It is no secret that rural communities continue to struggle, even in the strong economy, or that they frequently get overlooked when assistance programs are being planned.
According to a recent report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, rural residents spend an average of 4.4 percent of their income on energy bills—energy burden—compared to the 3.3 percent national average. Low-income households, including the elderly, renters and residents of manufactured and multifamily housing, have an energy burden nearly three times that of higher income households.
The High Cost of Energy in Rural America: Household Energy Burdens and Opportunities for Energy Efficiency focuses on energy costs related to the physical housing structure.
The report concludes with program options to address energy affordability, and details challenges and opportunities related to serving rural households with energy efficiency.
Life-changing programs Factors that contribute to energy burden include the physical condition of a home, a household’s ability to invest in energy-efficiency improvements and the availability of efficiency programs and incentives that put energy-saving technologies within reach. Energy-efficiency and home weatherization programs can greatly reduce this burden and make energy bills affordable. Rural utilities can help by offering these types of programs and partnering with local and regional organizations to increase their reach.
Aiken Electric Cooperative’s Help My House on-bill program, highlighted in the ACEEE video “Rural Energy Burden,” demonstrates how utility programs can make a difference in low-income customers’ lives. Participants have been able to slash their electricity bills nearly in half by getting their homes weatherized through Aiken’s program. That is money homeowners can now use to pay for day-to-day necessities.
Learn more A second report will be released by ACEEE this fall exploring lessons learned from rural program leaders across the country. In October, ACEEE is holding its first Rural Energy Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to examine how energy-efficiency technologies and programs can help rural America revitalize its economy. Industry, utility, cooperative, nonprofit, academia and government representatives will be discussing how to improve and expand efficiency programs that serve rural communities.
RMI researchers found a clear path that consumers follow from being interested in technology to purchasing it for their home. The report helps contractors, utilities and energy auditors understand the pathway and recognize how and when to engage customers, and who is the best messenger for the information. The report also explores the financing options that are most likely to spur residential customers to adopt energy efficiency upgrades.
The basis of the report is a survey RMI’s Residential Energy+ team conducted with 1,210 homeowners from all 50 U.S. states. In addition to learning what types of messengers, financing and timing make most sense to consumers, the team also uncovered other important findings around financing, what customers are willing to pay and what the main motivations are for energy upgrades.
Utility program managers will recognize the triggers that drive home energy upgrades—a new home purchase, a renovation done to sell a home or broken equipment—but the key takeaway is that consumers buy a product when they want it, not when the provider wants to sell it. The study also emphasizes that consumers do not necessarily want to speak to every stakeholder at each step of the process.
Learning which stakeholder is best suited to convey information can be an important marketing tool for service providers. Stakeholders should focus on what they do best and build partnerships with other stakeholders to fill in the gaps and provide consumers with a seamless selection and installation process.
In today’s utility landscape, power providers need a variety of strategies to maintain strong customer relationships and build an environment of trust and collaboration. A customer-centric program that increases homeowners’ investment in energy-efficiency improvements could contribute much to that goal, while supporting utilities’ load management plans.
Do you have a program success story you would like to share? Did your innovative spirit take flight, producing results others should know about? Please help us make the 2019 Utility Energy Forum a success by presenting your program during the Utility Program Stand Up Challenge!
“Utility Recipes for Meeting Customer Needs” is the theme for this year’s UEF. It is being held April 24-26 at the Cambria Pines Lodge in Cambria, California.
The StandUp Challenge is a fast-paced poster session that gives speakers the opportunity to present their poster to attendees three or four times over a 45-minute window. To have your poster considered for the StandUp Challenge, submit your proposal no later than Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Posters are most likely to be chosen if they focus on program results and lessons learned, are vendor agnostic, and have a utility or government author or co-author and presenter.
Other deadlines are approaching as well. Register before Nov. 30, 2018, to receive your Early Bird Discount, and make sure you submit your application for the Jim Brands Memorial Scholarship by Jan. 11, 2019.
Admittedly, it is no great sacrifice to visit Aspen, Colorado, in the fall, but the utility industry professionals from Colorado and nearby states who are making the trip Sept. 19-21 are not coming to enjoy the scenery. They are coming for the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange to meet their colleagues and industry allies and talk frankly about the triumphs and failures, goals and challenges of their jobs.
