SEPA report offers guidance on planning for distributed energy resources

As tempting as it may be for utilities to ignore the growth of distributed energy resources (DER), they must plan for integration of this form of generation. To help power providers develop a strategy to accommodate increasing DER penetration, Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SEPA) has published a two-volume report, Beyond the Meter: Planning the Distributed Energy Future.

Volume I: Emerging electric utility distribution planning practices for distributed energy resourcesThe utility industry is changing and many of the changes are being driven by consumers seeking new energy choices, technology advances leading to lower costs and better performance and new policies. Both utilities and their customers will have to work together to ensure grid reliability as distributed energy resource (DER) penetration increases. Engineering consultants Black and Veatch You are leaving WAPA.gov. collaborated with SEPA to provide a new strategy to become a proactive distribution planning utility.

Volume I: Emerging electric utility distribution planning practices for distributed energy resources outlines why traditional distribution system planning framework does not meet the needs of today’s grid. Five investor-owned and public power utilities shared their drive, progress and challenges when planning and proactively integrating distributed energy resources within their distribution system. The report covers:

  • Practical framework for distribution planning utilities
  • Insight from sector leaders on challenges and successes
  • Tools to better understand customer needs

Volume II: A case study of integrated DER planning by Sacramento Municipal Utility District Volume II: A case study of integrated DER planning by Sacramento Municipal Utility District details how SMUD used the findings of Volume I to forecast DER growth and plan for distribution challenges. Through the lens of SMUD, the report looks at the broader scenarios the electric utility industry can expect to encounter. The report covers:

  • Results of the new utility planning strategies
  • Risks and opportunities of new DER systems
  • More on the new distribution system planning framework

Beyond the Meter is free to download for both SEPA members and non-members.

Source: Smart Electric Power Alliance, May 2017

 

CIPCO builds Iowa’s largest utility-scale solar project

In Iowa, where renewable energy is often synonymous with wind, one generation-and-transmission (G&T) cooperative is making a big investment in utility-scale solar generation. Over the last year, Central Iowa Power Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CIPCO) built the state’s largest photovoltaic (PV) project across five sites in its service delivery territory.

The completed Urbana Solar Acres development from a drone's-eye view.

The completed Urbana Solar Acres development from a drone’s-eye view. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

The member cooperatives involved in the project are Clarke Electric Cooperative, You are leaving WAPA.gov.Consumers Energy, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative, You are leaving WAPA.gov. East-Central Iowa REC You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Pella Cooperative Electric. You are leaving WAPA.gov. The 5.5-megawatt (MW) project will provide electricity to all CIPCO members of all income levels. “It is our mission as a cooperative to support all our members equally,” noted Communications and Public Affairs Manager Kerry Koonce. “Choosing the utility-scale model for the project rather than community solar accomplishes that.”

Becoming solar leader
In late 2015, CIPCO issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the development of the first of what is intended to be a two-phase utility-scale solar project.

Construction workers install solar racks at the Urbana Solar Acres on East-Central Iowa REC’s site.

Construction workers install solar racks at Urbana Solar Acres on East-Central Iowa REC’s site. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

Several of CIPCO’s 13 members showed interest in hosting a site. Then followed the hard work of determining which sites would be appropriate. “Some potential sites didn’t have sufficient resources, others had leasing issues,” recalled Koonce. “It is so important to make sure to get the correct layout, especially with a first-time project.”

CIPCO had help from the National Renewables Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NRCO), a trade group formed by cooperatives to facilitate the development and deployment of renewable energy resources. NRCO managed the RFP process and supplied engineering expertise for the project. CIPCO has used NRCO resources in the past to review wind-purchase contracts as well.

To install the arrays, CIPCO selected Azimuth Energy LLC You are leaving WAPA.gov. of St. Louis, Missouri, an engineering, construction and development-support service company for renewable energy and energy efficient projects. The design of the ground-mounted arrays included features like fixed-axis racking and transformerless string inverters to reduce installation cost, improve performance and simplify maintenance. The projects were completed on schedule by the end of 2016.

