RMI publishes report on consumer-centered home energy services

According to the Rocky Mountain InstituteYou are leaving WAPA.gov. a large gap exists between consumers’ interest in home performance and their actual investments in home efficiency improvements. Utilities have a tremendous opportunity to develop a new line of services, and RMI’s recent report, The Consumer Connection: A Consumer-Centric Approach to Delivering Home Energy Services, tells power providers how to unlock this market.

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.

Download The Consumer Connection for free from the RMI website.

Source: Rocky Mountain Institute Spark, 8/22/18

Study shows net-zero future at cost parity with coal

Platte River Power Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. recently got the results of a study it commissioned on the relative costs of transitioning to net-zero carbon generation by 2030. The study found that the northern Colorado generation and transmission utility can deliver a net-zero carbon generation portfolio for a cost premium of only 8 percent over the lifetime of the planning horizon (2018–2050).

A story in RMI Outlet, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the Rocky Mountain Institute blog, noted that researchers used relatively conservative assumptions for solar and wind costs, and did not consider demand-side efforts in their calculations. This is significant not only because the estimated difference in cost is so small, but also because it indicates the actual cost premium may be even lower than 8 percent.

Federal hydropower - 90 MW
Federal hydropower – 90 MW
Photo by Platte River Power Authority

History of commitment
PRPA and its municipal utility owners—Estes Park, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins, You are leaving WAPA.gov.Longmont You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Loveland You are leaving WAPA.gov.—have a long-standing commitment to clean energy and efficiency. The G&T contracts for approximately 198 megawatts of carbon-free resources from wind, hydropower and solar assets. In fall 2016, PRPA diversified its power production portfolio further by adding 30 MW of solar power at Rawhide Flats Solar.

Rawhide Flats Solar - 30 MW
Rawhide Flats Solar – 30 MW
Photo by Platte River Power Authority

A small mountain town with many second-home owners, Estes Park installed two electric vehicle chargers in 2014 and offers its residents energy-efficiency programs and a renewable energy purchase program. Fort Collins, second-place winner of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, has been a global climate leader for nearly 20 years. It was at Fort Collins’ request that PRPA undertook the net-zero study. Longmont City Council recently adopted a goal to use 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Loveland, an active contributor to the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange, You are leaving WAPA.gov. provides its customers with an extensive menu of energy-saving programs.

Silver Sage Windpower Project - 12 MW
Silver Sage Windpower Project – 12 MW
Photo by Platte River Power Authority

Calculating total cost
Technology company Siemens performed the study that is unique in showing a low cost for net-zero generation that incorporates transmission costs and balancing charges as well as fuel costs. RMI calls it proof that a net-zero path can achieve cost parity against coal even in coal country and that renewables can compete anywhere.

WAPA celebrates PRPA and its members for their initiative and for showing that public power utilities can lead the way to a low-carbon future.

Source: RMI Outlet, 3/8/18

Report, tools seek to boost building efficiency

Utilities have a vested interest in working with homeowners and businesses to accurately estimate and control energy costs. It is not only good for load management goals, it is also good for the local economy. A new report from Rocky Mountain Institute  You are leaving WAPA.gov. (RMI) and tools being developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can help utilities and cities move toward a more efficient building stock.

Changing real estate conversation
According to the online real estate platform Redfin, You are leaving WAPA.gov. energy bills can add as much as 40 percent to annual housing costs in some parts of the country. An MPG for Homes: Driving Visible Value for Home Energy Performance in Real Estate, the RMI report, makes the argument for incorporating energy use data into the total cost of homeownership calculations.

The authors emphasize, however, that making home energy use data more accessible is part of a greater vision. True market transformation will require a change in both homebuyer behavior and policies and approaches across several interconnected industries. The real estate, finance, home improvement and—yes—utility industry would all play a part and could all benefit in the long run from improving home performance metrics and making the data more transparent and accessible to homeowners.

RMI notes that the “green real estate” movement is already starting to catch on with online real estate portals featuring home energy scores on property listings. Partnerships between the Zillow Group You are leaving WAPA.gov. and UtilityScore, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Estately You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Clearly Energy and Redfin and Tendril You are leaving WAPA.gov. are aiming to make home energy scores a bigger consideration in buying decisions.

