities, projects, events and education and funding opportunities.

The changes in the electric utility industry are coming hard and fast and can sometimes seem overwhelming. The EERE newsletters make it a little easier for busy professionals to keep up with—and maybe even get ahead of—the next big issues.

Source: EERE Network News, 11/2/16

MRES, city of Pierre launch first South Dakota solar farm

The largest solar farm in South Dakota began producing electricity for Missouri River Energy Services You are leaving WAPA.gov. (MRES) customers, Sept. 30, after officials cut the ribbon on the one-megawatt (MW) array at the Pierre Regional Airport.

Pierre Utilities Director Brad Palmer (left) and Lead Lineman Devin Harris take a moment to enjoy a job well done. Harris was instrumental in tying the airport solar project to the city's distribution system.

Pierre Utilities Director Brad Palmer (left) and Lead Lineman Devin Harris take a moment to enjoy a job well done. Harris was instrumental in tying the airport solar project to the city’s distribution system.

The solar photovoltaic project, a joint effort by MRES, the city of Pierre You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Geronimo Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. of Edina, Minnesota, covers 9 acres and will generate enough electricity to power 200 homes.

MRES CEO Tom Heller acknowledged that while the facility was significant for the state, it was nevertheless intended only as a demonstration project. “It’s not large. It’s the first one we’ve done. We just want to see what it will do,” Heller said in an interview with a local newspaper.

Identifying partners
That does not mean that bringing the project to completion was a simple task, however. “It doesn’t matter if the project is 1 MW or 100 MW, you have the same number of parts from planning perspective,” explained Jeff Peters, MRES director of federal and distributed power programs. “The sheer number of stakeholders who need to be engaged makes the process daunting.”

Peters ticked off a list that included environmental groups, Native American tribes, the Federal Aviation Administration, city and state regulators and the transmission provider (WAPA). “Even the local newspaper could be considered a stakeholder,” he pointed out. “You have to make sure you identify all of the interested parties and keep them updated on your progress.”

The distribution provider—Pierre Municipal Utilities—was on board with the project from the beginning. “Overall, the community was very much in favor of the project and excited to be hosting the largest solar facility in the state,” said Utilities Director Brad Palmer.

Geronimo Energy, developer and owner of “Pierre Solar LLC,” was another piece of the puzzle that slotted in easily. MRES has a relationship with the company that includes power purchase agreements for the output of two wind energy facilities in Minnesota. The innovative 25-year contract Geronimo structured reduced costs for MRES versus a more traditional deal. The entire output of the solar project will become part of MRES’s wholesale power supply for the benefit of its 60 member communities.

Building easier, not easy
After conducting a solar feasibility study with Geronimo in 2015, MRES chose Pierre for its first solar project.

As a solar site, the Pierre Regional Airport offered many advantages, including a surprisingly high number of sun days and its status as a brownfield. “MRES didn’t want to use any cropland for the demonstration, or property that had residential or commercial potential,” explained Joni Livingston, MRES director of communications and member services.

The proposed site also boasted a southward slope with no obstructions and no need to build transmission. “This was a ‘behind the meter’ installation,” said Peters.

Palmer noted that the location was about as close to a substation as you can get, making it easy to tie into the city’s distribution system. The biggest challenge, he added, came in the form of paperwork. “The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] had several requirements, including a “glint and glare” study,” Palmer noted. “Another wrinkle is that the Department of Defense was the previous owner of the airport. There were some strings attached when they deeded it to the city, so that added to the authorizations we needed. Eventually, everyone signed off, so it wasn’t so much a barrier as it was just a matter of lengthy application process.”

Partners and stakeholders turned out in force to cut the ribbon on South Dakota's first utility-scale solar farm. From left: Hunter Roberts, assistant energy director, South Dakota Governor's Office; Jeff Peters, director of federal & distributed power programs, Missouri River Energy Services; Harold Schiebout, president, MRES board of directors; Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill; Tom Heller, MRES CEO; Noel Rahn, chairman of Geronimo Energy; and Leon Schochenmaier, city administrator, Pierre Municipal Utilities. Read more.

Partners and stakeholders turned out in force to cut the ribbon on South Dakota’s first utility-scale solar farm. From left: Hunter Roberts, assistant energy director, South Dakota Governor’s Office; Jeff Peters, director of federal & distributed power programs, Missouri River Energy Services; Harold Schiebout, president, MRES board of directors; Pierre Mayor Laurie Gill; Tom Heller, MRES CEO; Noel Rahn, chairman of Geronimo Energy; and Leon Schochenmaier, city administrator, Pierre Municipal Utilities. Read more. (Photo by ©2016. Patrick Callahan).