This unique forum has been drawing strong crowds of visionaries and idea people from energy and water utilities, nonprofits and technology vendors for 12 years, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Finding opportunity in challenge The theme for 2018, “United we understand,” emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conference, and holds one key to why it continues to grow in popularity. The theme resonates with WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “The past model for doing business, where utilities rarely talked amongst themselves, let alone with consumers, won’t work in today’s industry,” he said. Horstman is on the RMUE planning committee and WAPA is a sponsor of the event.
“Consumers expect to have more choice in their services, and that includes their electricity. Providing those options to customers creates opportunities for utilities to build and manage load and develop new products, while meeting environmental goals,” Horstman went on. “But the industry is going to have to communicate with their customers, their communities, equipment vendors and other power providers to realize those opportunities.”
The communication begins Wednesday morning with the Utility and Government Agency Roundtable. Representatives from those entities will share the topics they would most like to discuss and the one thing they would most like to learn during the exchange. Following a break, industry allies are free to join the discussion. This roundtable is for people who are not ready to make a formal presentation but definitely have something to talk about.
Highlighting industry trends The agenda shifts into high gear following lunch. Opening keynote speaker Ann Dougherty of market research firm Illume Advising will be asking utilities to look at their own marketing efforts and question whether they are positioned to innovate. This will be Dougherty’s first time speaking at the RMUE.
The State of Energy Consumers Today will be presented by another newcomer, Nathan Shannon of Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative. Shannon will draw on Smart Energy’s 2017 research projects for insights into what today’s consumers want and real-life examples of consumer engagement successes.
The rest of the day’s presentations read like a laundry list of trends that have morphed into looming challenges: utility-led distributed solar programs, climate action plan development, collaborations to expand utility programs’ reach and beneficial electrification. You will learn how other power providers have engaged, rather than resisted these issues to build successful programs.
Digging deeper Thursday morning, RMUE continues with variations on a theme (working together). Sessions examine programs and initiatives that integrate customer experience and community input. Consumers are clearly no longer content to passively accept the electricity coming down their wires. Environmental concerns are pushing them to demand more options and new technology is giving them the power to take more control of their energy use. Hear from utilities and their partners that abandoned the old model of a one-way relationship to find ways to harness efficiency as a resource, manage loads more effectively and help their communities fight and mitigate climate change.
In the afternoon, the agenda splits into dual tracks, giving you the chance to delve into topics in more detail with smaller groups. See if you can identify the subtext. In the first set of tracks, you can explore either customer engagement (communicating with customers) or the technology of the internet of things (communicating with customers through smart devices). The final dual-track sessions look at energy as a service, not a product (communicating with customers in a new way) and reaching hard-to-reach customers (communicating with customers who don’t make it easy).
If you are looking for even more detail than the dual-track sessions provide, get ready for the Friday workshops. Choose from three different sessions:
Electrifying Transportation: Developing Integrated Charging Networks for Electric Vehicles – Explore the role of utilities and government in electrifying the transportation sector.
Customer Experiences Workshop: Journey Mapping – Customer journey mapping provides a framework that can break down departmental barriers that limit a program’s potential. Each workshop participant will represent a different contributor in “our” utility during the workshop.
Community Goals Meet Utility Realities: Developing Best Practices for an Evolving Landscape – This facilitated discussion is an opportunity for local government and utility leaders to communicate directly about understanding and advancing community renewable and energy efficiency goals.
Keep talking—to each other As past attendees will tell you, the sessions are only half of what makes the RMUE such a great conference. Great speakers may bring in attendees, but networking opportunities and relationship building bring them back year after year.
The receptions keep conversations going after the end of the day in a casual atmosphere. The Wednesday night networking event is built around a poster session that allows you to learn more about products, services and programs that might fit into your operations. It also includes heavy hors oeuvres if you want to make a meal of it, rescue animals for the kids and this year, ice-breaker games. This is a family-friendly event and family members can attend for the friendly price of free.
Thursday night, the RMUE goes off-campus to the town of Aspen and the historic Hotel Jerome.
Every refreshment break and meal offers you a chance to ask speakers and colleagues questions, to bounce ideas off other sharp minds and to load up on high-quality calories. Breakfast, lunch and break snacks are included in the price of registration, and the food is terrific.
