WAPA customers excel in energy competition

The Georgetown University Energy Prize You are leaving WAPA.gov. is making WAPA feel like parents of talented children who are playing the same sport but are all on different teams. We know there can be only one winner but we are rooting for all of them and, of course, we are as proud as we can be of their accomplishments.

Among the 50 communities competing are WAPA municipal customers Fort Collins and Aspen, ColoradoYou are leaving WAPA.gov. and Palo Alto, California. The three cities are now in the semifinalist stage of the multi-year competition to reduce their electric and gas consumption in a sustainable and replicable way.logo-large250aspenenergychallenge400

To enter the contest, each community submitted a long-term energy-saving plan with commitments to policies and projects by residential associations, governments, institutions or businesses in the community. In the fourth stage, beginning January 2017, finalists will be selected for their energy-saving performance over the previous two years. The criteria also include innovation, potential for replication, likely future performance and program accessibility for all residents. The judging panel will choose the winner from this group to receive a $5-million prize to use to further their community energy plans.

Motivations beyond money
WAPA customers competing for the prize have a track record of designing successful energy-saving programs and engaging customers. It makes sense that they would put that experience to work to earn a $5-million prize to further their efforts, but there are other reasons for competing, too.

It is all about the data for the city of Aspen, acknowledged Utilities Efficiency Specialist Ryland French during his presentation at the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange. “The information we collect will be normalized based on weather, population and other factors,” he explained. “It will give us an aggregate look at community energy use that we didn’t have before.”

Fort Collins Utilities has been pursuing aggressive energy efficiency and greenhouse gas mitigation goals for several years now, and the ramped-up time scale of the competition provided an excuse to pilot new innovative programs. “We are coming at it from a research perspective,” said Project Manager Katy Bigner. “It gives us another way to drive greater community involvement in achieving our Climate Action Plan.”

Get community involved
Since both cities already had active programs for reducing energy use, it made marketing sense to rebrand the competition with a local name. “We wanted to leverage community pride,” said French. “Highlighting the competition with other cities helped to create enthusiasm.”

So the GUEP became the Aspen Energy Challenge You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Aspen and Lose-a-Watt You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Fort Collins.

To its established foundation of energy coaching, home audits and rebates, Aspen added outreach tailored to specific community segments. Program promotion material for home audits pictured city residents who had actually received the assessments, allowing customers to see that their neighbors were participating. A school district-wide retrofit project of lighting and controls became a teaching tool and turned students into advocates for energy conservation.

Working with the Poudre School District has been central to Fort Collins’s strategy, as well. “We’ve focused on small education programs, because when you get kids excited about something, they run home and tell their parents,” said Bigner.

The city also enlisted a sorority from Colorado State University for a “Porchlight Campaign.” Sorority sisters walked through neighborhoods making note of homes that had incandescent bulbs in their porch fixtures. The students would talk to the homeowners and offer to replace the conventional lights with compact fluorescent lamps.

More than one way to tell story
Outreach is a challenge for all utilities, whether competing for a multi-million dollar prize or just trying to get customers to sign up for a new demand response program. Aspen and Fort Collins pursued some proven strategies, like engaging students, but used the competition to experiment with different approaches too.

For Aspen, success came from taking a simple message and spreading it through as many avenues as possible, appealing to many different motivations. When a promotion offering residents a free Nest thermostat was “leaked,” only two people called. However, when the offer was officially announced in the city’s email newsletter, 30 homeowners called before 9 a.m. to get their Nest.

The free home energy assessment program was another offer that didn’t take off until the second announcement. “The first time we promoted it was before the Aspen Energy Challenge branding,” French recalled. “We put the offer in community partner e-newsletters and from mid-March to May 2015, only 50 people signed up for audits.”

By August 2016, when the city offered the second round of free home energy audits, the Aspen Energy Challenge was well established. The offer appeared in the competition’s dedicated newsletter, as well as, newspaper and radio ads, on the Energy Challenge website, posters, social media, local television, events and more. “We talked generally not just about saving energy and money, but also about being green, joining the community, competing for the Prize, comfort, health and safety and tech trends,” said French.

Customers claimed all 25 free audits in only seven days, so Aspen continued to promote audits at the regular incentive level of $100 after the rebate. “We had enough traction in the community that there were 24 more sign-ups over the last three weeks of August,” he said. “They were attracted by the free offer, but continued to participate after the free audits ran out.”