Up, running
Now that the Pierre Solar LLC has been operational for a few weeks, MRES is just beginning the learning phase of its demonstration. “We are hoping to learn more about interconnecting with the local distribution system, and the array’s effect on the community’s power quality and reliability,” Livingston said. “We will be watching to see how much electricity it produces and at what time of day and how that relates to peak demand. Once we have that information, it may lead to more solar installations.”

Palmer pointed out that there is room at the Pierre Regional Airport for the solar array to expand. He likes the idea of utility-scale and community solar as a way of giving customers more clean energy. “From the utility standpoint, it is easier to integrate and safer for our workers,” Palmer acknowledged. “The economy of scale also makes it more cost effective for the consumers.”

For Peters, the lessons so far are holistic rather than technical. “Each project is different, so you will learn something new with each one,” he said. “The planning process can always improve.”

WAPA customers excel in energy competition

The Georgetown University Energy Prize You are leaving WAPA.gov. is making WAPA feel like parents of talented children who are playing the same sport but are all on different teams. We know there can be only one winner but we are rooting for all of them and, of course, we are as proud as we can be of their accomplishments.

Among the 50 communities competing are WAPA municipal customers Fort Collins and Aspen, ColoradoYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Palo Alto, California. The three cities are now in the semifinalist stage of the multi-year competition to reduce their electric and gas consumption in a sustainable and replicable way.logo-large250aspenenergychallenge400

To enter the contest, each community submitted a long-term energy-saving plan with commitments to policies and projects by residential associations, governments, institutions or businesses in the community. In the fourth stage, beginning January 2017, finalists will be selected for their energy-saving performance over the previous two years. The criteria also include innovation, potential for replication, likely future performance and program accessibility for all residents. The judging panel will choose the winner from this group to receive a $5-million prize to use to further their community energy plans.

Motivations beyond money
WAPA customers competing for the prize have a track record of designing successful energy-saving programs and engaging customers. It makes sense that they would put that experience to work to earn a $5-million prize to further their efforts, but there are other reasons for competing, too.

It is all about the data for the city of Aspen, acknowledged Utilities Efficiency Specialist Ryland French during his presentation at the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange. “The information we collect will be normalized based on weather, population and other factors,” he explained. “It will give us an aggregate look at community energy use that we didn’t have before.”

Fort Collins Utilities has been pursuing aggressive energy efficiency and greenhouse gas mitigation goals for several years now, and the ramped-up time scale of the competition provided an excuse to pilot new innovative programs. “We are coming at it from a research perspective,” said Project Manager Katy Bigner. “It gives us another way to drive greater community involvement in achieving our Climate Action Plan.”

Get community involved
Since both cities already had active programs for reducing energy use, it made marketing sense to rebrand the competition with a local name. “We wanted to leverage community pride,” said French. “Highlighting the competition with other cities helped to create enthusiasm.”

So the GUEP became the Aspen Energy Challenge You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Aspen and Lose-a-Watt You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Fort Collins.

To its established foundation of energy coaching, home audits and rebates, Aspen added outreach tailored to specific community segments. Program promotion material for home audits pictured city residents who had actually received the assessments, allowing customers to see that their neighbors were participating. A school district-wide retrofit project of lighting and controls became a teaching tool and turned students into advocates for energy conservation.

Working with the Poudre School District has been central to Fort Collins’s strategy, as well. “We’ve focused on small education programs, because when you get kids excited about something, they run home and tell their parents,” said Bigner.

The city also enlisted a sorority from Colorado State University for a “Porchlight Campaign.” Sorority sisters walked through neighborhoods making note of homes that had incandescent bulbs in their porch fixtures. The students would talk to the homeowners and offer to replace the conventional lights with compact fluorescent lamps.

More than one way to tell story
Outreach is a challenge for all utilities, whether competing for a multi-million dollar prize or just trying to get customers to sign up for a new demand response program. Aspen and Fort Collins pursued some proven strategies, like engaging students, but used the competition to experiment with different approaches too.