Details, details… Since the food is so abundant and delicious, you may want to pack your comfortable “business casual” attire—the RMUE is a “no-tie zone.” Those staying at the Aspen Meadows Resort also might want to pack their exercise gear as well, to take advantage of the onsite Aspen Health Club.
The Aspen Meadows RMUE room bloc has filled up, but overflow lodging at the Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson Lodge in town is still available. You can also contact Liz Pellerin at Aspen Meadows to get on a waiting list in case there are any room cancellations.
Based on a recent evaluation by WAPA’s Assessment Team, Energy Services is sunsetting its popular Equipment Loan Program. The Assessment Team, which was established in 2017, has been studying WAPA programs and initiatives to ensure that they support WAPA’s mission and bring value to the customer. The evaluation concluded that the program had successfully accomplished its original objective of giving power customers the opportunity to test out expensive diagnostic tools that might help them with planning, operations and maintenance.
WAPA launched the Equipment Loan Program more than 30 years ago when diagnostic tools were often large, cumbersome and expensive. The price of an infrared camera, for example, used to run to several thousand dollars for a basic model. Now you can pick up a pocket-sized camera at Home Depot for a little more than $200. There are even apps you can download to take IR pictures with your cellphone. Likewise, anemometers and weather stations have come down in price so that entities on a tight budget—schools, small municipal utilities—can afford to purchase their own.
Keeping pace with the latest technology has also become a problem for the Equipment Loan Program. The technology behind the tools used to change more slowly, so the program could provide customers with state-of-the-art equipment, or close to it. Today, a new and genuinely improved model seems to come out every couple of years. Even with more affordable prices, updating the tool library becomes an expensive proposition. At the same time, customers often can buy the latest version of a particular tool without denting their own budgets.
These changes in the marketplace have led to a sharp drop in the number of customers using the Equipment Loan Program. At the same time, many of the tools have become outdated. Were the program to continue, bringing the library up to date would be costly. The decision to end the program saves about $177,000 annually—funds that can be directed toward efforts that offer customers greater value.
All of the existing loan requests have been filled and we are in the process of retrieving the equipment so it can be disposed of as federal law requires.
Going forward, WAPA customers will have to make other arrangements for their equipment needs. However, most of the diagnostic tools in the Equipment Loan Program library are readily available from local vendors for rental or purchase. Also, you can contact your regional Energy Services representative for suggestions on where to find tools.
Your support of the Equipment Loan Program over the years has made it a highlight of Energy Services. It has allowed us to meet our customers, learn about your unique operations and find solutions that improve safety, efficiency and occasionally your bottom line. As hard as it is to say goodbye to the Equipment Loan Program, we consider it a success to retire a program that has served its purpose and met your needs.
WAPA has always been committed to helping customers deal with both the routine and unexpected challenges of powering the West, and that assistance has taken many forms over the past 40 years. Technical assistance, in the form of workshops, customer meetings, one-on-one troubleshooting and a wide variety of traditional and electronic publications, has been one way of supporting customers’ business and operational goals. Lately, WAPA has been looking at the programs and initiatives we offer to determine which bring the most value to customers and which have served their purpose.
Technology has changed rapidly over just the past decade, and it has reshaped the electricity industry and the way we communicate. Where Energy Services’ website and publications used to be a go-to, one-stop clearinghouse for energy planners and managers at WAPA utilities, it now competes with thousands of other high-quality information sources online. Many of the diagnostic tools customers used to borrow from the Equipment Loan Program have come down in cost to be within reach of even small utilities, and the number of customers checking tools out has dwindled accordingly. To support WAPA customers in this new environment, Energy Services must evolve, too.
Customers will continue to receive support from WAPA for their resource planning activities as they have for more than 20 years. Regional Energy Services representatives will still be available to answer questions about integrated resource planning or to suggest tools and programs that can help utilities reach their load management goals.
The communications component of the Energy Services program is being integrated with WAPA’s Public Affairs office to present a more cohesive message about the mission and value of the organization. The Energy Services Bulletin will publish its final issue Nov. 1. Over the next several weeks, subscribers will receive an invitation to transfer their subscription to Customer Circuit. Along with features about WAPA customers, this publication is filled with news about the organization that touches every part of utility operations: transmission, markets, budget and finance, environment, legislation and more.
