LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs have become a major market player in recent years and can be expected to grow when new lighting efficiency standards come into effect in 2020. Utilities might be tempted to think that there is little of this “low-hanging fruit” left for residential efficiency programs to pluck. Before utility program planners sunset this portfolio mainstay, however, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy suggests you take a closer look at the particulars of your program.
Well-designed lighting programs will likely continue to garner savings for utilities through 2019, but the outlook gets more complicated on January 1, 2020. For one thing, regional differences play a role in how lighting programs perform after the standards are raised. LED adoption varies from state to state and even within states. In most of WAPA’s territory, LEDs are between 20 and 30 percent of the light bulbs purchased. That leaves plenty of room for an effective program to grow the market.
Sales data indicates that lighting programs and retail support are strong drivers of LED adoption. Also, preliminary evidence from New York and Massachusetts indicate that LED adoption drops when programs end. So utilities would be premature to start scaling back their lighting programs—certainly where LED sales are low, and even in states like California where LEDs represent 40 percent of light bulb sales.
ACEEE identifies several program options that could continue the progress in lighting efficiency, even after the standards go into effect.
Underserved markets: Lighting programs can find additional savings by targeting rural, elderly and low-income market segments that have been slower to adopt LEDs.
Specialty lamps: LED versions of popular specialty lamp styles are now available, including decorative, candelabra, globe and reflector lamps. Yet these styles sell significantly fewer units than general-purpose LED lamps, suggesting that consumers need more education about the products.
High quality lamps: Programs should continue to promote high-performing ENERGY STAR-branded products, rather than “value” LED lamps that do not meet ENERGY STAR standards.
Controls: Dimming and occupancy controls offer significant additional savings opportunities. Lighting programs can help connect consumers to quality control solutions that are easy to install and operate.
While residential lighting efficiency programs still have plenty of savings left to tap, the technology’s increasing efficiency will eventually end their usefulness. It is not too soon for utilities to start considering the next opportunities for helping customers control and reduce their energy use.
Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 4/9/18
In a state that many consider to be synonymous with energy innovation, the City of Colton Electric Utility must balance two competing challenges that will sound all too familiar to rural power providers across the nation. On one hand, San Bernardino County, California’s oldest electric utility has a fierce summer peak; on the other, a significant population of low-income customers struggles with each month’s electric bill. In true public power spirit, Colton Electric’s “Spring into Summer” campaign seeks to manage its peak by putting the needs of its ratepayers first.
The campaign, which runs from March 20 to June 20, encourages customers to upgrade certain items in their homes to energy-efficient products prior to the start of summer. The utility notifies customers about the program on their utility bills, Facebook, Instagram and the electric website. Flyers are also placed in city hall, the electric office and community centers.
Customers can take advantage of increased rebates for box fans, ceiling fans, swamp coolers, room air-conditioning units and air-conditioning system tune-ups, as well as whole-house systems. “We want to give all of our customers a chance to save,” explained Environmental Conservation Supervisor, Jessica Sutorus.
Utility programs for saving energy often focus on big measures like entire home cooling system replacement because those retrofits provide the best results, for both the customer and the power provider. However, low-income customers can rarely afford major home improvements, even though they need the savings as much as, or more than customers in other demographics.
Different demographic, different goals Even so, the “Spring into Summer” promotion is as much about customer outreach as it is about energy efficiency. “You have different expectations than when you are marketing to more affluent customers,” Sutorus acknowledged.
In that respect, “Spring into Summer” has been successful, increasing participation in the cooling rebate program by 40 customers annually, a 43 percent increase in participation. “Obviously those aren’t huge numbers, but we have only 16,000 residential customers and most of the participants are investing in the smaller-ticket items,” said Sutorus.
So while the savings to the customers may be meaningful, the program has not made much of a dent in Colton Electric’s summer load. Many Colton families pass their homes from generation to generation and don’t have the resources to make the kind of deep retrofits that are useful for load shaping. A lot of those houses are several decades old and still have the original windows, Sutorus noted. “Our residential programs are about serving the community,” she explained. “We have other plans to meet state goals for energy savings.”
