Aspen Meadows Resort
To say that the utility landscape has changed since 2007 is a laughable understatement—new technologies, new regulations, new customer expectations and economic ups and downs challenge our industry like never before. But the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, now in its tenth year, provides attendees with a touchstone for the evolution of their customer efficiency programs.
It seems like only yesterday that 92 Colorado utility program staff and allies gathered at Aspen Meadows Resort for the first Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange. Programmable thermostats were basically timers that controlled your furnace and there was little or no talk of micro-grids or data analytics. Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) were state-of-the-art lighting technology and the centerpiece of many a utility energy efficiency initiatives.
Learning to share
In fact, the event grew out of a meeting UtilityExchange.org Executive Director Ed Thomas attended at Platte River Power Authority on the possibility of coordinating a statewide CFL retailer point-of-purchase promotion. Adam Perry, Platte River’s customer services supervisor for energy efficiency, had just moved to Colorado from Oregon where he was accustomed to working with multiple utilities on customer programs. “I thought it was that way across the country,” Perry admitted. “I wondered where Colorado utilities got together to talk to their peers about their programs and collaborate on regional programs. I soon found out that venue didn’t exist.”
The meeting also included Jeff Rice, then utilities efficiency specialist for the city of Aspen . Thomas asked the two if their utilities would be interested in supporting an event where program managers could exchange ideas on energy-efficiency programs and learn from each other. “The hope was that sharing would lead to regional and statewide partnerships and collaboration,” explained Perry. “Looking back I can say that RMUEE has allowed me to build great friendships and relationships with my utility program peers. Being able to share ideas and our successes and failures in energy-efficiency program design and implementation has really benefitted both me and my utility.”
The city of Aspen became the event host, in no small part because Rice had just received an energy-efficiency mandate and had no idea where to start. Gas utilities were also being required to launch demand-side management (DSM) efforts, and their program managers were equally eager to learn from others. Returning attendees acknowledge that their programs did, indeed, make “progress through poaching.” Jim Dillon, Black Hills Energy senior manager for energy efficiency, has attended several exchanges over the years. “We feel that the ability to collaborate with our peers is instrumental in building a quality energy-efficiency portfolio that serves all customer classes and moves customers down the energy efficiency pathway,” he said.
Attendees, issues have staying power
The event grew, attracting attendees from the wider region, and the name changed in 2011 to Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange to reflect this inclusive approach. This year, more than 120 attendees—many familiar faces—are expected to come together to grapple with underlying questions that are also all too familiar: How do we meet mandates? How do we increase the efficiency of the building stock? How do we educate and engage customers? How do we fund programs? How does new technology fit into the bigger picture?
The agenda puts a 2016 spin on these timeless issues, starting with a round table discussion based on topics suggested in a survey you can submit in advance (by Sept. 23). Presentations on Wednesday, Sept. 28, focus on teaching customers to take control of their energy use and integrating the most effective approaches to meet aggressive energy-efficiency goals. A case study on a good, old-fashioned municipal lighting upgrade—now with LED [light-emitting diode] technology—wraps up the first day’s sessions.
The popular dual-track schedule on Thursday morning allows attendees to switch between residential- and commercial-focused sessions. On the residential side, speakers will share their experiences designing, financing, marketing and delivering programs to help homeowners save energy. Aspen Utilities Efficiency Specialist Ryland French will talk about the city’s participation in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. The commercial track will cover strategies for motivating different types of business customers and ways to increase their satisfaction. The afternoon offers program snapshots and a look at market transformation and financing models.
Bryan Hannegan of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Ben Bixby, energy products director for Nest Labs, will deliver the keynote speeches. Hannegan, NREL’s associate lab director for energy systems integration, will talk about integrating electricity, fuel, thermal, water and communication networks to achieve a more sustainable society. Bixby’s keynote will explore business models and partnering strategies for utilities. Sneak Peek Preview webinars were conducted with the keynotes and advisory committee in August and the archived recordings are available on the event home page.
Eat! Drink! Network!
One feature that helps to keep the RMUEE fresh and growing is that as much “exchanging” happens outside the sessions as during. Presentations are where the conversations begin, but they continue, deepen and expand during refreshment breaks, meals and receptions.
Wednesday night’s poster reception is like a private presentation where you can question the speaker one-on-one, with a beverage and snack in hand. The Thursday night networking event at the Limelight in Aspen is a chance to mix it up with the rest of the attendees in an even more relaxed setting.
Other things that haven’t changed in 10 years include:
- The food at Aspen Meadows Resort is still delicious
- Aspen is still beautiful in the fall
- Dress is still casual (leave the tie at home)
- WAPA Energy Services representatives will be there
Yes, the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange gives us a chance to meet with you, our customers, in one place. We catch up on what is happening in your world, answer questions you might have and learn from you. Every year since 2007, we have returned from the RMUEE, impressed with your innovative ideas and commitment to doing the best for your communities. And we look forward to seeing what the next decade brings. See you in Aspen!