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.

Learn what controlled electric water heaters can do for your utility

Oct. 21, 2014
12-1:00 pm CDT

Balancing energy use from systems as simple as water heaters against energy generation opens all kinds of new possibilities for an affordable, clean energy future.

Explore innovative approaches to demand response, demand-side management and renewable energy storage during Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site free October Lunchtime webinar on electric water heaters. The Surprising Benefits of Controlled Electric Water HeatersRedirecting to a non-government sitecould change the way you see the future of the electric utility industry.

Leader speaks
Gary Connett, director of member services for Great River Energy Redirecting to a non-government site(GRE), is the featured speaker. The Minnesota generation and transmission utility has been a leader in utility demand response for decades. Today, more than 200,000 households and businesses served by GRE distribution utilities participate in demand response programs. The utility controls 15 percent of its peak load, which is equivalent to 370 megawatts of capacity.

Controlled electric water heaters are a proven component of the demand-response portfolio, along with controlled air conditioners, controlled irrigation systems and other strategies. More important, GRE has learned that electric water heaters can serve as energy storage devices—like batteries—so that customers are unaffected when the utility uses new grid-interactive control technologies to fine-tune water heater load control over shorter and shorter time horizons. Anticipating load control needs a day ahead is valuable, but anticipating those needs only an hour ahead—or less!—is even better. Today’s grid-interactive controlled water heaters may even provide frequency regulation, an ancillary service that balances the minute-to-minute variations in generation resources, including wind and solar.

Balancing tool
The heat energy a water heater stores becomes, in effect, the storage medium in a battery. When the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, it is possible to “charge” this thermal storage battery. And when the electricity is needed for other purposes, the water heating elements shut off. Connett says GRE has more than a gigawatt-hour in thermal storage capacity today.

The possibilities on the horizon promise even greater integration of renewables and demand response. Some measures are suited for homes, and others for larger businesses. Connett explains, “We start to see the utility’s purpose as working with both demand-side and supply-side resources, rather than simply increasing generation to meet whatever electricity needs customers create.”

In coming years, utilities will continue to give customers the energy services they want, achieving that goal by tapping both demand-side and supply-side energy resources.

Overcoming barriers
Hurdles to success in grid-interactive water heating remain, however, the first being public perception. Until recently, well-intentioned energy-efficiency advocates dismissed electric water heating as an inappropriate use of generation resources—“like cutting butter with a chainsaw,” as Amory Lovins once put it. Pending energy-efficiency regulations on water heaters could hold the strategy back. But many clean energy advocates, including researchers affiliated with Lovins, say they are willing to take another look at electric water heating today, if it means a more reliable grid, more reliant on wind, sun and other clean, renewable resources.

The Lunchtime Webinar series highlights measures, programs and technologies public power providers serving small towns and rural areas might use to provide better service to their customers. To learn more, register for the webinar or contact Clean Energy Ambassadors.

Learn “cool moves” to reduce air conditioning peak

Those “lazy, hazy, crazy” days of summer are here, but Nat King Cole might have sung a different tune if he had to answer calls from utility customers demanding to know why their electric bills are so high. Incentives for efficient new cooling systems can chip away at your summer peak, but they only work when a customer is ready to replace an old system. What you really need is a low-cost strategy that works for every customer with air conditioning—you need to show them some cool moves.

(Artwork by the Ad Council)
(Artwork by the Ad Council)

Energy-efficiency expert Jill Cliburn offered her road-tested tips for reducing a utility’s cooling load in last month’s Lunchtime Webinar, presented by Clean Energy Ambassadors (CEA). What Are Your 4 Cool Moves?Redirecting to a non-government site laid out a campaign that significantly lowers electricity bills and improves comfort for customers at little (or no!) cost to the utility.

Social marketing sells
If you want to get customers to change their energy use habits, you have to make those changes personally meaningful to them—that is the lesson of social marketing. Instead of peppering people with bill stuffers listing common-sense energy-saving tips, put the tips in a timely and fun context. Give your customers a reason to get on board.