Part of bigger picture Colton has recently begun to install smart thermostats throughout city facilities, and to replace old air-conditioning systems with Ice Bear high-efficiency cooling equipment. The measures are part of the Climate Action Plan the city adopted in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This is where California’s progressive approach to climate change is helpful to the small “Inland Empire” city. The state’s Title 24 Building Standards Code requires developers to build housing that is highly efficient and solar- and electric vehicle-ready. This is good news for a city that is finally beginning to feel the effects of the economic recovery. “We are expecting new residential development, but industry is our fastest growing load,” Sutorus observed.
Colton Electric offers a menu of commercial customer rebates, including automated online energy monitoring analysis, lighting rebates and time-of-use rates. Support for commercial customers can help grow local industry and bring more jobs to the area. More jobs mean a stronger economy, and that, too, will be good for ratepayers.
The market for electric vehicles is growing quickly, and utilities can expect to play a central role in minimizing the potential grid impacts of this new load and increasing access to charging infrastructure. With that in mind, the Smart Electric Power Alliance has surveyed more than 480 utilities about their EV programs to create the industry’s first ever state-of-the-market report for EV programs.
Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value couldn’t come at a better time, with many industry EV adoption forecasts being revised due to exponential growth. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that electricity consumption will grow from a few terawatt-hours a year in 2017 to around 118 TWh by 2030. Many utilities may be unprepared for this sudden change in load growth. SEPA has collected information and tools in this report that can help utilities and their partners find a path forward.
The report includes:
A first-of-its-kind analytical framework for establishing the maturity of utility EV programs
Fourteen types of utility EV programs and activities categorized into early, intermediate and late stages
An overview of regulatory decisions regarding utility investments in EV charging infrastructure
Recommendations for strategic utility planning on EVs
Regulatory analysis and regional trends from over 70 EV-related regulatory dockets
A detailed analysis of the collected data revealed that 75 percent of utilities were in the earliest stages of EV program development. Time is not on the utilities’ side and they must begin now to work with peers and others in the industry to develop a robust EV strategy and identify ways to leverage EVs as a grid asset. Preparation today will equip power providers with the knowledge and technologies they need to unlock value in this new load.
You can download Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value for free. SEPA members can gain access to the dataset by logging in to the SEPA EStore. The dataset includes the list of utilities included in the analysis, the total number of programs and activities identified by stage for each utility and the identified utility stage.
Electric vehicles potentially offer many benefits—as a distributed energy resource with the ability to modulate charge or even dispatch energy back into the grid—along with many unknowns for utilities. Use this report to introduce yourself to the promise and pitfalls of a load that could change our industry.
The survey of nearly 700 electric utilities in the U.S. and Canada indicated that their commitment to lower-carbon energy resources remains strong even as concern over market and policy uncertainty grows. Other top takeaways include:
Expectations of load growth – Since 2008, utilities have faced stagnant or declining demand for electricity, but this year, utility professionals see that trend changing.
Uncertainty, particularly in regard to federal regulation – Nearly 40 percent of utility professionals named uncertainty as their top concern about changing their power mix — almost twice the level of concern expressed about integrating distributed energy resources (DER) with utility systems.
Cybersecurity fears – For the second year running, participants placed cybersecurity at the top of their list of concerns, with about 81 percent rating it either important or very important.
Justifying emerging grid investments – Utilities see the need to invest in grid intelligence to manage electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, DER, storage, analytics and cybersecurity. However, demonstrating the return on such high-tech investments to regulators, ratepayers and even their own organizations is complicated.
Traditional cost-of-service regulation falling from favor – Utilities are ready to adapt their business models to take advantage of new technologies and market opportunities. Around 80 percent indicated they either have or want a regulatory proceeding in their state focused on reforming utility business and revenue models.