Fort Collins decided to come up with a marketing campaign that differed from the one it had used prior to the competition. “We are not only testing out innovative programs, we are looking at different ways to market them, too,” Bigner said.

A sociologist the utility consulted had done research that indicated people find open-ended calls to action confusing. “When you say, ‘turn down your thermostat,’ people don’t really know how much they need to make a difference,” she pointed out. “The marketing campaign is focused on taking specific steps to cut down on energy use, and then moving to the next level.”

The contest website provides visitors with an interactive chart that categorizes actions as easy, medium or advanced, and includes steps for renters and home owners, different home systems and appliances. For example, easy steps for lighting include turning lights off when not in use and replacing conventional incandescent bulbs with one of the newer, high-efficiency options. Advanced measures include buying large appliances, installing solar thermal or photovoltaic systems and investing in building shell upgrades. The chart indicates measures for which rebates are available.

Creating competition between businesses has paid off for the utility. Although the contest does not count energy savings by business customers, businesses can compete with each other to see how much energy their employees can save at home. Lose a Watt created the Workwise Challenge to get local businesses within the city limits involved. Employees install a Home Conservation Kit the program supplies, and then tell their stories on the website. Participating businesses earn recognition and employees have the chance to win prizes. The strategy has resulted in an 86,000 kilowatt-hours in savings.

Some things work
As the end of Stage 3 of the competition draws near (Dec. 31), contestants have had time to evaluate some of their strategies and draw a few conclusions.

Working with school districts was a success for both utilities, showing once again that it is never too soon to reach out to tomorrow’s consumers.

Affordable housing energy upgrades proved especially successful in Aspen, a resort community with a large demographic of seasonal workers. “We were able to do 400 units in only a couple of months. The key was focusing on the process and working with the city council and county commission,” French recalled.

The utility matched the upgrades with outreach to tenants and landlords. “Seasonal tenants can’t be expected to know what 0 through 5 on a radiator dial means in terms of actual temperature, or what to do if the solar thermal system on a unit isn’t working,” French said. “To maintain the gains from the upgrades, we had to educate the people who lived in the buildings and managed them.”

In addition to the success of the business competition, streamlining its energy-efficiency upgrade program for homeowners has been a success for Fort Collins. “We walk the customer through the whole process from audit to completion,” said Bigner.

Others, not so much
Having a chance to pilot new ideas and find out more about what makes consumers tick has been a frequently cited motive for participating in the Georgetown University Energy Prize. The participating utilities already have lessons under their belts, some a surprise and others not.

Aspen is a city of large vacation homes and those homeowners are an especially tough audience for a message of energy efficiency. “We have tried promoting the competition through the food and wine festival, peer pressure, talking about savings and reaching out to property managers. No luck,” French admitted.

He added that Park City, Utah, another competitor with a similar demographic profile, was having the same problem.

Given the number of young consumers in the college town, Fort Collins thought the Joule-Bug gaming application might be a good way to engage customers in saving energy. “It turned out to be good for only about a year,” Bigner noted. “It required too much effort to sustain over the two years of competition.”

Enlisting energy leaders to promote the competition through social networking was another strategy that ultimately offered to little savings for the effort it required, she said.

Crowdfunding to help a low-income customer make home efficiency improvements was another idea that didn’t pan out. “We raised only $200 to help a single-mother schoolteacher. But I think that approach might still be successful for a nonprofit or faith- based organization, for example,” Bigner observed.

After the finish line
Whoever wins the Georgetown University Energy Prize, the participants can look forward to gaining solid data about their customers’ energy use, along with a clearer idea of what drives customer engagement.

After being judged for their performance in Stage 3, the selected finalists will submit a report on how their programs supported the community’s plan and how they can be applied to longer-term strategies. “We expect to be able to learn plenty from the other participants,” said Bigner.

While a $5-million prize would be great—especially if a WAPA customer wins it—the lessons that come from the competition may well be the greatest prize, and consumers and utilities alike will be winners.