Social marketing has been around for a while, but if you need some help getting started, Cliburn suggests the book, SwitchRedirecting to a non-government site, as a resource for planning your campaign. “Social marketing is a process that works very well with the kind of behavior change demand-side management programs seek,” she said.

The book recommends seven steps for launching a campaign:

  • Define the change – This seems pretty obvious, but it is surprising (or not) how often programs just drift. You can’t hit a target if you don’t know what it looks like, so whether you have a community-wide sustainability goal or a target for peak demand reduction, define a specific outcome.
  • Form a team – That is not just utility staff, either. According to a study by Mckinsey & CompanyRedirecting to a non-government site consulting firm, simple behavior changes could potentially reduce energy demand in the U.S. by 16 to 20 percent. It takes teamwork to even approach results like that, so make sure to include community partners and customers on your team.
  • Look for bright spots – Identify some easy successes that make positive stories.
  • Script critical moves – Give your customers instructions—“cool moves”— to get similar results.
  • Shrink the change – Turn the change into something people can picture themselves doing in a short amount of time. Achieving small successes often motivates people to aim higher.
  • Get the “story” – The story is a fundamental part of the campaign because people want to hear how their actions can make a difference.
  • Use behavioral triggers – Facts and figures will only take your program so far. Tie offers or calls to action to events that are happening to your customers now.

The To-do list
Lists are a great way to organize our world, but long lists can take focus away from the items on the list. Many social scientists believe that people can keep only seven to 10 items on their mind at once, but Cliburn keeps her critical “cool moves” to a concise four:

  1. Lose the hot lights – Old-fashioned (pre-2007) incandescent lights are better at heating than lighting, and add to a building’s cooling load. Let your customers know that energy-efficient lighting is much cooler than standard lighting, and they have plenty of options. Suggest that customers change a few lights at the beginning of summer. If they notice a difference, they might change a few more.
  2. Seek shade – Shading done outside the home is more effective than interior cooling systems. A fully grown oak provides cooling equivalent to four air conditioners. While waiting for that tree to reach maturity, homeowners might consider planting fast-growing vines where they can block the sun. Creating a schedule for closing window shades is another cost-free way to keep the house cool. Remind customers who put reflective film on their windows to take it down in the winter.
  3. Set it right – Installing a programmable thermostat or one that is remote controllable can pay off all year around. Talk with your customers about what temperature is comfortable rather than picking an arbitrary set-point. Many stores and offices are over-cooled in the summer to the point where occupants need sweaters. A good rule of thumb is that 15 degrees cooler than the outdoors feels comfortable by comparison. If your customers are causing a 5 p.m. peak by cranking the air conditioning when they get home from work, suggest they set the thermostat to pre-cool the house before they get home. Remind them, too, that setting the thermostat lower does not cool the house any faster.
  4. Cool efficiently – The “cool moves” list is a good opportunity to discuss utility programs that promote high-efficiency cooling equipment. Whether it is an attic fan, a room unit or central air conditioning, there are energy-efficient options on the market. Educate customers about high-SEER (seasonal energy-efficiency ratio) and Energy Star-qualified systems and efficient alternatives like ceiling fans, swamp coolers and heat pumps.

A few more pointers
Your customers are on social media, so you need to join them if you haven’t already. Utilities can also partner with community organizations like newspapers, radio stations or municipal sites that have established media outlets already.

Make your program a part of your customers’ world. Ask people to share their own tips on your Facebook page, and post photos of their families putting their energy-saving strategies into action. Be a presence at community events, like farmers’ markets, outdoor movie nights and summer festivals.

Translate those energy savings into something tangible. One utility sent customers bill stuffers that proclaimed, “Save energy, save vacation,” or even just “save movie night.” Another utility set up a partnership program where customers could donate their savings to a veterans’ organization.