Perhaps the most positive message to be taken from the results of the 2018 survey is how many utilities are willing to rethink the traditional business model in the face of changes in the industry. The report has a laundry list of other important insights on rate design, DER ownership, the increasing popularity of EVs and more. Whether you participated in the survey this year or not, it is sure to make for interesting reading.
You can download the 86-page survey report for free, or read a rundown of the top results with graphs. Utility Dive also hosted a sneak-peak webinar on the results at the end of January, which you can listen to for free.
The report draws on data from more than 1,000 Americans to yield 534 respondents with household incomes below $50,000. Members of the Low Income Energy Issues Forum, a diverse working group seeking innovations to make utility service more affordable, collaborated on the survey.
Even as the economy continues to grow stronger, many Americans still struggle to pay their utility bills. The number of low-income respondents who reported trouble paying their utility bills in 2017 increased 7 percent over the previous year. Also, 20 percent of respondents had applied for energy assistance.
Contributing to the general anxiety of trying to provide for their families, low-income customers experience uncertainty about the utility bill itself, the complexity of applying for energy assistance and confusion about how to control costs. Utilities seeking to improve service to this demographic might offer a range of voluntary options that customers could choose according to their lifestyle.
Consumers who are intensely focused on their daily budgets need more convenient choices. Simplifying tariffs, facilitating energy assistance through social service agencies and offering individualized “energy counseling” are among the services that could provide greater control to customers with limited financial means.
The findings also indicated that the low-income segment is far more engaged with their energy consumption than utilities believed. A majority of survey respondents have taken action on their own to save money on electric or heating bills. Consumers are eager for more information to save even more.
Perhaps the challenge is not consumer engagement but the entire construct of utility programs and policies to assist these customers. For example, a key metric used by advocates is “energy burden,” referring to the percentage of a household’s income required to pay utility bills. Yet, when asked, low-income customers understood “burden” somewhat differently; they focus more on eliminating uncertainty and getting help when they need it (situational awareness). This is an important distinction.
The 2017 survey points to the long struggle to improve service to low-income customers, beginning with utility program developers being willing to listen more carefully to customers themselves. We must be prepared to let go of the assumptions that undergird programs and assistance measures intended to help these customers, and develop offerings that more closely match their needs.
You can download EcoPinion Consumer Survey Report No. 31 and other reports and articles from EcoPinion Publications. Registration and login is required. You can also sign up to receive email updates.
This is your opportunity to share your experiences collaborating with other utilities and other departments within your own utility to achieve greater impacts in residential, commercial and industrial end-use applications through a customer-oriented approach.
The event will explore case study best practices and lessons learned about customer-facing programs related to energy (gas and water) efficiency, strategy, issues and integration with renewable energy, demand response and more.
Special consideration will be given to presentations that highlight:
Consumer engagement and unifying messages
Gas, electric and/or water utility programs cooperating across departments or service territories to improve the customer experience
New energy-efficiency and demand management technology, storage and electric vehicles
Energy-efficiency and renewables programs collaborating with local and regional efforts on carbon action or greenhouse gas goals
Strategic on-site energy and distribution system management
The conference provides general and breakout session interaction as well as networking opportunities. Proposed presentation formats may include:
General or breakout sessions up to 20 minutes long with Q&A
Snapshot panel talks of up to five minutes
Poster discussions during the Wednesday evening reception
Friday morning workshops or round table discussions two to four hours in length
The Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange is an intimate forum for networking and professional development that takes place at Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado. Around 150 utility and government organization staff and trade allies attend, giving everyone the chance to learn about utility customer programs and services, and products to support them. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 19-21.
For professionals who have not previously attended the RMUE, a limited number of scholarships are available. See the FAQ sheet for details and to download an application.
The videos share the stories of homeowners in three eastern states, and the effect energy-efficiency upgrades have had on their lives. The theme running through the series is that reducing energy waste lessens the need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. Those cuts deliver big gains in health, because pollutants from burning fossil fuels contribute to four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease and stroke.
