Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange encourages utilities to build bridges

Sept. 19-21
Aspen Meadows Resort
Aspen, Colorado

Admittedly, it is no great sacrifice to visit Aspen, Colorado, in the fall, but the utility industry professionals from Colorado and nearby states who are making the trip Sept. 19-21 are not coming to enjoy the scenery. They are coming for the Rocky Mountain Utility Exchange You are leaving WAPA.gov. to meet their colleagues and industry allies and talk frankly about the triumphs and failures, goals and challenges of their jobs.

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. 19-21 to share their ideas for taking customer efficiency programs to the next level. (Photo by Randy L. Martin)

This unique forum has been drawing strong crowds of visionaries and idea people from energy and water utilities, nonprofits and technology vendors for 12 years, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Finding opportunity in challenge
The theme for 2018, “United we understand,” emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conference, and holds one key to why it continues to grow in popularity. The theme resonates with WAPA Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman. “The past model for doing business, where utilities rarely talked amongst themselves, let alone with consumers, won’t work in today’s industry,” he said. Horstman is on the RMUE planning committee and WAPA is a sponsor of the event.

“Consumers expect to have more choice in their services, and that includes their electricity. Providing those options to customers creates opportunities for utilities to build and manage load and develop new products, while meeting environmental goals,” Horstman went on. “But the industry is going to have to communicate with their customers, their communities, equipment vendors and other power providers to realize those opportunities.”

The communication begins Wednesday morning with the Utility and Government Agency Roundtable. Representatives from those entities will share the topics they would most like to discuss and the one thing they would most like to learn during the exchange. Following a break, industry allies are free to join the discussion. This roundtable is for people who are not ready to make a formal presentation but definitely have something to talk about.

Highlighting industry trends
The agenda shifts into high gear following lunch. Opening keynote speaker Ann Dougherty of market research firm Illume Advising You are leaving WAPA.gov. will be asking utilities to look at their own marketing efforts and question whether they are positioned to innovate. This will be Dougherty’s first time speaking at the RMUE.

The State of Energy Consumers Today will be presented by another newcomer, Nathan Shannon of Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative.You are leaving WAPA.gov. Shannon will draw on Smart Energy’s 2017 research projects for insights into what today’s consumers want and real-life examples of consumer engagement successes.

The rest of the day’s presentations read like a laundry list of trends that have morphed into looming challenges: utility-led distributed solar programs, climate action plan development, collaborations to expand utility programs’ reach and beneficial electrification. You will learn how other power providers have engaged, rather than resisted these issues to build successful programs.

Digging deeper
Thursday morning, RMUE continues with variations on a theme (working together). Sessions examine programs and initiatives that integrate customer experience and community input. Consumers are clearly no longer content to passively accept the electricity coming down their wires. Environmental concerns are pushing them to demand more options and new technology is giving them the power to take more control of their energy use. Hear from utilities and their partners that abandoned the old model of a one-way relationship to find ways to harness efficiency as a resource, manage loads more effectively and help their communities fight and mitigate climate change.

In the afternoon, the agenda splits into dual tracks, giving you the chance to delve into topics in more detail with smaller groups. See if you can identify the subtext. In the first set of tracks, you can explore either customer engagement (communicating with customers) or the technology of the internet of things (communicating with customers through smart devices). The final dual-track sessions look at energy as a service, not a product (communicating with customers in a new way) and reaching hard-to-reach customers (communicating with customers who don’t make it easy).

If you are looking for even more detail than the dual-track sessions provide, get ready for the Friday workshops. Choose from three different sessions:

  • Electrifying Transportation: Developing Integrated Charging Networks for Electric Vehicles – Explore the role of utilities and government in electrifying the transportation sector.
  • Customer Experiences Workshop: Journey Mapping – Customer journey mapping provides a framework that can break down departmental barriers that limit a program’s potential. Each workshop participant will represent a different contributor in “our” utility during the workshop.
  • Community Goals Meet Utility Realities: Developing Best Practices for an Evolving Landscape – This facilitated discussion is an opportunity for local government and utility leaders to communicate directly about understanding and advancing community renewable and energy efficiency goals.

