LES looks to cloud for better program implementation, evaluation

Maintaining a successful utility efficiency program involves a never-ending quest to improve the customer experience and evaluate the effectiveness of each measure. Moving its Sustainable Energy Program You are leaving WAPA.gov. to the cloud has given Lincoln Electric System (LES) of Nebraska a win on both fronts. 

Launched in 2009, the Sustainable Energy Program was intended to show that energy efficiency and demand-side management were viable alternatives to building new generation and buying expensive energy to meet peak demand. “It had a healthy participation rate relative to our expectations from the beginning,” said LES Energy Services Manager Marc Shkolnick. “But you still have to keep refining and evaluating.”

Always room to improve
In its current iteration, the program provides incentives to residential and commercial customers for whole-building sealing and insulation and high-efficiency heat pumps and air conditioners. Lighting and prescriptive energy-efficiency measures are available to commercial and industrial customers, as well.

The Sustainable Energy Program offers incentives for whole-building insulation and sealing to both residential and commercial customers.

The Sustainable Energy Program offers incentives for whole-building insulation and sealing to both residential and commercial customers. (Photo by DOE Weatherization Assistance Program)

For end users, participation in the program is simple and straightforward by design. Customers select a participating contractor to install the measure, LES pays the incentive to the contractor when the work is completed and the contractor passes it on to the customer as a credit on their invoice. Beyond searching the online trade ally list, the customer does very little paperwork, and that did not change with the move to the cloud. “The big difference for end users is that the system makes it easier to keep our trade ally list up to date,” Shkolnick noted.

For contractors and utility staff, however, the cloud system has significantly streamlined the process, Shkolnick said. “There was something of a learning curve the first year, with transitioning to a paperless system,” he recalled. “Once the contractors got their information entered, it became much more efficient for them.”

Given that more than 90 percent of the customers who use the Sustainable Energy Program come in through contractor recommendation, LES has a big stake in improving their trade allies’ experience. Make life easier for the people who are driving customer engagement in your efficiency program and your program will become stronger, too.

Learning from data
Evaluation, measurement and verification is one of the greatest challenges of customer program management, and one of the biggest attractions of automating program administration. In the two years since LES converted the Sustainable Energy Program to cloud management, the system has confirmed hunches and revealed trends.

LES customers who took advantage of the air conditioner incentive also had a high response rate to the post-project survey.

LES customers who took advantage of the air conditioner incentive also had a high response rate to the post-project survey. (Photo by Energy Star)

The post-project survey the customers can complete online has proven highly useful to Shkolnick. Air conditioning customers respond at a high 20-percent rate. One question in particular—“How much impact did the incentive play in your choosing the higher-efficiency unit?”—has allowed LES to adjust the deemed energy savings attributed to the program. “You know there are ‘free riders’ who were going to spring for a high-efficiency unit, incentive or not, but we now have a better idea of how many participants that is,” he said.

Another lesson from data is that incentives play different roles in motivating residential customers as opposed to commercial customers. This is a fact that experienced program managers already grasp intuitively, but, “The difference is just stark,” Shkolnick declared. “Businesses clearly look at efficiency as an investment, while a lot of homeowners give as much weight to comfort, convenience and other intangibles.”

A significant number of customers have given their names and addresses on their surveys, allowing LES to contact them for testimonials to include in future outreach. But negative responses are just as valuable. “Customer experience is the part of the program where we have the most control,” explained Shkolnick. “If someone rates their experience as poor, we can contact them, find out what went wrong and use that knowledge to improve our customer service.”

Future is cloud-y
In choosing the cloud system, Shkolnick observed that flexibility was a top priority. “We are in an ever-changing industry, so we needed a system that would be easy to modify from year to year,” he said.

The LES Technology Services department was very helpful in developing the requests for proposal (RFPs) and evaluating bids to ensure that the system was easy to use for trade allies, had robust reporting abilities and had a reasonable price tag. “One thing we learned in the RFP process is that the market space is not overly populated with services targeting utility programs,” Shkolnick acknowledged.

Perhaps software developers will take note and address that gap in the near future. A great deal of industry attention has been focused on systems and devices that track consumer energy use and assist with load management. But LES knows that building more responsive, effective customer programs is just as important, and the cloud has helped the utility do just that.