The series is part of ACEEE’s new Health and Environment program, launched last year to research the linkages among health, environment and energy efficiency, and to educate policymakers. Later this year, ACEEE will release a series of reports that will further explore the health and environmental benefits of saving energy.
A two-day Conference on Health, Environment & Energy ACEEE is planning for December will showcase the research and promote others’ work in this growing field. Utilities are welcomed to attend the conference in New Orleans to add their voices to this critical conversation.
Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2/6/18
Around this time of year, we are all getting fed up with cold weather and the high utility bills that come with it. Your customers might appreciate some suggestions for saving money and keeping warm over the next few (or, in some places, several) weeks. The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has just the thing for your website or bill stuffer. Here are simple steps we can all take to stay warm.
1. Spruce up the fireplace Before you build that cozy fire and settle in with a good book and a hot beverage, give your fireplace some love.
Replacing your inefficient wood-burning fireplace with a more efficient wood stove or gas insert can turn your pretty–but high–maintenance—fireplace into a viable way to heat your home. Converting your fireplace will not only save you on monthly heating costs, it can improve air quality in your community. It could even put money back in your pocket—some states offer rebates or tax credits for upgrading your inefficient fireplace.
If you aren’t ready to update your fireplace, try adding glass doors with a heat-air exchange system. Make sure your fireplace is cleaned and your flue damper properly sealed. Also, try to keep the fireplace damper closed when you don’t have a fire burning to keep heat from your furnace from going up the chimney.
2. Reverse your fan The same ceiling fan that helps to keep you cool in the summertime can also help circulate warm air in the winter. Look for a little switch on the motor housing to reverse the direction of your fan, pushing warm air down and recirculating it through the room. How do you ensure that your fan is spinning in the correct direction? When you look up, the blades are spinning clockwise.
3. Protect your lawn so it can protect you Properly planned landscaping can save you energy and increase your home’s comfort. Windbreaks can help keep your heating bills under control by blocking the cold winter wind around your home. A wall or fence, evergreen trees and shrubs planted on the north, west and east sides of your home can be most effective in creating a windbreak and reducing heating costs.
Especially in some parts of the West, wet spring snowfall can snap branches that provide cooling shade during the summer. Worse yet, a broken branch could fall on a power line and cause an outage in the neighborhood. Use a broom or a mop to shake the heavy snow off tree branches and relieve some of the weight.
4. Air-seal then insulate Reducing the amount of air that leaks in and out of your home is one of the most cost-effective ways you can cut heating and cooling costs, improve durability, increase comfort and create a healthier indoor environment. Caulking and weather stripping are two simple and effective air-sealing techniques that offer quick returns on investment, often one year or less
5. Windows, windows, windows Your windows do more than provide a view of snow-covered yards. They also provide a barrier to the cold. Windows with low-e coating reduce heat loss and even reflect back part of the room’s heat. Installing storm windows can also reduce heat loss through windows by about 10 to 20 percent.
If replacing windows is too big an investment, return to Step 4 and put some fresh calking around the panes and sill. Choose window coverings designed to help improve the performance of old windows. As a bonus, your home will get a little spring facelift to help you through the last dreary weeks of winter.
After nearly three years of competition, the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) announced the winners, and the top honors go to cities served by WAPA customers. Fargo, North Dakota, took first place, receiving a prize package that includes support toward $5 million in financing for an energy efficiency dream project. Fort Collins, the only Colorado city to advance to the final round, came in second.
Over the course of the competition, Fargo reduced its overall energy consumption by more than 172 billion Btu, to rank fourth among the 50 semifinalists’ overall energy scores. In the final round, the judges evaluated the 10 top- performing cities and counties on their energy-saving approach, performance and prospects for nationwide replicability and scalability.
“Lose-A-Watt,” as Fort Collins dubbed its two-year energy reduction campaign, saved the community more than 160 billion BTUs of energy and reduced carbon emissions by 34,436 metric tons. The contest targeted electricity and natural gas use by residential and municipal and K-12 sectors.
