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

Lincoln Electric System keeps refining efficiency incentives

Like rose bushes, customer energy-efficiency programs only flourish with careful attention, like Lincoln Electric System You are leaving Western's site. (LES) gives to its Sustainable Energy Program You are leaving Western's site..

The Nebraska municipal utility is funding its incentive program with $3 million this year to help customers make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient. The program is intended to encourage customer-owners to upgrade to equipment and systems that are more efficient than they would have purchased on their own.

Program participants are not the only LES customers who benefit, either. “The Sustainable Energy Program also reduces the need to purchase more expensive power during the summer months and delays the need for new power generation,” said Marc Shkolnick, LES manager of energy services. “This is a good investment for all our customer-owners.”

Broadening program
LES launched the Sustainable Energy Program in 2009 to reduce demand with energy efficiency and renewable energy to offset the utility’s projected five-year growth on a rolling basis. “We retooled a heat pump incentive to go after our summer peak,” explained Shkolnick. “Over time, we added more equipment and systems as we realized that it would take a more aggressive approach to ensure that all our customers were benefitting.”

LES offers funds to help customer-members upgrade insulation and seal their homes and businesses. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

LES offers funds to help customer-members upgrade insulation and seal their homes and businesses. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

The current version of the Sustainable Energy Program offers incentives for:

  • High-efficiency heat pumps and air conditioners for residential and commercial customers replacing existing cooling systems or installing them in newly built homes and buildings
  • Commercial and industrial energy-efficiency measures that achieve peak demand savings, such as commercial lighting retrofits, air conditioner or heat pump replacements, variable-frequency drive upgrades, compressed air system analysis and upgrade, energy management system installation, optimization or upgrade and system commissioning
  • Whole-house and facility sealing and insulation to seal penetrations and bring insulation levels to current code standards in existing homes and facilities

Air conditioner and heat pump upgrades are the most popular residential measures, and for commercial customers, “It’s lighting, by a slam dunk,” declared Shkolnick. “Over time, between the changes in technology and dropping prices, we’ve seen the most activity in lighting incentives.”

LES commercial customers overwhelmingly choose lighting upgrades to reduce their electricity bills. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

LES commercial customers overwhelmingly choose lighting upgrades to reduce their electricity bills. (Photo by Lincoln Electric System)

Spreading savings, awareness
Since 2009, residential customers have implemented 6,000 projects and commercial customers have completed 5,000 upgrades to save a cumulative estimate of 100,000 megawatt-hours. Leveraging $18.3 million in incentives, LES customers invested $87 million in energy-efficiency upgrades for an estimated annual savings of $7 million on electric energy bills, a win for the local economy, too.

In fact, trade allies have been among the program’s biggest promoters, noted Shkolnick. “People don’t think about these kinds of purchases until they need to. Contractors are talking to customers when they are ready to buy new equipment or systems, and they talk about the incentives,” he said. “LES promotes the program through the usual channels—bill stuffers, newsletters, ads—but the vendors are our most effective marketers.”

Getting off on the right foot with the local contractor pool—and staying there—helped. LES brought vendors in during the development of the Sustainable Energy Program to get their input. “We still do an annual orientation to update our trade allies on program changes, terms and conditions,” Shkolnick said. “Also, we moved the reimbursement system online to streamline the process and make it more user-friendly.”

Reaching out to contractors has paid off in more than program participation. A recent survey LES conducted showed not only a growing awareness among customer-owners about the Sustainable Energy Program, but also about energy use and reducing waste in general.

Making good even better
All of which is to say that the Sustainable Energy Program is doing a good job of saving energy and engaging customers. But is it keeping up with the times? Since LES launched the program, lighting technology has made great strides, building energy codes have tightened and federal efficiency standards have toughened.

Far from taking success for granted, LES recently hired a consultant to analyze seven years’ worth of data and experience. The third-party critique will review the program’s cost-effectiveness, and look at assumptions for claiming energy and demand savings and how the savings are modeled in the utility’s load forecast. “We want to make sure the program is following industry best practices,” said Shkolnick.

It takes work to build an effective energy-efficiency program—one that meets the needs of both customers and utility—and Lincoln Electric System is sowing what it wants to reap.

Electricity savings bear results for Holy Cross consumers

Out-of-date lights at Bear Paw Lodge Redirecting to a non-government site in Beaver Creek, Colorado, were eating up not only electricity, but also staff time to replace burned-out bulbs. To tame the lighting system’s bruin-sized appetite, the managers of the luxury home and condo resort turned to Holy Cross Energy Redirecting to a non-government site for help.

Over the last nine years, the cooperative’s We Care energy-efficiency program has helped hundreds of businesses and households in the Roaring Fork Valley upgrade to more efficient systems and equipment.

Retrofit delivers lower costs, less maintenance
The slope-side resort invested in high-efficiency LEDs for the common areas, parking garages, stairwells and ski lockers. The Bear Paw homeowners’ association can expect savings on their energy bill of about $23,000 per year. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, also provide better light and last significantly longer than conventional lamps. Tim Schwartz, chief engineer for the lodge, said he is looking forward to working until retirement without having to change a single light bulb.