Source: Public Power Daily

Conference highlights initiatives worth imitating

Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange
Aspen Meadows Resort
Sept. 27-29

Rolling into its second decade, the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange You are leaving WAPA.gov. has now been around long enough for its many participants to see the fruits of meeting annually to swap program ideas and stories of successes and failures with colleagues from across the region.

Utility program managers will be gathering at the Gold LEED-certified Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows Resort Sept. 26-29 to share their ideas for taking customer efficiency programs to the next level.

Utility program managers will be gathering at the Gold LEED-certified Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows Resort Sept. 27-29 to share their ideas for taking customer efficiency programs to the next level. (Photo by Randy L. Martin)

Forward-looking agenda
This year’s theme, “Initiatives worth Imitating,” focuses on using lessons learned from past programs to address the new issues and opportunities utilities are facing. Programs incorporating time-of-use rates, community solar, the internet of things and big data will be in the spotlight. Sessions will also cover new spins on demand response, customer outreach, behavior change and incentive programs.

“Technology often integrates tools and strategies that were part of successful energy-efficiency and load management programs in the past,” explained Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “Load management today and going forward requires updates and changes in approach that will maximize the new resources and technology that are constantly being introduced to the industry. This year’s agenda encourages that kind of thinking.”

The future is on the minds of keynote speakers, too. Mark Martinez, the senior portfolio manager for emerging markets and technologies with Southern California Edison You are leaving WAPA.gov. will deliver the opening keynote, Preparing Today for an Integrated Demand Side Management Future. He will draw on his more than 25 years of experience in the design, management and evaluation of electric demand side management (DSM) programs to present a vision of how DSM needs to change.  

The closing keynote by Ellen Steiner, the vice president of Opinion Dynamics You are leaving WAPA.gov., will explore how utility customer programs can adapt to meet the needs of changing demographics. A master methodologist, Steiner has strong energy-efficiency industry experience encompassing workforce education and training, marketing, community outreach and HVAC program design and evaluation.

Hear from your peers
New and familiar faces host the regular sessions, including the dual track residential and commercial sessions on Thursday. Sponsors the City of Aspen You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Holy Cross Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. will join Fort Collins Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov., Colorado Springs Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov., Nebraska Municipal Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. and many more regional utilities to talk about the state of customer programs in 2017. Research agencies and nonprofits like Rocky Mountain Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. and National Renewable Energy Laboratory team up with program vendors such as CLEAResult You are leaving WAPA.gov., Franklin Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Nexant You are leaving WAPA.gov. to discuss the latest services and solutions available to help utilities manage their loads.

Friday offers a special treat with a focus on electric vehicles and storage. These topics were overwhelmingly popular at the 2017 Utility Energy Forum in California, and Rocky Mountain area utilities will be facing the same issues sooner than we expect.

Network toward your goals 
If the sessions are a great way to explore the nuts and bolts of program design and delivery, the networking opportunities let you take the pulse of the regional industry.

In addition to breaks and meals (pack your “comfortable” business casual wear), attendees will have plenty of time to mingle with their colleagues and swap ideas. On Wednesday, Sept. 27, grab a snack and a beverage and check out the poster session reception. These mini-presentations allow attendees to talk one-on-one with presenters about topics as diverse as community solar, connected home devices and infrastructure planning.

Relaxed networking continues Thursday night at the Limelight Hotel in downtown Aspen. This venue provides a low-key atmosphere where it is easy to carry on a conversation. If you hatch dinner plans at the end of the evening, the city’s world-class dining options are close by, or, you can catch an airport shuttle from the hotel lobby if need to depart early.

Enjoy Aspen
Of course, it would be a shame to cut your conference experience short, between the intriguing Friday sessions and the pleasures of September in the Rockies. We can’t promise good weather, but, most years, the days have sparkled with sunshine and fall colors and the nights have been crisp and clear.

Aspen Meadows Resort is now sold out, but you can still stroll the grounds. The city is close enough that you could park your car at your hotel and walk off the delicious meals—included in your registration fee—on your way to and from the conference.

If you need one more reason to attend the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, the Building Performance Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. awards continuing education units (CEUs) for many of the sessions. Download the instructions to find out how to verify your attendance.