Limit your campaign by space and time. Pick a season, a message and a few objectives and stick to them. Bracket the campaign with roll-out and wrap-up events, and don’t forget to communicate with other staff members. They may have events on their schedules that tie in well with your campaign. Finally, celebrate your successes. Let customers know what they accomplished and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.

Do it now
It may be too late to do a full-scale campaign for the summer of 2014, but you can start laying the groundwork for next year. Or you can plan a heating season campaign using the same social marketing strategy.

Whichever peak you are trying to control, feel free to steal the ideas in the archived webinar on the CEA website. Just be sure to share your success story with CEA and Energy Services afterward.

Webinar explains DSM programs from scratch

Clean Energy Ambassadors (CEA) Lunchtime Webinar Series continues with a FREE Webinar Tuesday, June 18, at noon Central Time.

Creating and implementing demand-side management programs can be a struggle for smaller utilities: What are your goals for the program? What type of measures will deliver those results? What kind of program would your consumers participate in? DSM From Scratch, the next Lunchtime Webinar from Clean Energy Ambassadors Redirecting to a non-government site (CEA), brings together experts who have started simple and cost effective programs that work for their utility and are easily emulated.

CEA Webinars are held from 12-1 p.m. Central Time (11 a.m.- 12 p.m. MDT). The events are free but registration Redirecting to a non-government site is required. Each month, you can join your colleagues from consumer-owned utilities for specific, candid and informal discussions. If you have any questions please contact Anthony Cutler at 406-969-1040.

Free webinar explores winning DSM programs

April 16
Noon CDT

Clean Energy Ambassadors (CEA) Lunchtime Webinar Series continues with a free webinar on designing demand-side management (DSM) programs that succeed.

Figuring out what makes a DSM program work can be tricky, to say the least. Different, and sometimes competing interests must be balanced: What goals does the utility have for the program? What do your customers want? What do they need? Learn secrets from utilities that have cracked the code to create innovative and award-winning programs.

Clean Energy Ambassadors presents the webinar series noon to 1 p.m. Central time (11 a.m. to noon Mountain) on the third Tuesday of the month. The webinars are designed to help utilities save money and better serve their customers. Presentations focus on the needs of consumer-owned utilities; and feature specific, candid and informal discussion. Register Redirecting to a non-government site for this free webinar and check out the full line-up of CEA services and events. If you have any questions, please contact Anthony Cutler at 406-969-1040.

AESP conference connects implementation and evaluation

Oct. 15-17
Long Beach, CA

In the world of demand-side management (DSM), treating program management and measurement as unrelated components makes everyone’s job that much more difficult. Learn how to deliver more effective DSM programs by breaking down those silos at Implementation and Evaluation, No Longer an Odd Couple Redirecting to a non-government site, presented by the Association of Energy Services Professionals Redirecting to a non-government site(AESP).

This conference is for anyone whose job is to implement and measure energy-efficiency programs, with a focus on utility experience. The event kicks off with a special utility-only roundtable session where utility program managers will share common challenges and solutions, and a pre-conference training course on Demand Response.

Explore the latest developments in the worlds of DSM program management and evaluation, and delve into the dynamics of the implementer-evaluator partnership. Energy professionals from across the country will share insights, best practices and successful case studies that show you how you too can leverage the partnership to achieve mutual objectives.

Register for the AESP Fall Conference.

Installing, maintaining cooling systems for DSM program success

March 20, 3:00 p.m. MDT

Join the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center  for the webinar, Quality Installation and Maintenance of Cooling Systems, on March 20.

No matter what type of cooling technology or application, proper sizing, installation and regular maintenance of a cooling system is critical to saving energy. Participants will learn about quality installation (QI) and quality maintenance (QM) and tune-ups of cooling systems from a practical installation approach, and explore the design and implementation of successful utility programs. Speakers include Kristin Heinemeier of the Western Cooling Efficiency Center-UC Davis and Ron Thingvold of Comfort Air Distributing.

Space is limited, so reserve your webinar seat today. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Using Demand Response Programs to Benefit the Customer and the Utility

The second day of the APPA Customer Connections Conference is featuring dual track sessions. Our first session of the day is a look at how utilities are working with key accounts to develop demand response programs that are good for the consumers as well as the utility.

Lisa Schwartz of the Regulatory Assistance Project in Albany, Ore., opened her presentation by defining demand response as changes in electric use by end use customer motivated by cost pressures or demand pressures. Although demand response is not considered energy efficiency, most programs offer some energy-efficiency benefits.Among its other benefits, demand response is a cost effective alternative to building new generation, has a lower environmental impact and is a good way to manage risk. Avoided generation capacity costs, avoided energy costs and better asset use also come with successful demand response.

Common types of demand response are direct load control during times of high demand, and pricing signals that encourage end users to voluntarily reduce consumption.  

The systems and equipment that can be controlled include lighting, space conditioning, water heating, industrial processes and irrigation. Voluntary curtailment can be applied to almost anything a customer can think of.  

Before launching a demand response program, a utility should engage in a realistic assessment of how much demand the program can reduce.  Factors include kind of venues or customers planning to participate, the saturation of equipment to be controlled, the geographic concentration of the system and, perhaps most important, customer reaction.

Expect to find a gap between what is technically achievable and what can be done in real world. That being said, a recent assessment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that a 14 percent reduction in growth in peak demand in the United States is achievable.

Most system operators focus their programs on the costliest hours of operation, but customers can reduce use anytime, to the benefit of the utility. At customer level, critical peak pricing gets best results. Clip those peaks that happen a few times per year, and you will reduce your capacity needs.

A study found that if California had 5 percent of its load on demand response during the energy crisis, the state could have saved huge amounts of money in the neighborhood of $162 per customer per day. Customers participating in demand response programs can shave $8 per month off their energy bills on average.

There are, of course, costs involved in implementing demand response. Advanced metering structure can be costly; IT departments may need new equipment, training or personnel; and billing systems may need to be overhauled. On the customer side, marketing plans, education and incentives will add to the program costs. Large customers may need to invest in technology such as automated building control.

Demand responses programs come with their downsides for utilities. Energy costs can be less predictable and there will be some reduction in sales. However, the smart grid will give customers more control over their consumption and both utilities and customers will be able to control more end uses. So highly customized demand response will become part of the utility landscape.

The Department of Energy is conducting a study on how different dynamic pricing strategies affect consumer behavior.  The study is comparing opt-in with opt-out programs, customer isolation with education, and programs using different types of technology.

There are 13,000 customers participating, including the control group. The results will be coming out in 2013 or 2014, and will be available in a publicly accessible database.

In the coming world of high-penetration renewables, demand will have to follow supply. Some of the technologies we will use to control demand already exist and are in use, such as cycling air conditioners and municipal water pumping and storing thermal energy in water heaters. These are fast, economical strategies.

Policies that promote demand response treat it as on par with other resources in planning, just like conservation. Don’t forget to factor it in during transmission planning either. Budget enough for incentives to give all your customers a chance to participate.

Xcel offers extensive energy-efficiency programs

Xcel Energy 2010/2011 Program Portfolio Overview
Shawn White, Business Energy Efficiency Marketing Manager, Xcel Energy

Shawn White, energy-efficiency manager for Xcel’s residential sector (not the “Flying Tomato” of snowboarding fame) described the programs available to the utility’s Colorado customers.

He opened the presentation by stating that it was a very exciting time for energy-efficiency—that things had never happened so fast, there has never been as much money in the market or as much  consumer enthusiasm. For the first time, Xcel’s Colorado division has a dedicated energy-efficiency team and DSM goals are part of the CEO’s scorecard, “Which can be a mixed blessing,” White admitted.

Where DSM was once seen as a bargaining chip to expand generation, it is now being valued for its own benefits. However, White noted, energy-efficiency managers must make sure they bring along the entire organization. “Do your internal communications. Talk about cost effectiveness, positive regulatory treatment and barriers that DSM can ease,” he advised.

Residential programs
Xcel’s 2010 residential portfolio on the electric side includes home lighting and CFL recycling, as well as refrigerator recycling. The Saver’s Switch summer program focused on demand response control of air conditioners. Customers could choose to get a rebate for evaporative cooling systems. 

Gas customers can get rebates for insulation, high-efficiency heating, water heaters and efficient showerheads. For gas/electric customers, combination programs included school education kits, home energy audits, Energy Star for New Homes (for shell and heating and cooling systems) and Home Performance with Energy Star whole-home makeovers.

Programs for business
Business customers, too, have an extensive menu of programs to choose from. White divided the offerings into three categories: Loss-leaders, small changes like CFLs that make people think about the opportunities; prescriptive programs that give customers rebates for measures that reduce energy use, and custom programs, “Where we don’t know how much energy the customer can save until we start investigating,” said White.

Hybrid programs, a fourth category, tailor prescriptive measures to customer needs. Industrial processes are a good target for these measures.

Lots to learn
With so many programs, the lessons Xcel learned were equally diverse. Among those was the discovery that getting customer buy-in on the programs took longer than they expected.  Recovery programs were also slow to roll out. The economy continues to affect the customers’ willingness to replace or upgrade equipment, but that was improving as systems reached the point where they had to be replaced. Energy Star for Homes, however, is popular in spite of the economy.

White recommended using incentives to attract trade allies, and said that having a staff member dedicated to working with contractors was very helpful.

Communicating with the customers
Marketing is an important piece that Susannah Pedigo, Xcel’s Community Energy-efficiency manager, promised would be addressed in future sessions.

While the utility does do consumer outreach and coaching, White acknowledged that so many programs could be confusing to the customer. And, of course, there is a gap between the energy leaders and the slow adopters. “Some customers are simply more aware than others and they are the ones who will demand more innovative programs,” said Pedigo. “Those utilities who want to be innovative must pay attention to social media.”

She added that the next generation of customers is more sophisticated about energy use.  However, White said that those customers are not yet 50 percent of the market.

Public Utility Commission studies DSM efforts

Utility DSM in Colorado: Past, Present and Future
Paul C. Caldara, P.E., Colorado Department of Regulatory

The CUE Exchange opened with Paul Caldara of the Colorado Public Utility Commission, delivering a keynote address on utility demand-side management in Colo.

Caldara, a 20-year veteran of the utility industry, joined PUC’s advisory staff about the same time as House Bill 07-1037 was passed. The bill requires investor-owned gas utilities in the state to make rules for DSM programs. Electric utilities must litigate their programs with the PUC.

Each year, utilities file a DSM report with PUC that goes into the annual report the commission files with the Colorado General Assembly. In 2009, each dollar spent on DSM at gas utilities yielded $1.33 in benefits to ratepayers. For electric utilities, the ratio is a dollar spent for $4.00 benefit.

PUC still has many questions regarding what can be considered DSM.  Does it include rate design, reducing distribution system energy loss by increasing distribution conductor size, or is it any measure that increases generator efficiency? Will strategies, smart grid and other technologies that give consumers immediate feedback on their consumption be considered DSM or displace it? “There are a lot of questions,” Caldara said, “but no answers, yet.”

To answer these questions, PUC gathers information through dockets, at least 31 of which have been related to DSM, demand response or smart grid this year. The dockets are searchable online—see Caldara’s presentation (to be posted on the CUE Exchange agenda page) for the numbers.

Caldara concluded by telling attendees that events like the CUE Exchange are invaluable for collecting information—for sharing ideas, giving each other feedback on programs and meeting partners. “And the most important sharing takes place after 5 o’clock,” he said.