Recent home purchases drove 26 percent of home renovations in 2015, and preparation for resale led to 13 percent of renovations, according to Houzz and Home: Overview of Renovation. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Moreover, 67 percent of study respondents cited improving energy efficiency as an important reason for making a renovation. Clearly, renovation projects offer utilities an opportunity to promote energy-efficiency measures and programs to a receptive audience. Establishing relationships with housing professionals in the community could pay off for utility program managers in a big way.

Tools analyze home, infrastructure projects
Once you connect with customers who are interested in making energy-efficiency improvements, the next challenge is determining what upgrades will save them the most money and energy. The ResStock analysis tool from NREL provides detailed information on the technical and economic potential of residential energy-efficiency improvements and packages for 48 U.S. states.

By combining large data sources and statistical sampling with detailed building simulations, the program achieves unprecedented accuracy in modeling the diversity of the single-family housing stock. The ResStock software leverages DOE’s open-source building energy modeling platforms OpenStudio® You are leaving WAPA.gov.  and EnergyPlus You are leaving WAPA.gov. so you won’t need a supercomputer to run the program. Contact NREL to find out more.

On a larger scale, NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility is working on a demonstration project that is developing a buildings and district energy modeling tool, URBANopt. The demonstration integrates URBANopt with grid modeling software, OpenDSS, to analyze the projected dynamic energy consumption of a planned 382-acre mixed-use development. The Denver, Colorado, site includes corporate office space, retail space, multifamily dwellings, a hotel and parking and street lighting. This project will result in several tools that others can use to replicate this project across the country, including an enhanced version of URBANopt and a developer’s handbook.

WAPA’s Renewable Resources Program co-sponsors workshop on tough solar-program challenges

June 7-8, 2017
Golden, Colorado

What is the toughest challenge for an electric cooperative or public power utility in planning for community solar? Many utilities say it is solar resource procurement; for others, the top challenge would be pricing that works for both the utility and the customer, and turning that into a program offer. The Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) and WAPA’s Renewable Resources Program have heard these frequently cited concerns, and they are responding with a new, one-and-a-half day workshop, Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing, on June 7-8 at the WAPA Electric Power Training Center in Golden, Colorado. Registration You are leaving WAPA.gov. is free and targeted at utilities in the West, whether they are in states like Colorado that have guiding community solar legislation or states in which community solar is an option that requires utility leadership and innovation.

Jill Cliburn explains how the Community Solar Value Project is working to improve the community-scale solar model.
Jill Cliburn explains how the Community Solar Value Project is working to improve the community-scale solar model. (Photo by Community Solar Value Project)

According to Jill Cliburn, program manager for CSVP, this event will be the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year investigation into utilities’ best practices and innovations in community solar. Community solar, or community shared solar, describes a range of programs that allow customers to share, usually by a per-kilowatt-hour subscription or by leasing or buying panels, in a relatively large solar project, regardless of their ability to host a typical rooftop solar system. Projects are currently in place in 29 states, with the total market expected to grow by 20 percent or more annually.

This workshop will feature speakers from utility-led community solar programs, such as those at Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Pedernales Electric Cooperative. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Thought leaders from CSVP’s own expert team, Navigant Consulting, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the Regulatory Assistance Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Rocky Mountain Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. (RMI) will also speak. RMI’s successful Shine Project recently demonstrated ways to dramatically lower local solar procurement costs, whether for community solar programs or other utility needs.

“We’re also making time for participants to share their own unique challenges and solutions, so everyone will leave the workshop with actionable notes and resources,” Cliburn said.

Working with a utility forum group of about 10 utilities in the West, CSVP has put emphasis on practical solutions. For example, the project’s approach to pricing begins with streamlined utility-side economic analysis, but takes into account the market-target price required for program success. CSVP also has introduced new ways to package community solar with other utility program offers. And the project has published easy-to-use resource guides and checklists to help keep other tasks, from market research to completing the project RFP and procurement, on track and on budget.

Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing begins at 3:00 p.m. (MDT) on Wednesday June 7, with a “lightning round” of community solar best-practice presentations and a quick tour of WAPA’s grid simulator, followed by a cash-bar networking reception. On Thursday June 8, the workshop convenes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with lunch and breaks included. There is no cost for utility representatives to participate in this workshop, thanks to CSVP sponsorship by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and Solar Market Pathways Program and workshop co-sponsorship from the WAPA Renewable Resources Program and Extensible Energy, LLC, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the prime contractor for CSVP. Participants only cover travel and hotel costs and incidentals. For more information, see the registration website or contact workshop coordinator Nicole Enright.