Keep talking—to each other
As past attendees will tell you, the sessions are only half of what makes the RMUE such a great conference. Great speakers may bring in attendees, but networking opportunities and relationship building bring them back year after year.

The receptions keep conversations going after the end of the day in a casual atmosphere. The Wednesday night networking event is built around a poster session that allows you to learn more about products, services and programs that might fit into your operations. It also includes heavy hors oeuvres if you want to make a meal of it, rescue animals for the kids and this year, ice-breaker games. This is a family-friendly event and family members can attend for the friendly price of free.

Thursday night, the RMUE goes off-campus to the town of Aspen and the historic Hotel Jerome.You are leaving WAPA.gov.

Every refreshment break and meal offers you a chance to ask speakers and colleagues questions, to bounce ideas off other sharp minds and to load up on high-quality calories. Breakfast, lunch and break snacks are included in the price of registration, and the food is terrific.

Details, details…
Since the food is so abundant and delicious, you may want to pack your comfortable “business casual” attire—the RMUE is a “no-tie zone.” Those staying at the Aspen Meadows Resort also might want to pack their exercise gear as well, to take advantage of the onsite Aspen Health Club.

The Aspen Meadows RMUE room bloc has filled up, but overflow lodging at the Hotel Aspen and the Molly Gibson Lodge in town is still available. You can also contact Liz Pellerin at Aspen Meadows to get on a waiting list in case there are any room cancellations.

City of Palo Alto partners with school district in energy-saving competition

The Palo Alto City Council recently approved giving $1 million to the Palo Alto Unified School District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (PAUSD) if the city wins the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize Competition You are leaving WAPA.gov..guepsuccess

The multi-year national competition You are leaving WAPA.gov. taps into the imagination, creativity and hometown spirit of small- and medium-sized communities across the country to develop sustainable programs to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. It is set up to encourage innovation in energy-saving programs and education offered by local governments to residential, municipal and public school utility customers. The city with the greatest energy savings from January 2015 to December 2016 could win a $5 million dollar prize to use in continuing energy-efficiency programs.

To win the competition, the City of Palo Alto is encouraging residents to reduce electric and natural gas use. Each participating community will be rated not just on energy savings, which Palo Alto has actively pursued for more than 30 years, but also on program innovation, potential for replication, future performance, equitable access, education and overall quality of services. The city’s municipal utility (CPAU) is introducing new programs, tools and incentives to personalize saving energy.

Educating tomorrow’s consumers
Another strategy Palo Alto is using to increase its success is partnering with PAUSD to identify and prioritize energy-efficiency and sustainability projects that involve students. The city hopes PAUSD can tie the competition into class curriculum, allowing students to come up with ideas for saving energy to win the “Million Dollar Challenge” for the schools. The school district may be able to use the $1 million prize money for incorporating new or additional educational programs for energy-efficiency, putting solar on schools, or upgrading lighting and HVAC systems.

“This is a tremendous leadership opportunity for students, which teaches practical, real-world applications for understanding and managing energy use,” said City Manager James Keene. “These students are the future generation that will be faced with the impacts of climate change if we don’t act with urgency. We all benefit by engaging students through education and providing an avenue for potential funding of programs to help sustain and grow this knowledge.”

The city is engaging a team of high school students by sponsoring an internship program, “Get Involved Palo Alto.” Interns will generate ideas to help other students, staff and family members examine their home energy use more closely and try to reduce consumption. One idea they have already discussed is developing a mobile app for residents to input their electric kilowatt-hour and gas therm usage after reading their meters on a daily or weekly basis.  Students could track energy consumption over time and measure savings after making changes at home, such as insulating doors and windows, or reducing phantom load energy drawn by electronic devices. Real-time tracking has been shown to help consumers understand fluctuations in energy use.

Tools to manage today’s use
CPAU is rolling out new programs like the Home Efficiency Genie audit and a new residential online utility portal to make it easier for residents to better understand their current energy use at home and take steps to improve efficiency.

Both the audit program and utility portal can help users identify inefficiencies and opportunities to manage electricity and gas consumption. Residents can call the Home Efficiency Genie experts for free utility bill analyses and subsidized energy audits of their homes. Participants will reap the benefits of a more comfortable home, reduced utility bill costs and the satisfaction of lowering their carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use—and helping their city in the competition.