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

Around the web: DOE Better Buildings Initiative

Improving the efficiency of America’s building stock would save billions of dollars in energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create thousands of jobs. To capture – and replicate – those positive gains in energy efficiency, the Department of Energy launched the Better Buildings Initiative, a partnership of public and private sector organizations across the country.
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The initiative focuses its strategies within four interrelated key areas to drive change and investment in energy efficiency:

  • Developing innovative, replicable solutions with market leaders
  • Making energy efficiency investment easier
  • Developing a skilled clean energy workforce
  • Leading by example in federal government

Many ways to build better
Building owners in the commercial, educational, industrial, residential and state and local government sectors can get involved in the initiative through a variety of pathways:

  • The cornerstone Better Building Challenge calls on the leadership of companies, universities, school districts, housing developers and state and local government to commit to reducing the energy used across their building portfolios by 20 percent or more over 10 years.
  • The Better Building Accelerators demonstrate specific innovative policies and approaches, which upon successful demonstration, will accelerate investment in energy efficiency.
  • The Better Buildings Summit, May 9-11 in Washington, D.C., brings partners together to showcase solutions and exchange best practices.
  • The Better Buildings Alliance connects members in different market sectors with DOE’s research and technical experts to develop and deploy innovative, cost-effective, energy-saving solutions that lead to better technologies, more profitable businesses and healthier, more comfortable facilities.
  • The Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines provide a national platform for developing high-quality, nationally recognized training and certification programs that are consistent and scalable across the energy-efficiency industry.
  • The annual Better Buildings Case Competition engages the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers to develop creative solutions to real-world energy efficiency barriers for businesses and other organizations across the marketplace. After taking a year off for planning, the competition is back in 2016.

Partner-specific resources
Industrial partners can participate in the Better Plants program that has saved about 457 trillion British thermal units and $2.4 billion cumulatively in energy costs to date. Facilities may also pursue Superior Energy Performance Certification, by implementing an energy management system that meets the ISO 50001 Standard You are leaving Western's site. and demonstrates improved energy performance.

Resources dedicated to residential partners include the online Solution Center, Home Energy Score and  the Zero-energy Ready Home designation to promote high-performance housing. Utility residential program managers will find many tools in these pages to help homeowners control their energy use.

The Better Building Residential Network is available to state and local government partners, as well as residential partners. The membership, which includes utilities, analyzes energy-efficiency programs and shares best practices with the goal of increasing the number of energy-efficient homes. Join their weekly peer exchange calls to discuss such topics as smart homes, the power of messaging, emerging trends in residential efficiency and residential property-assessed clean energy financing.

Get involved
Buildings use close to half of the energy consumed in the United States, so a more efficient building stock can help utilities meet environmental regulations and load management goals. Learn more about  becoming a Better Building Partner or sign up for interactive webinars that explore cost-effective ways to integrate energy savings into their daily building operations. Keep up to date on the latest partner activities and solutions by signing up for Better Buildings communications.

Ekalaka fifth graders score again in energy-efficiency competition

Southeast Electric CooperativeRedirecting to a non-government site and Ekalaka Elementary SchoolRedirecting to a non-government site students teamed up to take another run at America’s Home Energy ChallengeRedirecting to a non-government site, and once again proved that ordinary households can find ways to save energy, even during a hard Montana winter.

With an infrared camera borrowed from Western’s Equipment Loan Program, Ekalaka fifth-grader Jared Pardee tracks down energy leaks in his kitchen. His family led the class team to its second-place victory in America’s Home Energy Challenge for 2014. (Photo by Southeast Electric Cooperative)

With an infrared camera borrowed from Western’s Equipment Loan Program, Ekalaka fifth-grader Jared Pardee tracks down energy leaks in his kitchen. His family led the class team to its second-place victory in America’s Home Energy Challenge for 2014. (Photo by Southeast Electric Cooperative)

The fifth-grade class tied for second place with four other teams from around the nation by reducing their collective home energy use .616 percent in September, October and November of 2013, compared to the same three months in 2012. If that achievement didn’t quite reach the heights of 2011, when the school district took the top national prize of $15,000, it was still impressive, noted Southeast Member Services Representative Marlene Waterland. “Our goal was to save 3 percent over the previous year, but the winter was so cold, we were lucky to show any savings at all,” she said.

Secret is training
Waterland, who coordinated the utility’s support of both competitions, worked with teacher Barbara Elmore to organize this year’s game plan.

Before the 10 participating students started the competition, they had to learn a little about electricity. The class studied electricity vocabulary words and reviewed a pie chart on energy use. Elmore taught them how to calculate kilowatt-hours (kWh) for routine home activities like cooking, doing laundry or watching TV. “Getting kids to see how they can apply math to everyday problems is a valuable takeaway from the Challenge,” Waterland said.

Waterland supplied fact sheets on insulation and fuel cost comparison for options like propane, electricity, wood and coal. Students received copies of Touchstone Energy’s 101 Easy Ways to Save Energy and MoneyRedirecting to a non-government site and compared appliance energy use with Waterland. “When homeowners are ready to replace an old appliance, it helps if their children, and not just their utility, are talking about Energy Star,” she observed.