Sun keeps rising
The new solar generation is part of a portfolio that includes 199 MW of wind power, 14 MW of WAPA hydropower and 1.6 MW of waste-to-energy generation. In all, CIPCO gets nearly 60 percent of its power supply from low-carbon resources. Koonce observed that clean energy has always been important to CIPCO’s members and with the decline in solar panel prices, the time was right to add solar to the mix.

Consumers Energy representatives celebrate the opening of the Marshalltown Gateway Centre solar array..

Consumers Energy representatives celebrate the opening of the Marshalltown Gateway Centre solar array. (Photo by Central Iowa Power Cooperative)

According to Koonce, the solar site will eventually pay for itself in the energy it produces, although the exact payback period is not known. The $9 million cost of all five solar sites, spread over 20 years to take advantage of some federal solar tax credits, is significantly less than the cost of building a new coal-fired plant, she added.

CIPCO’s overall resource plan focuses on natural gas, wind and more solar, with a second phase of solar development planned for this year. Battery storage is not part of the conversation at this point, Koonce noted, because the cost of storage systems is still very high compared to CIPCO’s stable rates. For now, “Our members won’t be seeing an increase due to adding solar,” Koonce says. “The resource is very cost effective for us.”

But members can be sure that CIPCO will be watching battery storage and other new technologies, as the G&T continues to build its diverse, affordable and environmentally friendly power supply.

Roseville Electric program takes home efficiency to next level

Even the most successful energy-efficiency program, like Roseville Electric Utility’s You are leaving WAPA.gov. high-performing BEST Homes partnership, needs a periodic renovation if it is to continue its success. To keep up with the changing times—and codes—the municipal utility recently unveiled its new Roseville Advanced Homes Program (RAHP).

Roseville Electric Utility's updated residential efficiency program is built around the principle that the best time to install high-efficiency features is in early construction.

Roseville Electric Utility’s updated residential efficiency program is built around the principle that the best time to install high-efficiency features is in early construction. (Photo by California Advanced Homes Program)

RAHP is the next step in market evolution that Roseville began with BEST Homes, explained Program Manager Mark Riffey. “When we launched BEST Homes, Roseville builders weren’t installing solar and energy efficiency was nothing more than doing what was required,” he recalled. “But [California Building Standard] code has caught up with the program and will pass it soon.”

Title 24 You are leaving WAPA.gov. now requires new homes to be solar ready to meet requirements, making incentives for solar unnecessary. By 2020, the code will require all new homes to meet the net-zero energy standard.  RAHP encourages builders to meet that requirement proactively, building efficiency into homes before they even think about solar.

Starting on right foot
The program aims to get builders involved well in advance of submitting plans to the city, said Riffey. “The earlier they enter the conversation, the better chance of success.”

Any residential builder planning a development in Roseville may participate in RAHP by signing a prerequisite agreement confirming that their homes will include:

  • 75-percent high-efficacy lighting
  • HERS verification of Quality Insulation Installation
  • Electric vehicle charging station pre-wiring

These measures were chosen to provide a solid energy-efficiency foundation and because they are easy and relatively inexpensive to install early in construction. “The time to make sure a house is insulated correctly or to put in a dedicated breaker and conduit for an electric vehicle charger is when you are in the design phase or early in construction,” Riffy pointed out. “You can add those things later, but it is much more expensive.”

Once the prerequisites are in place, builders can earn incentives up to $3,500 per house for adding bonus measures such as whole-house fans, high-performance attics and LED lighting. Roseville is considering adding battery storage and triple-pane windows to RAHP in the future to move homes closer to the net-zero energy goal.

The completed home, with its tight shell and efficient systems and equipment, is then ready for a solar array. The homeowner can size the photovoltaic system for a load that has been reduced up front by best construction practices. “RAHP leads builders down the path to be aware of the measures that will get them to the 2020 requirement of zero-energy homes,” explained Riffey.