At WAPA, customers are partners. Programs like Energy Services give us the opportunity to learn more about their operations so we can continue to build that relationship. Energy Services will continue to seek customer input on the direction of the program and on what services you value most. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.
The Electric Power Research Institute recently launched its Efficient Electrification Initiative to analyze the impacts of electrifying the end use of energy, where it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.
In an article in the EPRI Journal, President and CEO Mike Howard drew a distinction between the original meaning of electrification—extending electrical service to people who lacked it—and EPRI’s demonstration program. Efficient electrification, Howard explained, looks to integrate the energy network to help achieve the most efficient use of energy and the cleanest production, delivery and consumption of that energy.
As defined in EPRI’s U.S. National Electrification Assessment, electrification refers to the adoption of electric end-use technologies to displace other commercial energy forms and provide new services. According to the assessment, electrification yields benefits to the economy that include:
Lower energy use
Reduced air emissions and water use
Improved health and safety for workers, potentially leading to gains in productivity and product quality
Greater grid flexibility and efficiency
More uses, less consumption Among the assessment’s key findings is the expectation that electricity’s share of final energy consumption will grow from 21 percent today to 32–47 percent in 2050. Transportation—for personal vehicles and for commercial truck fleets and other heavier-duty applications—accounts for a large share of this growth. Advanced heat pumps, industrial process equipment and other technologies will also contribute to that increase.
The analysis considers regulatory and economic barriers and points to opportunities for financing, recalling how rural electrification financing enabled technology that dramatically increased farm production. In the 21st century, indoor agriculture through electrified production of crops could sharply reduce water and other resource consumption, Howard asserted.
Balancing act with benefits One surprising fact that emerged from EPRI’s analysis is that even as electricity use increases, the overall use of energy decreases, hence the pairing of “efficient” with “electrification.” The entire energy system would become more efficient through efficient electrotechnologies, and become cleaner as it uses less energy to do the same work.
The efficient electrification scenario makes the entire system more dynamic, too. As more applications rely on electricity, grid operators have more resources to manage and draw upon for balancing supply- and demand-side resources.
Discover possibilities To move the conversation about electrification forward, EPRI is hosting the inaugural Electrification 2018 International Conference & Exposition Aug. 20-23 in Long Beach, California. Manufacturers, policymakers, academia, researchers, utility professionals and more will come together to explore the potential for electrifying at the point of end use.
This is an excellent opportunity to find out where electrification is today and where it could go tomorrow. Attendees will see the latest technologies in action and learn about the quantifiable benefits of electrification for consumers and the environment. Utilities and vendors will share cutting-edge practices from innovative programs they have implemented.
Now is the time for power providers to be talking about efficient electrification. Utilities that are ready to address the challenges and seize the opportunities can become leaders in efficiency, sustainability, service and customer satisfaction. Learn more about the conference and don’t forget to share your stories with WAPA.
In addition to mandating rooftop solar, the code contains incentives for energy storage and requires new home construction to include advanced energy-efficiency measures. Using 2017 data, ClearView Energy Partners estimate that the mandate could require between 68 and 241 megawatts of annual distributed solar buildout.
Good for consumers, solar, storage industries The commission stated that the new code is meant to save Californians a net $1.7 billion on energy bills all told, while advancing the state’s efforts to build-out renewable energy.
Following the commission’s decision, solar developers such as Sunrun, Vivint Solar and First Solar experienced a surge in stock prices, Bloomberg reported.
The updated codes also allow builders to install smaller solar systems if they integrate storage in a new home, adding another incentive to include energy storage. California has been a leader in incentivizing energy storage. In January, the California Public Utility Commission moved to allow multiple revenue streams for energy storage, such as spinning reserve services and frequency regulation.
Utilities question policy The solar industry received a prior boost in January 2016, when the CPUC approved its net metering 2.0 rate design. The state’s investor-owned utilities asserted at the time that net metering distributed generation from electricity consumers shifted the costs for the system’s maintenance and infrastructure onto consumers who do not own distributed generation.