Multi-faceted competition The beauty of GUEP is that it gave America’s small- to medium-sized towns, cities and counties a way to rethink how they use energy. To reduce their energy consumption, the communities:
Implemented bold new local policies on energy-transparency, energy-savings and clean energy technology.
Conducted deep data mining of their energy use and community infrastructure.
Focused on increasing energy efficiency in neighborhoods with high energy use in all income brackets.
Created novel financing mechanisms to enable their residents to invest in new energy upgrades.
Used radically unique approaches to change behavior and help communities rethink their energy-use habits, including gamification and the latest methods in social science research.
Starting in April 2014, communities across the country applied to participate and filed detailed long-term plans once accepted into the competition. From January 2015 to December 2016, semifinalists competed to reduce their utility-supplied energy consumption in a way that might yield continuing improvements in their own communities and could be replicated by others.
Judges selected the finalist communities in 2017, based on energy saved during the two-year period. The winner was selected by combining those results with scores in weighted categories, including innovation, potential for replication, likely future performance, equitable access, community and stakeholder engagement, education and overall quality and success.
Teamwork creates success Fargo’s program was built on a partnership between the city, North Dakota State University (NDSU) and the utilities Xcel Energy and Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC). Putting together a team where each party brings a particular expertise to the table was critical to Fargo’s success, said Malini Srivastava, an assistant architecture professor at NDSU. “The university researched and designed the projects to lower energy use, the utilities supplied data for benchmarking and the city provided the communication network to engage the citizens,” she explained.
CCEC had recently installed an automated metering infrastructure that collects data in up to 15-minute intervals. Having a clear picture of electricity use by homes, apartments, schools, park districts and municipal buildings proved to be very beneficial in moving the project forward. “The meter data definitely increased the likelihood of Fargo winning the Georgetown University Energy Prize,” said CCEC President and CEO Marshal Albright.
Engaging online, in person Srivastava, the project lead for NDSU, created another important piece of the city’s strategy, eFargo. The web portal engaged the community with games and a narrative. “Gaming made saving energy fun and easy to understand,” said Fargo Planning Director Nicole Crutchfield. “eFargo was a great way to educate students and the general public about energy efficiency.”
The website attracted more than 300 participants to play the open game during eight weeks. The school game was even more successful, with more than 1,500—mostly students—participating over a six-week period. “We challenged local schools to defeat the Waste-a-Watt character by using their knowledge about energy and creativity,” Albright said. “The schools competed to reduce energy consumption over six weeks. Fargo’s Roosevelt Elementary won the challenge, reducing the school’s energy consumption by 29 percent.”
Getting school children involved was the most effective outreach, Crutchfield noted, but engaging citizens at libraries, public events, churches and other faith-based groups also paid off. Local experts in energy production and distribution joined the advocacy effort, forming the Citizens’ Local Energy Action Network—CLEAN—to advocate for renewable energy and evolving technologies in transportation.
Upping their building game Another project that helped secure the top honor was designing affordable “passive houses” Fargo hopes to develop in partnership with a builder. NDSU architecture students researched and designed four high-performance homes. “The students did professional-level work, and I think it was educational for them to watch the city work through the permitting process,” Crutchfield said.
Other initiatives included providing financial assistance to low-income homeowners for weatherization and to preserve existing housing stock in the city’s older neighborhoods. Fargo also adopted and is actively enforcing the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code. The city hopes to keep working with NDSU on coming up with creative ways to reinforce our housing stock. “That is one possible use for the prize,” Crutchfield said.
Words matter The city of Fort Collins, a long-time leader in municipal sustainability, used the GUEP competition as an opportunity to hone some existing programs and strategies and to test new ones. Fort Collins Utilities (FCU) and the city’s Environmental Services led a campaign built on climate action goals that are already reducing the community’s environmental impact.
One particular area of success, according to Fort Collins Sr. Environmental Planner Katy McLaren, was in tightening up and lightening up the language in outreach material. “We built our messaging around specific actions and limited seasonal campaigns to three actions,” McLaren said.