Or, to put it another way, it is going to take an integrated approach to meet the ambitious clean energy goals California has set for itself.

Working together
That focus on integration may be one of the biggest changes Roseville has made in its updated residential construction program. Where BEST Homes was a local effort guided by local stakeholders, RAHP was designed with the help of a third-party administrator to align with Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) California Advanced Home Program You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CAHP).

TRC, an engineering and construction management consultant, has administered CAHP for PG&E since 2011. “It was the best use of our resources,” observed Riffey. “TRC has spent years working with Title 24, and they can tell us measures that get the most bang for our buck.”

Coordinating with PG&E made sense, as well, because many Roseville residents are PG&E natural gas customers. After all, a well-insulated home is going to cut both heating and cooling costs. “Builders need to turn in only one set of papers for both programs,” said Riffey. “Anything that streamlines the program for the builder/customer improves its chance for success.”

Roseville Electric Utilities aims to succeed. Over its ten-year run, BEST Homes succeeded beyond expectations. A very high percentage of homes recently built in Roseville are solar ready, and California has made that requirement part of its building code. If RAHP enjoys the same kind of success, Roseville’s housing stock may set a zero-energy example for the whole state.

Upcoming deadlines

AESP launches on-demand webcast series

For utility program managers and customer service representatives, keeping up with the latest in program design, implementation and evaluation has become a constant challenge. A new continuing education series from the Association for Energy Services Professionals You are leaving WAPA.gov. (AESP) can help them find time for professional development. The new webcast series explores topics like pilot programs, new technologies, changing customer behavior and distributed generation.

The on-demand format provides the convenience of a webinar, but with more depth on the subject matter. Participants can benefit from a customized agenda featuring multiple expert speakers and presentations. You can choose a convenient time and listen to all the presentations at once (3-4 hours) or split up over a couple of days. With AESP’s learning management system, you can pick up right where you left off, and even start over at any point. And, when you pay for a webcast, it is available to you for a full year.

AESP presented the first webcast in the series, All About Pilots – Program Design, Best Practices & Results, on May 15. The three-hour webcast features nine different presentations and 11 speakers covering the essentials of designing and implementing pilots including:

  • Key considerations in program design
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Previews of new concepts currently being piloted, including a Zero Net Energy home pilot, a demand management pilot, geotargeting for the agricultural market pilot, and an in-house Ecoconcierge pilot
  • Challenges faced and how to overcome them

All About Pilots is available now, however the Q&A board closes after two weeks after the webcast. Upcoming webcasts will focus on:

  1. Emerging Technologies, coming in July
  2. Behavior Change, coming in September
  3. Distributed Energy Resources & Storage, coming in November

It is not necessary to be a member of AESP to use the webcast, but the cost is discounted for AESP members. If you have any questions, please contact the AESP E-Learning Center.

Source: Association for Energy Services Professionals, 5/15/17

IREC, partners push solar training for allied professions

Free webinar
June 15, 2017
12:00-1:30 PM MT

Half-day Forum
San Francisco, California
July 1, 2017

As solar installations continue to grow exponentially, there is an increasing need for other professions to know more about solar technologies. Firefighters, local code officials and electrical and building inspectors need a thorough understanding about solar technologies if the solar sector is to continue growing in a safe and sustainable way.

To meet this need, the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative provided funding to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) to develop Solar Training and Education for Professionals You are leaving WAPA.gov. (STEP). Working with partners in related fields, IREC created a number of training resources for allied professionals whose jobs require some knowledge of solar technology.

IREC’s STEP partners are:

Training online
STEP is presenting Solar Updates in the 2017 National Electrical Code, You are leaving WAPA.gov. an interactive webinar June 15. This interactive webinar will cover new articles, such as large scale photovoltaic (PV) electric supply stations and energy storage systems, and changes to existing provisions like rapid shutdown and grounding of PV systems. Participants will have the opportunity to submit questions in advance, or during the webinar. The event is free and continuing education units (CEUs) are available.