For Aspen, success came from taking a simple message and spreading it through as many avenues as possible, appealing to many different motivations. When a promotion offering residents a free Nest thermostat was “leaked,” only two people called. However, when the offer was officially announced in the city’s email newsletter, 30 homeowners called before 9 a.m. to get their Nest.

The free home energy assessment program was another offer that didn’t take off until the second announcement. “The first time we promoted it was before the Aspen Energy Challenge branding,” French recalled. “We put the offer in community partner e-newsletters and from mid-March to May 2015, only 50 people signed up for audits.”

By August 2016, when the city offered the second round of free home energy audits, the Aspen Energy Challenge was well established. The offer appeared in the competition’s dedicated newsletter, as well as, newspaper and radio ads, on the Energy Challenge website, posters, social media, local television, events and more. “We talked generally not just about saving energy and money, but also about being green, joining the community, competing for the Prize, comfort, health and safety and tech trends,” said French.

Customers claimed all 25 free audits in only seven days, so Aspen continued to promote audits at the regular incentive level of $100 after the rebate. “We had enough traction in the community that there were 24 more sign-ups over the last three weeks of August,” he said. “They were attracted by the free offer, but continued to participate after the free audits ran out.”

Fort Collins decided to come up with a marketing campaign that differed from the one it had used prior to the competition. “We are not only testing out innovative programs, we are looking at different ways to market them, too,” Bigner said.

A sociologist the utility consulted had done research that indicated people find open-ended calls to action confusing. “When you say, ‘turn down your thermostat,’ people don’t really know how much they need to make a difference,” she pointed out. “The marketing campaign is focused on taking specific steps to cut down on energy use, and then moving to the next level.”

The contest website provides visitors with an interactive chart that categorizes actions as easy, medium or advanced, and includes steps for renters and home owners, different home systems and appliances. For example, easy steps for lighting include turning lights off when not in use and replacing conventional incandescent bulbs with one of the newer, high-efficiency options. Advanced measures include buying large appliances, installing solar thermal or photovoltaic systems and investing in building shell upgrades. The chart indicates measures for which rebates are available.

Creating competition between businesses has paid off for the utility. Although the contest does not count energy savings by business customers, businesses can compete with each other to see how much energy their employees can save at home. Lose a Watt created the Workwise Challenge to get local businesses within the city limits involved. Employees install a Home Conservation Kit the program supplies, and then tell their stories on the website. Participating businesses earn recognition and employees have the chance to win prizes. The strategy has resulted in an 86,000 kilowatt-hours in savings.

Some things work
As the end of Stage 3 of the competition draws near (Dec. 31), contestants have had time to evaluate some of their strategies and draw a few conclusions.

Working with school districts was a success for both utilities, showing once again that it is never too soon to reach out to tomorrow’s consumers.

Affordable housing energy upgrades proved especially successful in Aspen, a resort community with a large demographic of seasonal workers. “We were able to do 400 units in only a couple of months. The key was focusing on the process and working with the city council and county commission,” French recalled.

The utility matched the upgrades with outreach to tenants and landlords. “Seasonal tenants can’t be expected to know what 0 through 5 on a radiator dial means in terms of actual temperature, or what to do if the solar thermal system on a unit isn’t working,” French said. “To maintain the gains from the upgrades, we had to educate the people who lived in the buildings and managed them.”

In addition to the success of the business competition, streamlining its energy-efficiency upgrade program for homeowners has been a success for Fort Collins. “We walk the customer through the whole process from audit to completion,” said Bigner.

Others, not so much
Having a chance to pilot new ideas and find out more about what makes consumers tick has been a frequently cited motive for participating in the Georgetown University Energy Prize. The participating utilities already have lessons under their belts, some a surprise and others not.

Aspen is a city of large vacation homes and those homeowners are an especially tough audience for a message of energy efficiency. “We have tried promoting the competition through the food and wine festival, peer pressure, talking about savings and reaching out to property managers. No luck,” French admitted.

He added that Park City, Utah, another competitor with a similar demographic profile, was having the same problem.

Given the number of young consumers in the college town, Fort Collins thought the Joule-Bug gaming application might be a good way to engage customers in saving energy. “It turned out to be good for only about a year,” Bigner noted. “It required too much effort to sustain over the two years of competition.”

Enlisting energy leaders to promote the competition through social networking was another strategy that ultimately offered to little savings for the effort it required, she said.

Crowdfunding to help a low-income customer make home efficiency improvements was another idea that didn’t pan out. “We raised only $200 to help a single-mother schoolteacher. But I think that approach might still be successful for a nonprofit or faith- based organization, for example,” Bigner observed.