APPA webinar series explores new electricity future

Aug. 15 – Oct. 26

The future is here and resistance is futile. Public power utilities of all sizes are facing a new world shaped by technology, customer preferences and changing policies. These changes are most evident in five key areas:

  • Rate design
  • Community solar
  • Electric vehicles
  • Battery storage
  • Smart meters

The American Public Power Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. wants to help power providers navigate these changes and explore the opportunities this new environment presents. Beginning Aug. 15, a five-part webinar series looks at new initiatives through the experiences of the utilities that implemented them.

(Art work by American Public Power Association)

The series features experts on utility industry trends and is intended to encourage new thinking on the relationships between consumers, utilities and other energy service providers. Several WAPA customers are among the speakers, including Imperial Irrigation District, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power You are leaving WAPA.gov. and SMUD You are leaving WAPA.gov. in California, Moorhead Public Service You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Minnesota and SRP You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Arizona.

APPA recommends this series for general managers, CEOs, senior utility executives, governing boards, policymakers, utility managers, future leaders in policy and strategy and public communications professionals.

Comprehensive agendas
You can sign up for webinars individually or register for the full series at a discounted rate. Participants will also get access to recordings and slides of the webinars for future reference or if they miss one. All webinars are scheduled for 12-1:30 p.m. Mountain Time.

Aug. 15 – The Future of Rate Design: Distributed generation and energy-efficiency programs are creating cost-shifting concerns. Catch up on the latest industry rate trends and discover how to move toward stable rate structures that accurately recover costs from all customers. Review the pros and cons of different rate models—time of use, higher customer charge, demand charges and bi-directional billing. Learn how other utilities like yours have created long-term rate plans, selected and implemented new rate designs, and obtained buy-in from board and city council members as well as customers.

Sept. 7 – Community Solar Success Stories: Community solar is becoming an increasingly popular option for utilities that want to increase solar in their generation portfolios and offer this option to customers who cannot install rooftop solar. An industry expert will share experiences, insights and predictions for the future of community solar. Your utility colleagues who’ve launched community solar programs across the country will explain how they made decisions in key areas like program structure, implementation, financing, customer outreach, rates and marketing. They’ll discuss challenges and the secrets to success so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Sept. 26 – Charging Ahead with Electric Vehicles: The price of electric cars is falling, and more fast-charging stations are being installed. The Brattle Group predicts that a steady conversion of vehicles and heating to electricity could possibly lead to a 105-percent increase in electricity demand by 2050. If these new loads start to proliferate in your community, are you ready to support them? Now is the time to plan for EV infrastructure and to make important cost-benefit decisions. Learn about new developments and advances in EVs and how they are impacting the utility industry. Hear about innovative public power EV programs and get insights regarding how to work with customers to spur investment in EVs, develop fair pricing models and plan for potential load growth.

Oct. 12 – Best Practices in Battery Storage: The evolution of energy storage is changing how we produce and consume energy like never before. Technological advances, reduced costs and mandates from regulators have positioned energy storage for unprecedented growth. Get up to speed on where we are and what to expect in the future. Three public power utilities will talk about their award-winning storage projects and the realities of implementation, from selecting a developer and siting to leveraging benefits such as peak shaving and financial impacts. Your pioneering colleagues will help you navigate the bold new path of utility-scale battery storage.

Oct. 26 – Smart Meters for Smart Solutions: Learn from utilities that have installed advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Gear up for the real-world challenges and understand how other utilities like yours are using AMI and integrating with other technologies. Understand how to fully leverage the benefits of smart meters — to predict load and usage, implement time-of-use rates, respond better to outages, assess the need for system upgrades and offset peak demand charges. Gather best practices on transitioning rate structures, educating customers and soliciting feedback.

Registration information
You can sign up for the entire series or register for each webinar individually. Individual webinars cost $99 for APPA members and $199 for nonmembers. Register for all five webinars for $395 for APPA members or $795 for nonmembers, a discount equivalent to one webinar.