Training in person
For solar professionals in California, an in-person workshop You are leaving WAPA.gov. has been scheduled in conjunction with Intersolar North America in San Francisco, July 12. The half-day training session is one in a series of national forums on solar codes and safety specifically for local building planners and inspectors, architects, builders, solar installers and others who will benefit, including fire officials.

National solar code and technical experts will discuss the most recent solar code updates and impact on those tasked with enforcement. The material will cover much of the same ground as the webinar but in more detail, with an eye on California. Other solar code enforcement considerations, including permitting and first responder safety, will be discussed. After attending this session, participants will be able to:

  • Identify three or more solar code updates
  • Explain the impact of one or more solar code changes
  • Navigate to solar code resources, including best practices for permitting

The forum is also eligible for CEUs from the International Code Council, IAEI and North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

Training on demand
In addition to these upcoming training opportunities, STEP offers specific free online training courses for code officials PV Online Training for Code Officials You are leaving WAPA.gov. and firefighters Solar PV Safety for Firefighters Online Course.

For questions about the Solar Codes and Safety Forum contact IREC at 518-621-7379.

Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, 5/22/17

WAPA’s low rates save Weaverville

By Philip Reed, WAPA technical writer

Trinity Public Utilities District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (TPUD) is a small utility with a workforce consisting of only 22 employees, located in Weaverville, California. It was founded in 1981 and has recently become a valued WAPA customer.

The town of Weaverville had some of California's highest electrical rates until it became a WAPA customer.

The town of Weaverville had some of California’s highest electrical rates until it became a WAPA customer.

“Prior to that, Weaverville was being served by a small investor-owned utility,” said TPUD General Manager Paul Hauser. “They wanted to sell their distribution lines and get out of Trinity County. The community came together to raise and borrow the money necessary to purchase the distribution assets themselves.”

Dick Morris was a founding member of TPUD, and is still on the board today.

“We were motivated to take over the system and partner with WAPA when the previous utility made it clear that they were contemplating the sale of this system, along with their holdings in other small communities,” said Morris. “This was an opportunity. The previous utility had been bombarded by high-bill complaints from customers. City of Redding customers were paying around $21.00 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), while in Weaverville we were paying $72.00 for the same usage. This was our chance to change that.”

Hauser says that joining WAPA saved Weaverville.

“The rates we were paying were far too high, and the local lumber mill was in serious danger of closing because of high electricity prices,” explained Hauser. “Weaverville had some of the highest rates in the state at the time. Now that we work with WAPA, we actually have some of the lowest rates, but that wasn’t the case then. It was difficult for the mill to stay afloat.”

The Trinity River Lumber Company is the municipal utility's biggest load and the heart of the local economy.

The Trinity River Lumber Company is the municipal utility’s biggest load and the heart of the local economy.

The lumber mill is the largest private employer in the area with around 130 employees, and it’s critical to the overall well-being of both Weaverville and Trinity County. It is the only lumber mill still operating in the county, and it represents more than 10 percent of TPUD’s load.

“We pleaded with the mill owners not to scrap out the plant, but to keep it intact for two years while we sought a new owner to take it over,” said Morris. “If we were to succeed in purchasing the distribution assets and start working with WAPA allocation, we pledged to provide the new owners a substantial reduction in their cost of electricity.”

TPUD was able to find a new owner for the mill: Trinity River Lumber Company. They worked with Sierra Nevada staff members to receive a preference power allocation, a process that was completed in 1982.

“The importance of the mill to this community cannot be overstated,” said Hauser. “Had the mill failed, the economy of the entire county would have collapsed. We would have lost those jobs and it would have become uneconomical to perform the forest thinning that allows forest fires to be managed in a way that minimizes impact to the people of Trinity County. Losing the mill would have crushed us.”

Fortunately, TPUD was successful in purchasing the distribution assets and partnering with WAPA. As a result, the mill, the economy, and those 130 jobs were saved, preserving the economic health of the area.