Competition is tough
Palo Alto is not the only Western municipal customer competing for the Georgetown University Energy Prize. The Colorado cities of Aspen You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Fort Collins You are leaving WAPA.gov. are also participating, and all three are in the top 20 for energy savings.

Millions of homeowners, more than 60 local governments and over 100 utilities
are represented by the 50 communities competing in the Georgetown University Energy Prize. As of September 2015, participants have avoided more than 300 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions and saved more than 9 billion kilo British thermal units based on electricity and natural gas consumption. All that efficiency and conservation has saved participants more than $59 million.

Western wishes every competitor luck (but especially our customers), and we look forward to learning about the strategies the communities developed.

Source: City of Palo Alto, 5/16/16

RMUEE presentations now online

Attendees at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange wave their green flags to signal that they will be back next year.
Attendees at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange wave their green flags to signal that they will be back next year. (Photo by DKeith Pictures)

If you missed the ninth annual Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange, You are leaving Western's site. or you just want to share a particular presentation with your staff or board, you can download them now.

The event was a great success with 150 of your colleagues sharing stories of customer program successes and challenges. We hope you will find ideas, solutions and inspirations in the presentationsespecially the inspiration to join us in Aspen next year for the 10th RMUEE!

Increase your energy efficiency IQ at two fall events

Maybe it is the debate over the administration’s clean power plan or Tesla’s announcement of a new consumer energy storage system or the media buzz around the “Internet of things.” Whatever the reason, consumers—both residential and commercial—are thinking and talking more about energy use and management. Despite a lot of gloomy prognosticating, that is good for utilities. Two upcoming conferences, one new and one established, can help you to turn this growing consumer interest in energy use to your advantage.

Spanning Western territory
The Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange is now in its ninth year of bringing together utility program managers and industry allies to explore the many facets of energy-efficiency programs. Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado, will host conference veterans and newcomers Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 for in-depth discussion, discovery and networking.

Does your service territory look more like prairie than mountain? Then consider attending the Introduction to Demand Response training, Integrating Energy Efficiency with Demand Response in the Midwest workshop and networking reception in Chicago, Sept. 15 to16. These three separate events have a slightly different focus than the RMUEE, but still provide an outstanding learning opportunity for utility professionals involved in energy efficiency and demand response.

Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman passes the microphone. RMUEE is a "share, not stare" event where every attendee is encouraged to speak up. (Photo by Tiger Adolf)
Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman passes the microphone. RMUEE is a “share, not stare” event where every attendee is encouraged to speak up. (Photo by Tiger Adolf)

Hear from leaders
Western customers are involved in both events, so you can expect to hear a frontline perspective on program creation, management and evaluation. The City of Aspen Utilities, Holy Cross Energy and Platte River Power Authority are long-time sponsors of RMUEE. Representatives from those utilities will moderate panels and give presentations alongside many other Western customers.

At the workshop portion of the Chicago event, Ken Glaser of Connexus Energy, a member cooperative from Great River Energy will participate in a demand response roundtable. Representatives from Consumers Energy and Duke Energy are also on the panel.

Event sponsors Peak Load Management Association (PLMA) and Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) chose speakers with hands-on experience in creating and implementing demand response (DR) and demand-side management (DSM) programs. Gary Connett, demand-side management director at Great River and PLMA member noted that cooperatives and municipal utilities are leaders in load management. “They are a great resource for power providers who are just getting their programs started.”

Start your programs right
The event is specifically for utilities that are new to DSM and DR, added Connett. “The workshop is designed for people who are considering their first program and are looking for models and ideas,” he explained. “Attendees will learn the fundamentals of each strategy, the benefits and how to implement a program.”

 Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance headquarters is located in the Historic Civic Opera Building, about 20 minutes from either Chicago Midway International Airport or O'Hare International Airport. (Artwork by Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance)
Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance headquarters is located in the Historic Civic Opera Building, about 20 minutes from either Chicago Midway International Airport or O’Hare International Airport. (Artwork by Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance)

Introduction to Demand Response is a good place for newcomers to begin. The one-day course provides a comprehensive overview of demand response topics. Current issues will be explored from the perspectives of utilities, retail energy providers, customers, independent system operators, and other demand response technology and services providers.