Source: American Public Power Association, 7/10/17

APPA honors WAPA customers for service, innovation

Congratulations to the four WAPA customers who were among 18 individuals and 10 utilities to receive awards at the American Public Power Association’s National Conference in Orlando, Fla., on June 20. Lincoln Electric System You are leaving WAPA.gov. (LES), Colorado Springs Utilities, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Fort Collins Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. and SMUD You are leaving WAPA.gov. earned recognition for their service to the public power industry and its member-customers

Continuing to excel
LES, a Nebraska municipal utility, earned the E.F. Scattergood System Achievement Award for outstanding accomplishments that enhance public power’s national prestige, improve customer service and demonstrate an earnest, coordinated effort on the part of the system.

LES distributes the Energy Detective Kit at schools to help students and their parents save money and electricity.

LES distributes the Energy Detective Kit at schools to help students and their parents save money and electricity. (Artwork by Nebraska Energy Office)

In 2016, LES unveiled the state’s largest and first utility-scale solar array, Lincoln’s 5-megawatt (MW) community solar facility. Customers can invest in virtual solar panels, receiving credits on their bill. Improvements were also implemented to the utility’s rate structure to encourage energy efficiency and protect customers sensitive to bill fluctuation.

In the community, LES’s Energy Detective Kits teach students and their parents about saving energy, reducing water usage and lowering their household bills.

With a 99.99-percent reliability record, the utility continues to take strides to make sure its power remains dependable. Its mobile meter-reading project upgraded nearly all of the system’s 137,000 analog meters.

Supporting community
An established and evolving community safety program won the Community Service Award for Colorado Springs Utilities of Colorado. This award recognizes “good neighbor” activities that demonstrate commitment to the local community.

The community safety program, which has been a cornerstone of the municipal utility’s community involvement for 20 years, provides educational outreach in schools and at community events to audiences of all ages. Each year, almost 15,000 students, adults, contractors and first responders learn about gas and electric safety and about the safe and efficient use of utility services.

“Your Nose Knows! Natural Gas Safety,” an outreach program by Colorado Springs Utilities, teaches children about natural gas safety. Shown: Safety education presenters Ray Anderson (in blue) and Tom Hutchison (in white) and the students of Colorado Springs School District 20 Woodmen-Roberts Elementary.

“Your Nose Knows! Natural Gas Safety,” an outreach program by Colorado Springs Utilities, teaches children about natural gas safety. Shown: Safety education presenters Ray Anderson (in blue) and Tom Hutchison (in white) and the students of Colorado Springs School District 20 Woodmen-Roberts Elementary. (Photo by Colorado Springs Utilities)

Recently, Colorado Springs Utilities revised and retargeted the education program to meet specific curriculum needs in schools and incorporate more messaging that is interactive and inquiry-based. “SafetyCircuit: Electric Safety and You” uses a live electric demonstrations board to show students the safe use of electricity indoors and outdoors, and how electricity affects our daily lives. An interactive live explosion demonstration is part of “Your Nose Knows! Natural Gas Safety & You,” a program teaching students about the properties and origins of natural gas and safety practices to prevent natural gas emergencies.

Increasing residential program participation
Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado and SMUD in California were among the four utilities to receive the Energy Innovator Award for utility programs or projects that demonstrate creative energy-efficiency measures or technologies. Eligible demonstrations can either improve customer service or increase the efficiency of utility operations. Judging criteria also includes transferability and takes into account project scope in relation to utility size.

The Efficiency Works-Neighborhood pilot program attempts to overcome barriers for customer project implementation, such as time and lack of money. The pilot is the next step for the Efficiency Works-Home program.

The Fort Collins Efficiency Works-Neighborhood pilot program attempts to overcome barriers for customer project implementation, such as time and lack of money. The pilot is the next step for the Efficiency Works-Home program. (Artwork by Fort Collins Utilities)

Fort Collins Utilities was honored for its successful Efficiency Works-Neighborhood You are leaving WAPA.gov. pilot program, which tested a streamlined process for home efficiency upgrades. The streamlined process made efficiency upgrades easy for customers by offering a choice of three packages—good, better and best—each custom-made for their homes. The packages provided upfront rebates, used standardized pricing, eliminated the need to get multiple contractor bids and ensured the quality of all completed work.

Over an 18-month period, the pilot program tripled the number of customers proceeding with energy-efficiency improvements and renewable systems installation. The upgrades lead to 50 percent greater electrical use reduction, 70 percent greater natural gas use reduction and 60 percent greater greenhouse gas savings per home.