“Thanks to the service we started getting from WAPA, the new owners were able to operate the mill more cost effectively,” Morris said. “The previous utility required the mill to pay around 10 cents per kWh. With WAPA, we were able to reduce the cost to three cents.”

Thirty-five years later the mill, once in danger of shutting down and taking its jobs with it, still operates.

“Access to WAPA’s low-cost hydropower allowed TPUD to offer rates low enough for the mill to stay in business,” Hauser said. “The benefit of partnering with WAPA was that direct.”

TPUD is now also able to offer customers increased reliability, as WAPA line crews provide assistance during major storms and outages. “That’s something we couldn’t do on our own,” said Hauser.

“I am pleased that WAPA was able to work out such a synergistic relationship with the owner- shareholders of TPUD,” said Senior Vice President and Sierra Nevada Regional Manager Subhash Paluru. “I’m also pleased that through the years WAPA and TPUD have continued to be valuable and reliable partners.”

“WAPA really is a fantastic partner,” Hauser concluded. “Its employees are very helpful to a small utility like us. We simply could not operate without the partnership that we have with WAPA.”

Still time to register for free community solar workshop

June 7-8
Golden, Colorado

Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing, a free regional workshop for utilities, is filling up fast but there is still room for a few more attendees.

Community solar projects are a successful business model where multiple customers share in a large solar array, paid for through individual utility bills. It has seen such rapid growth across the country that it has become almost commonplace. Despite that fact, utilities are still learning about every aspect of this resource. It is important to get your project off on the right foot or correct missteps before they mushroom.

WAPA’s Renewable Resources Program has teamed up with the Community Solar Value Program You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) to make it affordable for power providers to share best practices in developing this type of generation. There is no registration fee for this event; attendees need only pay for their travel to Golden, Colorado. “Helping our preference utility customers learn about community solar and other renewable technologies, as well as tools and resources for smooth integration are a core part of WAPA’s Renewable Resource Program,” explained Randy Manion, WAPA Renewable Resources program manager.

The agenda You are leaving WAPA.gov. draws from an investigation conducted by CSVP into utilities’ best practices and innovations in community solar. From design to procurement to marketing, participants will hear from expert speakers and utility peers who will share their experiences. Presentations by WAPA customers include Kit Carson Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. on requests for proposals and Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. on integrating community solar with distributed systems.

WAPA’s Electric Power Training Center (EPTC) in Golden, Colorado, is hosting the event. The workshop will begin at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7, with a “lightning round” of community solar best-practice presentations and a tour of EPTC’s grid simulator, followed by a networking reception. On Thursday, June 8, the workshop will convene from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with breaks and a networking lunch provided by Extensible Energy LLC included.

Registration is free, but required. Participants only cover travel and hotel costs and incidentals.

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore this promising strategy for incorporating solar power into your resource mix.

Source: Community Solar Value Project, 5/17/17

Report: Utilities can treat electric vehicles as demand response tools

Electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming one of the largest flexible loads on the grid in certain parts of the United States. Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects EV electricity consumption to increase to approximately 33 terawatt-hours (TWh) annually by 2025, and 551 TWh by 2040.

Utilities and Electric Vehicles: The Case for Managed Charging

(Artwork by Smart Electric Power Association)

While most industry analysts see EVs as a boon for utilities, load management risks are an issue. Managed charging—remotely controlling vehicle charging by turning it up, down or even off to correspond to grid conditions—could present utilities with an effective, new demand response opportunity.

Utilities and Electric Vehicles: The Case for Managed Charging, You are leaving WAPA.gov. by the Smart Electric Power Association (SEPA), offers a wide-lens overview of the managed charging ecosystem. This research report studies game-changing utility pilot programs for developing and testing managed charging approaches. Download the free report to learn about:

  • Examples of utility programs
  • Vehicle-grid integration and connected-car platform providers
  • Compatible electric vehicle supply equipment
  • Examples of automotive industry activities

Utilities have a central role to play as a nexus for stakeholders in the EV market, with their deep understanding of the grid and customers’ needs and interest. Power providers must act now to advocate for consumer-friendly features and programs, and to help shape relevant policies, regulations and standards. Utilities and Electric Vehicles: The Case for Managed Charging is an excellent resource for preparing for the future of EVs.