Fort Collins forges ahead on climate goals

Throughout the nation, municipalities are showing leadership in addressing climate change, and Fort Collins, Colorado, is leading the leaders. The city recently revised its climate action goals to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030 across all sectors relative to 2005 levels.

An article in the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) Outlet You are leaving WAPA.gov. notes that the 2030 target is 20 years sooner than the “80 by ‘50” goal other leading cities have set, making it among the most ambitious of any city in the world. RMI is among the many partners the Fort Collins City Council engaged to assess the costs and benefits to the community of accelerating the city’s greenhouse gas emissions goals. The partnership includes community leaders, local businesses, citizen advisory groups, the communities’ generation and distribution utilities and research institutes.

Investment required
Led by city government and Fort Collins UtilitiesYou are leaving WAPA.gov. the partnership has discussed, analyzed and reviewed approaches to achieving the goals. The forward-looking plan lays the groundwork to stimulate hundreds of millions of dollars of new investments in efficiency and renewable resources in the years ahead. The upfront capital requirements will be high, but RMI estimates that the investments in carbon reduction will begin producing real financial benefits to the community close to 2030.

In addition to investing in infrastructure upgrades and clean central generation, the community will need to improve its building stock as well. The targets the city has identified to achieve its goals include:

  • Reduce building emissions by 40 percent through greater efficiency and distributed solar adoption
  • Reduce carbon emissions from the utility electricity system by 79 percent from 2005 levels
  • Reduce transportation carbon emissions by 57 percent from 2005 levels
  • Create a zero-waste community

Utility tackles challenge
Increasing the efficiency of the building stock poses a special challenge, as buildings are responsible for 53 percent of emissions and participation in retrofit programs is often low. The city’s municipal utility plays a central role in encouraging citizens to invest in efficiency for homes and commercial facilities. A recently approved update to the utility’s on-bill financing program allows unprecedented access and flexibility for financing efficiency. The plan gives customers the ability to allocate costs between tenant and landlord, and includes longer financing terms that match the life of the upgrades, lower interest rates and an easier approval process.

The integrated utility services model You are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins Utilities developed with RMI’s support could, if adopted, do even more to promote building efficiency. It would allow the utility to centrally deliver energy services; such as efficiency, distributed renewables and value-added services; at scales that will achieve cost savings and high-quality service, and be paid for on customers’ electricity bills. This approach offers an innovative model for utilities seeking to grow their business by diversifying their services to customers.

Long journey to sustainability
The new goals are part of continuing process that has engaged the city and its partners for more than 15 years.

The Fort Collins City Council passed a resolution in 1999, committing the city to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2010. The landmark year of 2007 saw the formation of the city’s Climate Task Force and the implementation of FortZED, funded by an $11 million federal grant. The project created a zero-energy district in Fort Collins’ downtown business district and the Colorado State University You are leaving WAPA.gov. campus. It also launched a dialogue between the university, the utility and the city that continues today, and led directly to the city council’s vote to adopt the historic new goals.

The process has not been smooth or easy, but the city has already made significant progress. By continuing its methodical, inclusive and thoughtful approach, Fort Collins is showing how even a town of 150,000 can make big strides in fighting climate change.

Source: RMI Outlet, 3/4/15

Gamifying Energy Use: Observed Trends From SXSW Interactive

When it comes to energy and the environment, most people want to do the right thing. But how many people actually contribute to improving energy use and environmental impact is another story. Ben Holland of Rocky Mountain Institute knows this better than most. As project manager for RMI’s Project Get Ready, Holland works with cities and industry leaders to promote electric vehicle integration and adoption.

He recently gave a presentation on his work at South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, the annual arts and technology conference in Austin, Texas. Initially, Holland was unsure about discussing the seemingly unrelated topic of observed barriers to electric vehicle adoption. But it turns out that the SXSW crowd is ahead of the curve on the subjects of environment and energy use.

“Gamification” and “Big Data” were two buzzwords frequently heard at SXSW earlier this month. The two closely related concepts, when combined, could have significant implications for energy use. Applying principals of gaming to non-game applications may encourage people to change their behavior. Mobile app developers have had great success doing this by incorporating location-based awareness data into their products. What if you could do something similar for energy? Read more. Source: RMI Outlet 3/26/12