Replacing conventional lighting with efficient LED lamps not only reduced the electricity bills for Bear Paw Lodge, it also made life a little easier for Chief Engineer Tim Schwartz. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Replacing conventional lighting with efficient LED lamps not only reduced the electricity bills for Bear Paw Lodge, it also made life a little easier for Chief Engineer Tim Schwartz. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

A rebate of $31,500 from Holy Cross, plus $2,500 from Energy Smart ColoradoRedirecting to a non-government site made Bear Paw’s total project investment a lot easier to swallow. The lower, out-of-pocket costs give the whole project a payback period of less than three years.Results like Bear Paw’s prove that energy efficiency is good business sense. Member-owned Holy Cross Energy is working to help more of its business and household consumers realize similar paybacks.

Savings pile upHolyCrossSideBar
Seeking deeper energy savings from its We Care program, the utility set a five-year goal in 2013 for its consumers to save 33,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year by 2017. That equals all the electricity used annually by 2,457 homes in the Holy Cross service area, which spreads across Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties.

In 2014 alone, more than 1,000 energy upgrades done by 829 Holy Cross consumers will save 10,106 MWh of electricity per year, according to Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross.

“This is on top of 6,241 megawatt-hours of annual savings from projects done in 2013, so we are halfway to our goal in the first two years,” Wiener said. “These savings will continue for years into the future,” she added.

Consumers get on board
To encourage residential and commercial consumers to make energy-saving upgrades, Holy Cross Energy provides expert help and rebates. “We understand that people appreciate getting help to make smart decisions, and the rebates show our consumers that we are their partner in energy efficiency,” said Wiener.

In 2014 alone, Holy Cross paid out more than $1.1 million in rebates to consumers to offset a portion of their investments in efficiency. Funding for the rebates comes from a 2-percent surcharge added to electric bills.

Holy Cross energy coaches visited more than 200 homes to provide complimentary home energy assessments, and the cooperative helped pay for 68 Energy Smart Colorado home assessments. A total of 592 households made energy upgrades in 2014, said Wiener.

“LED lights and recycling old refrigerators were by far the most popular upgrades,” she said. “People also replaced leaky windows, switched to programmable thermostats, swapped out their old holiday lights for LED strings and installed heat tape timers.”

Holy Cross also continued its partnership with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Redirecting to a non-government site (NWCCOG), which offers a home weatherization program to income-qualified households. In 2014, the NWCCOG crew used a $46,000 contribution from Holy Cross to make upgrades for 22 households.

LED lighting is project of choice
Bringing the benefits of efficiency to businesses and multi-family housing properties is a challenge for all utilities. Holy Cross partnered with Energy Smart Colorado to offer free building walk-throughs and energy coaching to this hard-to-reach market. Locally administered by the Community Office for Resource EfficiencyRedirecting to a non-government site Clean Energy Economy for the Region Redirecting to a non-government site and Walking Mountains Science CenterRedirecting to a non-government site Energy Smart Colorado provides program services to help utilities and municipalities meet energy-efficiency and carbon reduction goals.

Because businesses and lodging use so much more electricity than individual homes, projects at 177 businesses and 51 multi-family properties delivered 93 percent of the total electric savings from 2014 projects.

LED lighting was the project of choice—not surprising, given the added benefit of reduced maintenance. “LED lighting is the hot ticket for businesses, lodges and condos,” said Wiener. “These projects deliver immediate energy savings and rapid payback on your investment. We expect to see a lot more lighting upgrades in 2015 as people see the superior quality of these new LED fixtures and bulbs.”

Installing LEDs in public spaces, like the parking garage at Bear Paw Lodge, offers businesses a quick return on investment. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

Installing LEDs in public spaces, like the parking garage at Bear Paw Lodge, offers businesses a quick return on investment. (Photo by Holy Cross Energy)

More rebates for 2015 projects
So why would a utility want its consumers to use less electricity? “Because it actually saves Holy Cross money,” explained Del Worley, Holy Cross CEO. “In fact, we expect the savings from this year’s efforts to save Holy Cross $1.8 million dollars in power costs over the next five years.”“Energy conservation means we don’t need to invest in costly new power plants, and it reduces the peak demand charges we pay our supplier. Conservation is the most cost-effective investment we can make,” he said.

Holy Cross Energy members agree, and have expressed support for these programs. They can expect more rebate funding from Holy Cross this year to help them invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Source: Holy Cross Energy, 3/12/15

Workshop focuses on improving irrigation efficiency

Inefficient irrigation systems can be costly—to the grower, the utility and the community—so Western is co-sponsoring a workshop Nov. 18 to help agricultural customers explore resources to tackle the problem.