Source: Utility Dive, 5/11/17

California utilities discuss concerns at UEF roundtable

An Energy Services Bulletin story last month looked at the results of a Utility Dive survey You are leaving WAPA.gov. that asked power providers what their biggest concerns were. This month, several California utilities—including many WAPA customers—gathered at the Utility Energy Forum You are leaving WAPA.gov. (UEF) Pre-Forum Roundtable to talk about the issues that kept them up at night.

Because of their potential as a revenue source and demand response tool, electric vehicles were a running topic at the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable.

Because of their potential as a revenue source and demand response tool, electric vehicles were a running topic at the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable. (Photo by DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)

The UEF program committee asked utility and government representatives to weigh in on the topics they wanted to discuss in the exclusive session dedicated to those groups. Not surprisingly, the responses reflected California’s unique situation, even as they echoed the findings of the Utility Dive survey.

Energy storage
The question that was No. 1 in the minds of survey respondents was, “What is the value of energy storage for customers, utilities and the grid?” It is not hard to connect the dots between energy storage and concerns about distributed energy policy and aging grid infrastructure that ranked high in the Utility Dive survey. But in California, a combination of legislative and market forces have made energy storage specifically a relevant topic.

Most people automatically think about battery systems when they hear energy storage, and six utilities in the state have already installed and are experimenting with that technology. However, thermal storage—using available renewable electricity to heat water or make ice for later use in heating or cooling—is a proven technology in use at eight California utilities. Pacific Gas and Electric has the state’s only pumped storage project, which uses renewable energy to pump water to a higher-altitude reservoir where it is released to generate hydropower when needed.

Utilities and battery manufacturers still have much to learn about storage batteries, from funding and installation to operation and maintenance to best uses for the systems. Riverside Public Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. enlisted the University of California Riverside as You are leaving WAPA.gov. a research partner to discover more about solar-plus-storage capabilities. Imperial Irrigation District You are leaving WAPA.gov. installed 30 megawatts (MW) of storage last October. System operators find it valuable for balancing intermittent solar power during weekdays, but also note that it takes 220 tons of air conditioning to control battery temperatures. Maintaining constant battery temperature is crucial to extending the life of batteries. Tucson Electric Power (TEP) chose to lease 10 MW of storage from Next Era You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Eon You are leaving WAPA.gov. as a way of easing through the learning curve. The system supports 40 MW of solar and provides ancillary services for TEP.

So far, the business case for storage has yet to be made because utilities are still discovering the values associated with it. Also, each utility will have to learn how to maximize storage on its own system. Planning and rate design will play a critical role in unlocking the value of the technology. But utilities can’t afford to hang back, as big, energy-intensive businesses like data centers are already investigating going off-grid with their own solar-plus-storage systems. These customers may prove to be important partners for power providers seeking to meet storage mandates.

More to offer
Stagnant load growth appeared in the Top 10 Utility Dive survey results, a harbinger of reduced revenues utilities can expect from distributed generation and storage technologies. California utilities seem to be ahead of the curve in this respect, interested in exploring new business models to grow services and build relationships. Many roundtable participants have begun to create programs and services that offer customers more than kilowatts.

A number of industry surveys indicate that most consumers still rely on their power providers to help them sort out claims about electrical products and services. Utilities can leverage this trust to get customers to take a holistic approach to energy use, installing weatherization and efficient appliances and systems before moving on to renewables.

The City of Palo Alto Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CPAU), for example, offers comprehensive home audits and free concierge service that customers can call with any question about energy use. The service is just starting to take off as CPAU hones its message and outreach strategy. “Ongoing customer communication is critical, and not just for specific programs,” observed CPAU Key Account Manager Bryan Ward. “The issues are complex and education is tough, but the more customers understand, the more they can make good decisions for themselves.”