Social science-based marketing approaches informed the Lose-a-Watt campaign but the website avoided utility jargon to engage visitors with lighter, more fun language. Those lessons will be incorporated into the city’s future marketing and outreach campaigns, noted McLaren. “I think other utilities could benefit from looking at how we framed the efficiency actions, as well as the use of lighter language in messaging,” she added.
Many ways to save The Lose-a-Watt website provided Fort Collins residents with a variety of options for taking action to reduce their energy use, some established and some launched for the competition. Homeowners could make home performance upgrades with Efficiency Works Neighborhood, a pilot program that streamlined the utility’s rebate process for efficiency improvements. “FCU moved it to full program status and will continue to refine it going forward,” McLaren said.
Residents who were inspired to volunteer could join the Porchlight Campaign. Volunteers visit neighborhoods around the city to see what type of light bulbs homes have in their porch light fixture. If a home’s porch light has an incandescent bulb, volunteers offer to replace it with a free LED bulb.
The Workwise Challenge got the business community involved in the competition by giving businesses free home conservation kits to hand out to their employees. The business with the most employees installing kits received prizes and recognition. Utility representatives used the challenge as an opening to introduce commercial customers to ClimateWise, the city’s free, voluntary program to help Fort Collins businesses reduce their environmental impact.
Some things work, some don’t As with Fargo, Fort Collins found engaging students to be the “biggest bang for the buck.” Poudre School District worked with the city to present the Voltbusters education program for K-3 grades. “The kids take the information home to share with their parents, and the parents are much more interested because their kids are into it,” McLaren echoed Crutchfield’s observation.
Gaming—specifically a gaming app created by Joulebug—was less of a success for Fort Collins. “It would probably have been more effective if we ran it for one year, instead of two,” McLaren said.
Overall, maintaining the community’s level of engagement for the duration of the competition proved challenging, McLaren acknowledged. The fact that Georgetown University struggled to keep its dashboard updated with progress reports did not help, she said.
Worth effort Both cities saw the competition as a positive experience that gave them permission to experiment with new ideas and pushed them to communicate more with residents about energy use.
Srivastava agreed with Albright about the importance of having detailed energy-use data to measure programs. She is currently preparing a report on the competition to present at a conference in the spring, and is looking forward to sharing Fargo’s lessons with other cities. Perhaps the greatest lesson the Georgetown University Energy Prize winners learned, said Srivastava, is that, “Small cities shouldn’t be afraid of trying new ideas.”
WAPA congratulates Fargo and Fort Collins on their creativity and initiative, and we look forward to seeing how they build on their success.
The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and WAPA are once again co-sponsoring the Tribal Energy Webinar Series. The 2018 series of 11 webinars focuses on Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination through Community Energy Development. The free webinars are held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mountain Time the last Wednesday of each month, beginning in January and concluding in November.
Roughly two million American Indians and Alaska Natives from 567 federally recognized tribes live on or near 56.2 million acres of Indian land. These lands are also rich in energy resources that offer the tribes the opportunity for economic development and greater self-determination. The 2018 webinar series provides these diverse communities with the information and knowledge required to evaluate and prioritize their energy options.
Topics will cover establishing tribal consensus on energy goals and objectives; instituting short and long-range actions; and making informed technical, financial, market, policy, and regulatory decisions. Speakers will present tribal case studies highlighting proven energy development best practices. Attendees will discover tools and resources to facilitate and accelerate community energy and infrastructure development in Indian Country.
Action-oriented program The series begins on Jan. 31 with Office of Indian Energy: Advancing Future Leaders through STEM. This webinar will highlight the college student internship program for Native students interested in energy project planning and development activities. Former interns will talk about their experience with experts in the field and at DOE’s national laboratories, and how the program helped them make a positive impact in Indian Country. Applications are now being accepted through February 19 for the summer 2018 internship opportunity.
The rest of the schedule builds on past series with an emphasis on process, action and community-wide engagement: