SEPA issues ‘state of market’ report for electric vehicles

The market for electric vehicles is growing quickly, and utilities can expect to play a central role in minimizing the potential grid impacts of this new load and increasing access to charging infrastructure. With that in mind, the Smart Electric Power Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. has surveyed more than 480 utilities about their EV programs to create the industry’s first ever state-of-the-market report for EV programs.

Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value couldn’t come at a better time, with many industry EV adoption forecasts being revised due to exponential growth. Bloomberg New Energy Finance You are leaving WAPA.gov. predicts that electricity consumption will grow from a few terawatt-hours a year in 2017 to around 118 TWh by 2030. Many utilities may be unprepared for this sudden change in load growth. SEPA has collected information and tools in this report that can help utilities and their partners find a path forward.

The report includes:

  • A first-of-its-kind analytical framework for establishing the maturity of utility EV programs
  • Fourteen types of utility EV programs and activities categorized into early, intermediate and late stages
  • An overview of regulatory decisions regarding utility investments in EV charging infrastructure
  • Recommendations for strategic utility planning on EVs
  • Regulatory analysis and regional trends from over 70 EV-related regulatory dockets

A detailed analysis of the collected data revealed that 75 percent of utilities were in the earliest stages of EV program development. Time is not on the utilities’ side and they must begin now to work with peers and others in the industry to develop a robust EV strategy and identify ways to leverage EVs as a grid asset. Preparation today will equip power providers with the knowledge and technologies they need to unlock value in this new load.

You can download Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value for free. SEPA members can gain access to the dataset by logging in to the SEPA EStore. The dataset includes the list of utilities included in the analysis, the total number of programs and activities identified by stage for each utility and the identified utility stage.

Electric vehicles potentially offer many benefits—as a distributed energy resource with the ability to modulate charge or even dispatch energy back into the grid—along with many unknowns for utilities. Use this report to introduce yourself to the promise and pitfalls of a load that could change our industry.

Source: Smart Electric Power Alliance, 3/15/18

Eco Pulse 2017 ends year on message of unity

Artwork by Shelton Group

In a country that increasingly seems to be defined by its division, it can be hard to market products and services that everybody needs, a challenge not lost on electric utilities. Happily, there are still some things people agree on—energy efficiency comes to mind—and the latest Eco Pulse report explores how to use those areas of agreement to tell your product’s story.

Agreeing on Earth
United We Understand You are leaving WAPA.gov. takes a deep dive to look at the values that drive the attitudes and behaviors people have with regard to sustainability. The data collected in the report suggest that the values structure in our country has more common roots than news headlines would indicate.

A survey of 2,000 respondents showed that Americans believe three things:

  1. We all deserve a clean planet.
  2. There’s a big problem happening with our environment.
  3. Everyone bears responsibility for fixing environmental problems.

Also, the number of respondents who say sustainability is an important part of their consumer choices has increased since 2013 and they believe that companies should do their part. However, a majority of respondents believe companies won’t take action unless a law requires them to.

Words matter
The report shares words that can unify Americans and thereby help brands connect with consumers. Using words that unite can help businesses use sustainability to build their brands across a broader audience. For utilities, the carefully chosen marketing language can create support for sustainability initiatives and program offerings, ensure a message that resonates and increase customer loyalty.

Language that divides rather than unites is also covered in the report. Words that trigger neutral or negative responses tend to have a less clear meaning across different demographics and do not resonate with our broader beliefs about how the world works.

Speak to values
Researchers concluded that Americans value the environment more than we might expect, but their reasons for doing so differ. Using a set of agreement statements developed in the seminal book, Environmental Values in American Culture, the Eco Pulse report found motivations that can be categorized into three distinct groups: earth-centric, human-centric and economic-centric. By understanding these values, and how to articulate them, you can better leverage your sustainability story, build your customer relationships and drive program participation.

You can download United We Understand for free from the Shelton Group, but registration is required. Start off 2018 with a revitalized marketing strategy for your customer programs and don’t forget to tell Energy Services how it goes. Happy New Year!

Source: The Shelton Group, 12/7/17

Take stock of 2017 with Utility Dive industry survey

It has been quite a year for the electric utility industry, with seemingly conflicting signals and demands coming from so many different directions, and 2018 looks to be equally unsettled and unsettling. Utility Dive is asking utilities how they coped with 2017 through its fifth annual State of the Electric Utility Survey. You are leaving WAPA.gov.

The research report captures the trends, technologies and troubles shaping the sector. Take just 10 minutes to weigh in on your experience with regulations, wholesale power markets, distributed resources, environmental mandates and customer engagement, to name just a few topics the survey covers. The more utilities that respond, the more complete the picture of the pressing challenges and exciting opportunities power providers are facing.

Not only do you get the chance to reflect on the past year, you also get access to a year’s worth of powerful insights from your colleagues. All respondents receive a free copy of the survey results delivered directly to them by email.

The results of the survey and an analysis will be released in early 2018. You can download last year’s report You are leaving WAPA.gov. for free.

Source: Utility Dive, 11/16/17

ACEEE blog series explores energy-efficiency investments in US

Stacks of American dollar billsEnergy efficiency is a big and growing business with $231 billion invested globally in 2016, according to an estimate by the International Energy Agency You are leaving WAPA.gov. (IEA). The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) used the release of the IEA Worldwide Investment report in July as a springboard to examine how much the United States invests in energy efficiency, what is driving that investment and how it could be increased.

We spend how much?
The first blog post, How Many Billions do US Businesses and Individuals Invest in Energy Efficiency Each Year?You are leaving WAPA.gov. gave $41 billion as the estimated figure for efficiency spending in our country. This was the first year that the IEA report gave a separate estimate for the U.S., but spending was not broken out by sector. Based on the worldwide estimate, about 58 percent of that spending is for buildings, 26 percent for transportation and 16 percent for industry.

Drawing on other spending reports to get a clearer picture, ACEEE concludes that our energy-efficiency investments may actually range from $60 billion to $115 billion annually. This wide-ranging estimate results from different studies employing different measurement methods and parameters. However, additional research by ACEEE and by the U.S. Green Building Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. suggest this range is reasonable.

Policy appears to be the primary driver in energy-efficiency investments, with building codes and appliance and vehicle standards responsible for about $20 billion worth. “Spillover” occurs when policies and programs, such as utility incentives and customer programs, indirectly influence consumer decisions.

Reasons why
Other factors driving the decision to invest in energy efficiency include income and education levels among residential consumers and type of industry for business customers.

Who Invests in Energy Efficiency and Why?, the second blog post, cites a survey by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing that large firms are more likely to engage in energy management activities than small companies. Businesses participating in the Shelton Group’s 2016 B2B Pulse study You are leaving WAPA.gov. rated how important sustainability and conservation were to their company’s operating and capital expenditure decisions. Commercial real estate development and property management were the industry groups that gave energy issues the most consideration.

The EIA’s 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey found that consumers with higher incomes are more likely to make energy-efficiency investments large enough to be eligible for federal energy-efficiency tax credits. Smaller investments, such as new lightbulbs, do not appear to be affected by consumer income. Another study found an education effect along with the income effect, but income and education are usually closely related. Households that have moved within the last three years spend more on efficiency improvements, as do younger families.

The reasons commercial customers offer for making efficiency upgrades, while not unexpected, show a subtle shift in priorities. From the Shelton Group study, business customers cited “energy savings or other cost reductions” as the leading motivation for investing in efficiency. Although concern about climate change ranked toward the bottom of the list, the percentage of respondents that mentioned it has nearly doubled in the last year.

Saving on electric bills also topped the reasons residential customers gave for undertaking energy-efficiency improvements at 61 percent. Making the home more comfortable followed with 35 percent and making the home healthier was mentioned by 27 percent of respondents. Taken together, comfort and safety are an equal consideration to financial concerns. The study recommends focusing homeowners on both the financial and non-financial benefits of energy efficiency to explain the value of their investment.

Let’s do more
The final post addresses the question on every utility program manager’s mind—How Can we Increase Energy Efficiency Investments?—and offers 10 suggestions to make it happen. According to ACEEE, only about one-quarter of households and businesses implement efficiency upgrades, in spite of the benefits.

The suggestions focus on expanding what is already working, while remaining open to new approaches. More measurement and benchmarking could help program providers identify successful programs and help customers see the value of energy-efficiency improvements. The article also recommends seeking partnerships with real estate, financial and construction industries to reach consumers through different channels.

Energy-efficiency investments were 8-9 percent higher in 2016 than in 2015. The ACEEE blog series offers some starting points to help utilities keep the momentum going. Energy Services looks forward to hearing about your ideas for getting more results from your existing programs and for creative new service offerings.

Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

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

New LBNL study helps utilities compare natural gas, renewables

Low wholesale power prices and an uncertain future for federal power regulations have made it trickier—and riskier—than ever for utilities and independent power producers to plan for and invest in generation.

Using Probability of Exceedance to Compare the Resource Risk of Renewable and Gas-Fired Generation seeks to simplify decision-making with clear, cold numbers. The new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) study offers a new way to compare the resources, showing that renewables are an economic and reliable choice.

Resource risk can be very difficult to mitigate for long-term investments in power plants, and it manifests differently for renewable and natural gas-fired generation. For renewables, the risk is “the quantity of wind and insolation will be less than expected.” For natural gas, the risk is “natural gas will cost more than expected.”

Statisticians label the mid-range case “P50,” but calculate a probability for all possibilities from P1 to P99. Probability of exceedance is commonly used by utility planners “to characterize the uncertainty around annual energy production for wind and solar projects,” the paper reports. It “can also be applied to natural gas price projections.”

The study’s “statistical concept” quantifies the risk at each P-level of expected renewables output levels and natural gas prices and factors them into a levelized cost of energy comparison. “In general, higher-than-expected gas prices appear to be riskier to ratepayers than lower-than-expected wind or solar output,” noted LBNL researcher and study co-author Mark Bolinger.

Utilities contracted for or owned 55 percent of 2016’s installed wind capacity You are leaving WAPA.gov. and are expected to contract for two-thirds of the 13.2 gigawatts of solar You are leaving WAPA.gov. expected to be added this year. Yet, utility planners may be underestimating the hedge value of these renewable resources. A survey of more than 600 sector professionals You are leaving WAPA.gov. by Utility Dive showed only 7 percent see natural gas price volatility as the main reason to invest in renewables.

Views on the LBNL paper differ across the energy industry with Charlie Reidl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas You are leaving WAPA.gov. insisting that global demand would not put significant price pressures on proven U.S. reserves. Other authorities, however, argue U.S. reserves are being depleted too rapidly You are leaving WAPA.gov. to keep up with growing demand.

The disagreement underscores the importance of a method like LBNL’s that quantifies the risk and uncertainty. Renewable industry representatives have called the LBNL paper an important contribution that could be useful for utility integrated resource planning.

Read more about the study and industry reactions in Utility Dive You are leaving WAPA.gov. and download the report and webinar presentations from the LBNL website.

Source: Utility Dive, 6/29/17

SEPA report offers guidance on planning for distributed energy resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Smart Electric Power Alliance, May 2017

Report: Utilities can treat electric vehicles as demand response tools

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

Utilities and Electric Vehicles: The Case for Managed Charging

(Artwork by Smart Electric Power Association)

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

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

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

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

Source: Utility Dive, 5/11/17

ACEEE report offers strategies to improve small business efficiency programs

Webinar: Serving All Customers with Utility Energy Efficiency Programs
Dec. 6
1 p.m. MT

Small businesses represent 90 percent of US businesses, consume about 20 percent of the energy and are of vital importance to our national economy, even more so in small towns and rural areas. Yet, utilities spend less than 4 percent of their energy-efficiency budget on these customers. ACEEEresearch

A new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) looks at ways utilities can tap that potential for energy and demand savings in the small business sector. Big Opportunities for Small Business: Successful Practices of Utility Small Commercial Energy Efficiency Programs You are leaving WAPA.gov. identifies successful practices and emerging approaches for reaching those notoriously hard-to-access customers. The report then covers the major structural and organizational barriers that continue to stand in the way of fulfilling the energy needs of small businesses.

Diversity creates challenges
Those barriers include lack of staff, time and money, and the fact that many small businesses rent or lease, rather than own, their buildings. Customers across all sectors are often unaware of utility program offerings and the benefits of energy efficiency in general, and small business owners are no different in this respect.

But even addressing these challenges may not be enough to persuade small business customers to make upgrades that capture deep savings. Utility program managers, as well, may lack the resources to design, promote and provide programs that garner broad participation. The diversity of the small business sector, in terms of industry, energy uses, savings opportunities, financial needs, languages spoken, building types and cultures have important implications for program design.

Don’t stop at lighting
Facing such a broad range of needs, many utilities take a “one-size-fits-all” approach, focusing on the low hanging fruit of lighting upgrades. ACEEE research showed that even among several well-established programs, 90 percent of electric savings come from lighting—and not without good reason.

Almost every type of small, non-residential utility customer sees a quick payback and cost-effective savings from installing such measures as linear fluorescent and LED lamps, fixtures and controls. Adding direct—or even free—installation of qualified measures and high rebates make participation easier, and business owners start saving money right away.

Yet, utilities miss many opportunities by not looking at a wider variety of energy end-uses. In small grocery stores, for example, refrigeration can represent as much as 57 percent of the total electricity consumption. Also, most small business programs are electric only, and don’t provide any natural gas- and water-saving measures for space and water heating or cooking. Electric-only utilities might consider partnering with water and natural gas providers to create integrated efficiency programs.

Customize, partner
Report authors studied leading small business efficiency programs to find emerging trends that are delivering results today and point to a future for program designs and features. A more customized and customer-centric model is the key, according to the report. Recommendations include:

  • Segment your market and design customized offerings for each sub-segment
  • Provide personalized and relevant messages through targeted marketing and communications
  • Offer zero- or low-interest financing to encourage comprehensive retrofits and deeper savings
  • Offer a wide set of eligible measures, for multiple end-uses, based on target market research and data analytics
  • Where possible, assign dedicated project managers to give customers direct technical assistance, education and support
  • Establish partnerships with the local Chamber of Commerce, small business advocacy organizations and community groups to gain access to more commercial customers and engage them as trusted local partners

Download the report to learn more, or register for Serving All Customers with Utility Energy Efficiency Programs You are leaving WAPA.gov. on Dec. 6. This upcoming webinar looks at providing energy efficiency for hard-to-reach customer groups, including small businesses. ACEEE is partnering with Efficiency Cities Network You are leaving WAPA.gov. to present a series of webinars on cities and the transformation of the utility industry. Past topics include:

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 11/21/16

Report: Electric cooperatives are big business

A WAPA customer appeared on a list of the 300 largest cooperatives and mutual organizations in the world, released by the International Cooperative Alliance You are leaving WAPA.gov. (ICA) during the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec, Canada, Oct. 11-13.wcm20162001

According to the 2016 World Cooperative Monitor, You are leaving WAPA.gov. Basin Electric Power Cooperative You are leaving WAPA.gov. ranked 215th with $2.25 billion in revenue—which the report calls “turnover”—up 14 places from last year. Two more WAPA customers, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Great River Energy, You are leaving WAPA.gov. appeared among the Top 20 in the industry and utility category, with $1.4 billion and $1.2 billion in turnover respectively. Within the overall study, U.S. electric co-ops dominated the industry and utilities category with 11 organizations in the Top 20.

From a global perspective, however, energy cooperatives represent only a small portion of the organizations built on the cooperative business model. Insurance and agricultural/food groups comprise 64 percent of all co-ops with revenues of $100 million or more, topping all categories. The 2016 edition of the monitor is based on information submitted by 2,370 cooperatives from 63 countries.

Even so, electric cooperatives are a big business in the US, owning and maintaining 42 percent of the nation’s electrical distribution lines, generating 5 percent of its electricity and employing 72,000 people. Such figures support the ICA’s vision of cooperative organizations creating jobs, empowering citizens and building communities. That is a pretty good description of WAPA customers, if we do say so ourselves.

The World Cooperative Monitor collects and analyzes data on the world’s largest co-operative and mutual organizations and other enterprises controlled by co-operatives. The International Cooperative Alliance produced the report in conjunction with the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises.

Source: America’s Electric Cooperatives, 10/17/16