When the customer is ready to install a solar array, the utility has a vested interest in making sure the job is done right. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program has been highly successful in helping its customers make educated decisions about solar installations. The “Solar Guy,” Energy Program Technician David Dominguez, has even become something of a local celebrity. Roseville is considering expanding the program to other services, like electric vehicles and energy storage. The moral of Roseville’s story is that personalizing a program can take it to a whole new level.

EVs, rate design central to discussion
Of course, you can’t have a discussion about new utility services without the subject of electric vehicle charging stations coming up. Roundtable participants represented a number of different approaches to this service. Burbank Water and Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. installs level 1 (standard household) charger outlets on customers’ property and offers a rebate to customers to install a level 2 (240-volt) outlet.

CPAU facilitates permitting and filing for residential and commercial charger installation and for transformer upgrades. Multifamily units, nonprofits and schools are eligible for rebates for chargers, but high-tech businesses in CPAU’s territory didn’t need an incentive to install the technology. The important thing, most agreed, was that utilities need to be involved in pushing out EV chargers, both for the new revenue stream and to ensure effective deployment and implementation.

EVs and technologies like home automation—another behind-the-meter product utilities could offer—lend themselves to load shifting, especially in residential settings. To take full advantage of such demand response strategies, utilities will have to design rates that give customers a reason to participate. The Public Utility Commission of California You are leaving WAPA.gov. has called for robust time-of-use rates, which would present utilities with another customer education challenge. Power providers will also want to make sure that vendors of behind-the-meter services are giving consumers honest and accurate information and appropriate support.

Energy efficiency ain’t easy
The final roundtable issue was one that is relevant across the country, but again with special significance to California: What hurdles are you encountering integrating and managing more energy efficiency in your mix?

In addition to the state getting half of its electricity from green energy by 2030, California buildings must also increase energy efficiency by 50 percent. As any utility program manager can tell you, the more successful you are at reducing your customers’ energy use, the harder it is to find new savings. The overall trend toward higher efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, along with some of the toughest building codes in the U.S., is already making it more difficult to design effective efficiency programs.

Encouraging customers to make energy-efficiency improvements is further complicated by the fact that electricity rates may continue to rise anyway. Consumers don’t generally care about the intricacies of load resource balance or system optimization, issues that resist simple messaging. To make matters worse, third-party vendors rarely bother to explain to their customers how installing a measure will actually affect their home utility bills—if they, themselves, understand.

When the subject is energy efficiency, talk always circles back to flat and falling revenues, something affecting almost everyone on the panel. Sacramento Municipal Utility District You are leaving WAPA.gov. attributes a noticeable decline in sales to building codes. EV charging and electric water heating could help to make up some load, especially since most water heaters in the state are still gas units. But CPAU found few takers for a pilot program offering customers a generous rebate to install electric heat pump water heaters.

Change still only constant
There is still plenty of low-hanging efficiency fruit that utilities have not yet picked, though participants acknowledged that it may be getting more expensive to reach. The “free” electricity from a solar array is a lot more appealing to customers than elusive “savings” from an energy-efficient appliance. It is enough to make utilities wonder if the best days of energy-efficiency programs and incentives are behind them.

And yet, industry research shows a strong correlation between energy efficiency and customer satisfaction. Such programs give utilities a chance to interact with customers in a way they wouldn’t get to otherwise. Board members may continue to support a traditional program that does not contribute much to financial or operational goals because they see the public relations value of it. If utilities are going to phase out traditional energy-efficiency programs, they will need to find other ways keep customers engaged and happy.

The two hours scheduled for the UEF Pre-Forum Roundtable passed quickly and—spoiler alert—we did not resolve our most pressing issues. That is likely to take trial, error and perhaps an appetite for risk that is hard to square with our historic mission of reliability and affordability. But it did remind us that customer relationships must be viewed as part of the solution.