ClearView analysts pointed to the distributed solar mandate as a possible opening for utilities to argue that California regulators should reconsider the net metering reform proposal. According to the report ClearView published ahead of the CEC’s decision, utilities that opposed the new rate-design could claim that mandating distributed solar alters the policy landscape enough to warrant further review of the compensation levels paid to excess generation.
The facility was the first in Colorado and fourth in the world to receive the Platinum designation under the latest version of the LEED standard. In addition to being one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the state, more than 95 percent of the construction waste was diverted from landfills. It features a 104-kilowatt solar system, and the city is currently reviewing designs to add a storage battery later this year.
Shoot for gold, hit platinum The request for proposals called for the building to achieve a minimum of a LEED Gold rating under the new LEED v.4 standard, which has a more performance-based approach than previous versions. “The architecture went through a lot of iterations—in square footage, budget and so forth—but the specificity of the goals we set for the project in the RFP kept the design and construction team on track,” said John Phelan, Fort Collins Energy Services manager.
The city required the design and construction team to achieve all of the energy and atmosphere points to ensure ongoing performance, and challenged the team in other areas to achieve the certification. The choice to apply LEED v.4 presented the city with some challenges. For example, Phelan recalled that the materials category has new methodology and standards so the updated material data sheets were not always available. “That made it hard for the contracting team to get the necessary documentation,” he explained.
The integrated approach produced some clear triumphs as well. The design team focused on a well-insulated, tight envelope with extensive daylighting, resulting in a building with extraordinary light quality and views. “If you are not in a bathroom or closet, you can see the sky,” Phelan proudly stated.
Sustainability quest continues The Utilities Administration Building is the first phase of an efficient new civic campus planned for Downtown Fort Collins. The master plan calls for the buildings clustered in a two-block area to be heated and cooled by a shared geothermal well field. Designers prepared the new building for that eventuality. It was designed to be able to connect the district heating system, promising an even better energy performance in the future.
Energy isn’t the only kind of performance the city is planning to measure. In an effort to understand the value of indoor environmental quality of this building, occupants have taken pre- and post-construction surveys on their comfort, satisfaction and how they feel about their work environment. Ultimately, annual utility bills are very small compared to the utility’s investment in its employees, explained Phelan. “You can’t lose sight of the fact that you are building for the people who work inside, doing the work that the community wants,” he said.
WAPA congratulates Fort Collins Utilities for another achievement in sustainability. The forward-thinking municipal utility has made great strides in lowering its carbon intensity, and never rests in pursuing more innovative solutions.
Window replacement strictly for energy savings carries a big price tag that can be well out of range for many homeowners. Fortunately, there are several lower-cost options for reducing energy loss through windows that utility program managers might consider adding to their incentive offerings.
Reflecting on film
Window films help block against solar heat gain and protect against glare and ultraviolet exposure. According to the International Window Film Association, professionally installed window film can block 30-60 percent of all energy being lost through window glass throughout the heating and cooling seasons. IWFA also claims that window film in commercial buildings can deliver seven times the energy saving benefits per dollar spent compared with installing replacement windows.
DOE’s Energy Saver blog explains that reflective films work best in climates with long cooling seasons, because they also block the sun’s heat in the winter. Other factors that impact the effectiveness of window films include:
Size of window glazing area
Whether the window has interior insulation
Incentives for professional installation of window films could be a winner for utilities serving low-income areas in warmer climates. Homeowners and businesses in such regions might welcome an affordable alternative to window replacement. Check with your state energy office to see if it offers any tax incentives you can piggy-back on your program.
Drawing on curtains, shades
Carefully chosen window attachments can also save homeowners energy for less than the cost of window replacements. The Attachments Energy Rating Council is a good place to begin exploring options. The two-year-old organization is working with DOE to provide credible and accurate information about the energy performance of residential and commercial window attachment products.
For an overview of AERC’s work, download “Window Attachments: A Call to Action,” the Council’s updated brief. AERC is holding its annual meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, May 22 to 24.
Efficient Window Coverings, a guide supported by DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is another valuable resource for evaluating different window products for energy efficiency. Website visitors will find a calculator to help them choose the best covering for their circumstances and a comparison chart to see how coverings stack up against each other. These functions can help utilities identify a range of options to appeal to different customer segments.