Collecting data, calculating use
As part of the educational process, participating families got a home energy audit, courtesy of Southeast. “Marlene borrowed the FLIR EX320 infrared camera,” said Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “It’s good for home inspections because it is one of our easiest to use models—you point it at the target like a flashlight—and it still gives you a high-quality picture.”

Waterland used the camera to find leaks in ductwork, windows and doors; and to show heat loss around furnaces, hot water heaters and other appliances. The audit also included comparing the home electrical use for past 36 months and sharing information on calculating kWh use for electrical appliances and do-it-yourself meter reading. “The homeowner can borrow a Kill-A-Watt reader if they want to get specific energy use for an appliance,” she said.

Kids with plans
The measures the students chose for their plans were mainly the kind of low- and no-cost behavior changes that utilities (and frugal families) have been promoting to customers for decades. Turning off lights in empty rooms, only doing full loads of laundry or dishes and sealing around windows and doors were popular choices. Since most families use engine block heaters to ensure that vehicles and tractors can start after a cold night, students learned how to put the heaters on timers.

Some measures offered unintended dividends, as students proposed to save energy by reading more and using the computer less, or watching TV with the family instead of alone in their rooms. “One kid came up with the idea of playing board games or hide-and-go-seek when friends came over instead of playing video games,” Waterland recalled.

She added that many plans involved getting other members of the family to change their habits. Several students decided that their siblings should take shorter showers or turn off their stereos, while another asked his mother to do fewer loads of laundry. Others tried to shift the energy use to somebody else’s household. “One participant suggested that his grandmother could bake the Thanksgiving pies and dinner rolls so his family didn’t have to use the oven,” laughed Waterland.

Tuning up strategy
After the first month of the competition, it was clear that the fifth grade team was not getting the hoped-for results. “September of 2013 was three degrees warmer than the average, but both October and November were colder than average,” observed Waterland. “People were staying inside more and using their heating appliances more. The team’s energy use actually went up 3 percent.”

To refocus the young energy savers, Waterland did a recap of energy conservation measures using town’s recent retrofit of its Christmas decorations to illustrate the principles of saving energy. To encourage more use of math as a tool, Elmore asked participants to calculate the dollar savings for their measures. One student took the suggestion and figured out that turning down his home’s water heater would save the family $120 per year. Not surprisingly, that student’s family led the competition, using only 3,856 kWh compared to 7,536 kWh in 2012.

Good to play, win
The tie for second place earned the Ekalaka fifth graders $1,000 in prize money, which will fund a class field trip to the Campbell County School District PlanetariumRedirecting to a non-government site in Gillette, Wyo.

Waterland believes that the benefits of participating in America’s Home Energy Challenge go beyond prize money, however. “It helps our next generation of consumers to understand energy use, and starts developing habits that will save them money and energy in their own homes,” she said.

It also gives Southeast Electric Cooperative another bond with its customers. “I love going into the schools and meeting with the teachers, kids and families,” Waterland declared. “I hope we do the Challenge next year and I would like to see other Western customers join the competition,” she added.

Competition promotes STEM learning in schools

Public power providers often team up with local schools to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) talent in their communities. Now, a competition is offering utilities and schools the opportunity to share their experiences—and win prizes and recognition for their innovative programs.

Ashoka’s Changemakers is partnering with Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Opportunity Equation to unleash the talent of professionals in STEM-related fields to engage students, particularly our highest-need students, in rich STEM learning. Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science + Technology + Engineering + Math Education, an online collaborative competition, will spur creative ways for companies, universities and other organizations with expertise in the STEM fields to partner with the public schools that need their talent. Sponsors include the Jhumki Basu Foundation, Alcoa Foundation, Amgen Foundation, ExxonMobil Foundation, Google, The Mind Trust, AFT Innovation Fund and Noyce Foundation.

The competition is looking for program models that find new ways to bring STEM resources from the private and not-for-profit sectors into the classroom, promote mentorship and introduce students to opportunities in STEM industries. Winners are eligible for more than $150,000 in cash and in-kind prizes that could be used to expand an existing program or kick-start an initiative that has been sitting on the “drawing board.”  Submit your innovative solutions by 5PM EDT on August 3, 2011.

And don’t forget to tell Energy Services about your program while you are at it. We don’t offer prizes, but we would love to feature your program in the Energy Services Bulletin.