Piloting cooling efficiency
SMUD received the Energy Innovator Award for its work with the hyper-efficient Climate Wizard air conditioner. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Manufactured in Australia, the Climate Wizard has the potential to use up to 90 percent less energy to cool the same space as an equivalent refrigerated system.

SMUD tested the Climate Wizard cooling system on two commercial customers to find out if the technology could be an effective peak-shaving measure.

SMUD tested the Climate Wizard cooling system on two commercial customers to find out if the technology could be an effective peak-shaving measure. (Photo by Climate Wizard)

Replacing conventional air conditioners with these indirect evaporative heat-exchange core systems could have a huge impact on SMUD’s peak cooling load during scorching Sacramento summer days. To evaluate the Climate Wizard’s performance, SMUD installed units with two industrial customers, a data center and a tool manufacturer You are leaving WAPA.gov..

The Tri-Tools production floor is not only hot from milling, turning and cutting metals, it is also humid from using water to cool materials during cutting. Because the Climate Wizard does not add moisture to the cooled air; it keeps employees more comfortable and improves the production process while saving the business energy and money.

The challenge for the data center Datacate is to maintain a consistently low temperature to keep servers and other equipment running 24/7. This pilot project, which will continue through 2017, has allowed the data center to operate more efficiently, add more capacity and lower operating costs.

The hallmarks of public power are dedication to community, commitment to innovation and constant striving to improve service. At WAPA, we already know our customers are leaders in the industry and we are excited to see that the industry recognizes them, too.

Source: American Public Power Association, 6/21/17

White paper compiles data on utility programs for low-income customers

Low-income households spend on average three times more of their income on energy bills You are leaving WAPA.gov. than other households, and easing the pain of higher bills during peak-load times of year is a continuous challenge for utilities.

This group of customers can be hard to reach, leading to a hit-or-miss track record for low-income energy-efficiency programs. But the benefits of successful programs stretch beyond energy and bill savings to include fewer shut-offs, healthier homes, less outdoor pollution and more local jobs. It is well worth the effort to design an effective program, and a new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) can take some of the mystery out of doing it.

The baseline assessment of more than 70 utilities’ electric and natural gas programs chronicles total investments in these programs, energy savings impacts, customer participation and use of best practices. The study looked at the largest electric and natural gas utility serving each of the 51 largest metropolitan statistical areas.

ACEEE researchers found that low-income programs varied in terms of how deeply they address whole-home energy-efficiency needs and how accessible they were to customers. While many utilities design and administer impressive, effective low-income programs, many of those programs could be improved with best practice elements or increased resources.

The report also looks at best practices in implementation, including whether programs target specific households based on energy burden or other vulnerabilities and streamline enrollment for easier access. Partnering with the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) to leverage funds and reach more customers is another factor that impacts the effectiveness of a low-income program.

The study includes maps, data tables and new state-level information on low-income program requirements, cost-effectiveness rules and coordination with the WAP program. Utilities can use the data to see how their programs compare to those of similar utilities and to identify opportunities for adding best practice elements.

Read the entire ACEEE blog post for more information, and share your free copy of the report with state and local policymakers as well as other stakeholders. Also, if your utility has a program to help low-income customers, Energy Services Bulletin would like to know about your experiences.

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 7/11/17

Community solar workshop presentations now available

If you missed Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing, a workshop WAPA cosponsored with the Community Solar Value Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CSVP) and SunShot Solar Market Pathways, you can now download the presentations from the CSVP website.

WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman (standing right) talks about the opportunities and challenges community solar represents for utilities.

WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman (standing right) talks about the opportunities and challenges community solar represents for utilities.

The free event was held at WAPA’s Electric Power Training Center in Golden, Colorado, and drew strong attendance from every type of utility, especially in the West. As the workshop title stated, the agenda focused on the logistical aspects of building a community solar project and explored ways to make projects more successful. Speakers and participants discussed best practices for analyzing solar development opportunities, writing requests for proposals, engaging internal and external stakeholders, working with contractors and vendors and designing rates.