After a day of intensive training, attendees can unwind at a networking reception on the roof of MEEA headquarters. There is nothing like sipping, nibbling and chatting with colleagues in the presence of one of America’s great skylines to get the ideas flowing. The Wednesday workshop, “Integrating Energy Efficiency with Demand Response in the Midwest,” is tailored to the specific goals and challenges facing midwestern utilities. The first two sessions separately address DR and energy-efficiency professionals, and the third covers program models that successfully combine the two points of view.

You may register for all three events as a package or in any combination, including just the reception. Hotel accommodations must be reserved separately and are not included in event registration.

Efficiency issues, conference evolve
Much has changed and much has stayed the same in nearly a decade of talking energy efficiency at RMUEE. Stubborn challenges persist, such as program evaluation, reaching low-income customers and creating a trusted contractor pool, although each year brings clever and creative local solutions. On the positive side, utilities can choose from a variety of mature behavior-based programs for engaging customers, and have plenty of data to make the selection easier.

Technology, always a hot topic, keeps challenging utilities to keep up with it. Lighting upgrades continue to offer the most bang for the buck, but LED, or light-emitting diode, lamps have displaced compact fluorescent lights as the state-of-the-art in efficiency. Automated systems to manage home energy use are still popular, but programmable thermostats seem almost quaint compared to smartphone apps that allow people to control multiple systems remotely. The cost of solar panels has dropped sharply in nine years, making distributed generation a more pressing issue, and carbon emissions regulations now seem closer than ever.

The RMUEE agenda covers all these topics and more, with presentations by your colleagues—the people who design and implement customer programs. You will also hear from trade allies who offer energy products and services and from government agencies that work with utilities to meet efficiency goals.

With so much experience in one place, networking usually turns out to be the star of the RMUEE. Attendees will have plenty of time to make new contacts and compare notes with old friends during meals, breaks and receptions. For a change of pace this year, the final day will be dedicated to outdoor teambuilding activities, including a guided hike and a bike ride to the Maroon Bells. That is, weather permitting, of course, but the fall weather in Aspen is generally cooperative.

There is still time to register for RMUEE, and rooms at the Sky Motel in Aspen are available at a special conference rate. The motel is only a short drive from the Aspen Meadows Conference Center, and will also host the Thursday evening reception.

The Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange and the Midwest regional workshops differ in focus. One explores the broad range of customer efficiency programs while the other hones in on two specific strategies. The target audiences deal with different geographic challenges. But the events are tied by the belief that the real experts on the utility industry are the utilities themselves. We will discover all the expertise we need to deal with environmental, regulatory and technological changes if we just talk to our neighbors.

CUE Exchange presentations now online

Many of the presentations from the Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange are now available to be downloaded. You will also find links under the Breaking News coverage of the sessions. Feel free to leave comments or questions about the presentations here.

It was a great event, with utilities showing off the progress their energy-efficiency programs have made in four years. We hope you enjoyed the coverage, and we hope to see you in Aspen next years at the fifth annual CUE.

CUE Exchange calls for presenters

The deadline for suggesting topics for the 4th annual Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange is July 31. The City of Aspen Utilities is hosting the event, Oct. 13-15, at Aspen Meadows Resort.

Modeled on the Utility Energy Forum, the CUE Exchange is a gathering of professionals from energy and water utilities serving Colorado and neighboring states, trade allies and sponsoring organizations dedicated to efficiency. Over three days, participants discuss customer programs related to energy and water efficiency, renewable energy, demand response and key account customer management. Participants ask questions, form partnerships and come up with new ideas, with emphasis on the regional point of view. 

An ad hoc Agenda Planning Committee puts together the agenda each year, but don’t think that gets you off the hook. Your input is more than welcomed–it is what makes the CUE Exchange fresh and relevant.  Anyone can recommend themselves or others to present a 30″ x 40″ poster, a 10-minute “snapshot” panel presentation or a 30-minute presentation.

To submit your recommendations to the committee, complete the online form with information as you would like it to appear in the published agenda. Don’t forget to include a brief bio sketch of your qualifications to present your topic. To suggest topics only, scroll down to the last  large box on the form.