Lots to learn
REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings—From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site will introduce participants to free equipment-testing programs, grants and incentives to upgrade their agricultural operations. Speakers from Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (NPPD) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development will share:

  • Details on free programs support through NPPD, Western and other agencies
  • Hands-on training on pump testing and using infrared cameras to identify savings on energy-related costs, such as livestock watering, grain drying and shop energy

Best of all, the workshop is free to NPPD members and their agricultural customers. “We are excited about this workshop because it offers a unique perspective,” explained NPPD Energy Efficiency Consultant Ronald Rose. “Irrigation customers will learn about the types of projects that qualify for federal, state and local incentives, and how to design energy efficiency into their projects up front.”

Hear from experts
NPPD is a leader in managing irrigation loads and supporting agricultural customers. Over the past 40 years, connected irrigation horsepower served by NPPD has grown at an annual rate of 4.7 percent. Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of reported peak load controlled in 2010. The power wholesaler’s EnergyWise Pump Efficiency Program offers financial incentives for testing and upgrading eligible electric irrigation pumps to improve overall efficiency.

Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD's reported peak load controlled in 2010.

Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD’s reported peak load controlled in 2010.

NPPD recently partnered with a grower and vendor on an innovative pilot project, and Rose will be on hand to discuss lessons learned. The 25-kilowatt solar-powered irrigation system comprising 100 250-watt panels generated 40,000 kilowatt-hours in its first year of operation. “As far as we know, the system is the first of its kind in Nebraska,” he observed.

Visitors to NPPD’s website will find an operating-cost calculator and a status window to check on the daily irrigation control schedule. There is also information about specialized rates, incentives and applying for USDA energy grants.

USDA Rural Development provides from $22.8 to $75 million in grant funding to agricultural producers and small rural business owners interested in improving their energy efficiency or investing in renewable resource technology. The nationwide program is available to businesses in populations of 50,000 or less and to farmers and ranchers.

Veteran training provider
Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA), which is coordinating the event, has teamed with Western on many successful workshops, including popular infrared camera training. CEA’s free Lunchtime Webinar series presents a monthly opportunity to learn about cost-effective measures and technologies that can help small electric cooperatives save their customers energy and money.

Registration is required, so don’t wait to take advantage of this training opportunity. After registering you will receive an agenda and directions to the workshop site, the NRD Conference CenterRedirecting to a non-government site in Grand Island, Nebraska. For more information about registration or the workshop, contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Around the Web: Appliance Standards Awareness Project

Customer efficiency programs built around home appliances benefit both utilities and ratepayers, but keeping up with the latest technologies and standards can seem like a full-time job. Fortunately for utility program managers, there is the Appliance Standards Awareness ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site (ASAP) to make the task easier.ASAPlogo

Over the long term, highly efficient appliances are a valuable tool for keeping electricity rates stable by controlling load growth. Raising the efficiency standards for commonly used household appliances can also help to drive down climate-changing pollution while saving Americans billions of dollars annually in electricity costs.

Recognizing the need for more effective standards, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient EconomyRedirecting to a non-government site (ACEEE), Alliance to Save EnergyRedirecting to a non-government site, Energy Foundation and Natural Resources Defense CouncilRedirecting to a non-government site (NRDC) created ASAP in 1999. The coalition spearheads a broad-based effort to advance, win and defend new appliance, equipment and lighting standards. The ASAP steering committee includes representatives from energy and water efficiency organizations, the environmental community, consumer groups, utilities and state government.

Standards corralled
Whether you are planning a new incentive program or answering a customer’s question about efficient equipment and appliances, ASAP’s product table is the resource to bookmark.

Products are categorized as residential, commercial/industrial or lighting. Visitors can see at a glance when the last standard for an appliance was issued, the date the standard took effect, anticipated updates and which states have their own standard for that appliance. Each product is linked to a page describing the appliance and standard in detail and giving key facts about what the standard is intended to accomplish. Water conservation standards are also listed where applicable.

Whys, whens, wheres, hows
ASAP is loaded with resources that can help you persuade supervisors that an appliance rebate program is a good idea, or assist with evaluating an existing program.

Refer your board of directors—or curious customers—to The Basics to educate them on what appliance standards are, how they are developed and what they cover. DOE Rulemaking 101 is a useful overview of the Department of Energy process for setting standards. Given the industry’s stake in efficiency standards, utilities should understand rulemaking so they can provide input. FAQs and a scenario that imagines no appliance standards wrap up the primer on the importance of efficiency standards.

ASAP can help you sort out the sometimes-confusing differences between national and state standards. National standards apply to products manufactured or imported for sale into the U.S., while state standards apply to products sold or installed in a specific state. DOE reviews and updates national standards to keep pace with advancing technology, but states frequently take the lead in setting new standards (California, we are looking at you!) Visitors will find resources related to DOE rulemaking, laws and regulations on the national page, and current and historic state standards on the state page. An interactive map allows you to download a report on how national standards have benefited each state.

And that ain’t all…
Wrap up your research with a visit to Reports and Resources, where you will find fact sheets, consensus agreements for new national standards, comment filings, testimony, and laws and regulations. Links can put you in touch with other organizations that can help you navigate codes and standards nationally and regionally.