Customers share experience
Several WAPA customers were on hand to share their experiences with developing their own projects. Luis Reyes of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. sat on a panel that focused on improving the procurement process. The Taos, New Mexico, utility launched its first community solar project in 2012 and has an ambitious initiative to install 35 megawatts of photovoltaics this year.

Participants throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks during table-top sessions on program design, procurement, rate design and marketing.

Participants throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks during table-top sessions on program design, procurement, rate design and marketing.

A panel on pricing challenges included John Phelan from Fort Collins Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. in northern Colorado. As a pioneer with Rocky Mountain Institute in clean energy and sustainability solutions, the city of Fort Collins has discovered that success brings a new set of challenges. For example, the utility is wrestling with how to design a rate that accommodates both a legacy community solar garden and a new array for qualified low-income customers.

Poudre Valley Rural Electric Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. is currently developing a 6,000-panel community solar project with carve-outs for local nonprofit organizations and another for income-qualified customers. Making community solar available to customers who need the most help with utility bills was another topic that received a lot of attention. Utilities are experimenting with different business models for low-income projects, but most agree on the potential benefits: freeing up more money for other needs, bringing more certainty to monthly bills and raising energy awareness in a hard-to-reach group.

Attendees were all at different points on the learning curve with community solar. Representatives from the City of Fort Collins Utilities, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and the city of Lamar, Colorado, shared their experiences during the free workshop.

Attendees were all at different points on the learning curve with community solar. Representatives from the City of Fort Collins Utilities, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and the city of Lamar, Colorado, shared their experiences during the free workshop. (Photo by Jill Cliburn)

Ask for more
WAPA thanks the Community Solar Value Project for partnering with us to put on Community Solar Procurements, Programs and Pricing. Utilities are still learning about this form of distributed energy and how to gain the most benefits from it for their customers and their own operations. To learn more, check out the workshop presentations, along with past CSVP webinars. Also, let us know if there are other types of workshops you would like to see WAPA present, or partners or subject matter experts we could collaborate with.

SMUD sponsors solar model car competition

Electric vehicles (EVs) hold a lot of promise for greening the transportation sector, and could do even more if the electricity that powers them comes from the sun. To encourage the next generation of consumers to think about automotive innovation, SMUD You are leaving WAPA.gov. sponsors an annual Solar Car Race for high school students.

Students competing in the Solar Car Race all start with the same kit and then add custom touches.

Students competing in the Solar Car Race all start with the same kit and then add custom touches. (Photo by SMUD)

More than 300 high school students competed in this year’s event, held at Cosumnes River College You are leaving WAPA.gov. on April 19, as part of Earth Week. The competition is open to any high school in SMUD’s service territory.

Community comes together
The race took place in the college’s quad, and the construction department designed and built the wooden race track used by the racers. The event also gives students an excellent opportunity to visit a community college campus and experience what it has to offer.

The Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. and EV owners were also on hand to exhibit many models of available EVs and to discuss the technology and benefits of driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Tools for students, teachers
SMUD provides each school registered with up to six solar car kits, which contain a 12-watt solar module from PITSCO You are leaving WAPA.gov. and car accessories from Solar MadeYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Using the same solar panels, motors and gear sets as a jumping-off point, the students choose their own materials and design the car they are going to race. The entries compete for not only the fastest car, but also for best design, most sustainable, best engineering and most creative design. Each participating student receives an event t-shirt, also provided by SMUD.

In addition to the kits, SMUD also offers professional development workshops for teachers interested in using the solar-powered cars in their science or physics curriculums. A variety of workshops and training, exhibits and online resources are available to both teachers and students through SMUD’s Energy Education & Technology Center.

Racing toward future
Participation in the solar car race has doubled since it began 13 years ago, which is not surprising in a territory that has around 8,000 electric vehicles. The Solar Car Race is loosely based on the Department of Energy’s Junior Solar Sprint, a classroom-based national competition of solar-powered model cars for students, grades six through eight.

As a community-owned, not-for-profit utility, SMUD is focused on balancing its commitment to low rates with the goal of supporting regional vitality, and education is central to that effort. Through events like the race, the Solar Regatta and an Energy Fair, SMUD gives back to its community, while helping to develop the professionals who will create the energy solutions of the future.

Source: SMUD, 4/24/17

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.

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.”