After the finish line
Whoever wins the Georgetown University Energy Prize, the participants can look forward to gaining solid data about their customers’ energy use, along with a clearer idea of what drives customer engagement.

After being judged for their performance in Stage 3, the selected finalists will submit a report on how their programs supported the community’s plan and how they can be applied to longer-term strategies. “We expect to be able to learn plenty from the other participants,” said Bigner.

While a $5-million prize would be great—especially if a WAPA customer wins it—the lessons that come from the competition may well be the greatest prize, and consumers and utilities alike will be winners.

Report: Electric cooperatives are big business

A WAPA customer appeared on a list of the 300 largest cooperatives and mutual organizations in the world, released by the International Cooperative Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. (ICA) during the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec, Canada, Oct. 11-13.wcm20162001

According to the 2016 World Cooperative Monitor, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Basin Electric Power Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. ranked 215th with $2.25 billion in revenue—which the report calls “turnover”—up 14 places from last year. Two more WAPA customers, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Great River Energy, You are leaving WAPA.gov. appeared among the Top 20 in the industry and utility category, with $1.4 billion and $1.2 billion in turnover respectively. Within the overall study, U.S. electric co-ops dominated the industry and utilities category with 11 organizations in the Top 20.

From a global perspective, however, energy cooperatives represent only a small portion of the organizations built on the cooperative business model. Insurance and agricultural/food groups comprise 64 percent of all co-ops with revenues of $100 million or more, topping all categories. The 2016 edition of the monitor is based on information submitted by 2,370 cooperatives from 63 countries.

Even so, electric cooperatives are a big business in the US, owning and maintaining 42 percent of the nation’s electrical distribution lines, generating 5 percent of its electricity and employing 72,000 people. Such figures support the ICA’s vision of cooperative organizations creating jobs, empowering citizens and building communities. That is a pretty good description of WAPA customers, if we do say so ourselves.

The World Cooperative Monitor collects and analyzes data on the world’s largest co-operative and mutual organizations and other enterprises controlled by co-operatives. The International Cooperative Alliance produced the report in conjunction with the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises.

Source: America’s Electric Cooperatives, 10/17/16

Calculator makes case for commercial property upgrades

Energy-efficiency projects for commercial buildings offer many benefits, including a positive effect on the bottom line, yet getting approval to fund such upgrades continues to be a challenge. To help property managers understand and assess the financial value of investing in a property’s energy performance, the Better Buildings Initiative and USAA Real Estate Company You are leaving WAPA.gov. created the Building Upgrade Value Calculator (BUVC).BBwebinar350

Most real estate and business owners prioritize money for “good news” property improvements like tenant improvements and leasing commissions when allocating capital. Efficiency projects may fail to make the list for a number of reasons, including payback times that exceed industry standards or the perception that energy retrofits are too complicated. Another problem is that the capital expenditure for energy retrofits often is not underwritten when an asset is purchased or developed, so spending capital lowers investor dividends and yield.

USAA Real Estate Company, which manages about $7 billion in real estate assets, developed the Excel-based analysis tool to help their property managers evaluate the financial returns of energy performance projects in investor-owned real estate. Energy Star partnered with USAA on the second version of BUCV to expand its functionality and make the tool widely available to the broader industry. You can download it for free from the Energy Star website.

The user enters information, such as square footage, annual utility bill, the projected cost and savings for each investment and financing terms, to determine a particular investment’s energy and financial benefits. BUVC allows you to calculate the costs and benefits of base building energy-efficiency measures for both the owner and each tenant under a variety of lease types—full service gross, modified gross, triple net. The results can be either printed as a summary report, or generated as a customized letter to present to senior management to make the business case and secure funding.

USAA continues to use the calculator to reach its Better Buildings Challenge goal of reducing energy use by 20 percent. Also, the Building Owners and Managers Association International has included the tool in its Energy Efficiency Program You are leaving WAPA.gov..

Your key accounts managers can use the BUVC to help commercial real estate customers understand the value of making energy-efficiency improvements on their properties. Increasing funding for such projects can reduce energy use in some of the most energy-intensive buildings in your territory. Efficiency upgrades can also increase asset value and net operating income for large utility customers, while keeping their tenants happy. That is a lot of value for the calculator.

Source: Better Buildings Initiative, 10/4/16