In addition to mandating rooftop solar, the code contains incentives for energy storage and requires new home construction to include advanced energy-efficiency measures. Using 2017 data, ClearView Energy Partners estimate that the mandate could require between 68 and 241 megawatts of annual distributed solar buildout.
Good for consumers, solar, storage industries The commission stated that the new code is meant to save Californians a net $1.7 billion on energy bills all told, while advancing the state’s efforts to build-out renewable energy.
Following the commission’s decision, solar developers such as Sunrun, Vivint Solar and First Solar experienced a surge in stock prices, Bloomberg reported.
The updated codes also allow builders to install smaller solar systems if they integrate storage in a new home, adding another incentive to include energy storage. California has been a leader in incentivizing energy storage. In January, the California Public Utility Commission moved to allow multiple revenue streams for energy storage, such as spinning reserve services and frequency regulation.
Utilities question policy The solar industry received a prior boost in January 2016, when the CPUC approved its net metering 2.0 rate design. The state’s investor-owned utilities asserted at the time that net metering distributed generation from electricity consumers shifted the costs for the system’s maintenance and infrastructure onto consumers who do not own distributed generation.
ClearView analysts pointed to the distributed solar mandate as a possible opening for utilities to argue that California regulators should reconsider the net metering reform proposal. According to the report ClearView published ahead of the CEC’s decision, utilities that opposed the new rate-design could claim that mandating distributed solar alters the policy landscape enough to warrant further review of the compensation levels paid to excess generation.
In a state that many consider to be synonymous with energy innovation, the City of Colton Electric Utility must balance two competing challenges that will sound all too familiar to rural power providers across the nation. On one hand, San Bernardino County, California’s oldest electric utility has a fierce summer peak; on the other, a significant population of low-income customers struggles with each month’s electric bill. In true public power spirit, Colton Electric’s “Spring into Summer” campaign seeks to manage its peak by putting the needs of its ratepayers first.
The campaign, which runs from March 20 to June 20, encourages customers to upgrade certain items in their homes to energy-efficient products prior to the start of summer. The utility notifies customers about the program on their utility bills, Facebook, Instagram and the electric website. Flyers are also placed in city hall, the electric office and community centers.
Customers can take advantage of increased rebates for box fans, ceiling fans, swamp coolers, room air-conditioning units and air-conditioning system tune-ups, as well as whole-house systems. “We want to give all of our customers a chance to save,” explained Environmental Conservation Supervisor, Jessica Sutorus.
Utility programs for saving energy often focus on big measures like entire home cooling system replacement because those retrofits provide the best results, for both the customer and the power provider. However, low-income customers can rarely afford major home improvements, even though they need the savings as much as, or more than customers in other demographics.
Different demographic, different goals Even so, the “Spring into Summer” promotion is as much about customer outreach as it is about energy efficiency. “You have different expectations than when you are marketing to more affluent customers,” Sutorus acknowledged.
In that respect, “Spring into Summer” has been successful, increasing participation in the cooling rebate program by 40 customers annually, a 43 percent increase in participation. “Obviously those aren’t huge numbers, but we have only 16,000 residential customers and most of the participants are investing in the smaller-ticket items,” said Sutorus.
So while the savings to the customers may be meaningful, the program has not made much of a dent in Colton Electric’s summer load. Many Colton families pass their homes from generation to generation and don’t have the resources to make the kind of deep retrofits that are useful for load shaping. A lot of those houses are several decades old and still have the original windows, Sutorus noted. “Our residential programs are about serving the community,” she explained. “We have other plans to meet state goals for energy savings.”
Part of bigger picture Colton has recently begun to install smart thermostats throughout city facilities, and to replace old air-conditioning systems with Ice Bear high-efficiency cooling equipment. The measures are part of the Climate Action Plan the city adopted in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This is where California’s progressive approach to climate change is helpful to the small “Inland Empire” city. The state’s Title 24 Building Standards Code requires developers to build housing that is highly efficient and solar- and electric vehicle-ready. This is good news for a city that is finally beginning to feel the effects of the economic recovery. “We are expecting new residential development, but industry is our fastest growing load,” Sutorus observed.
Colton Electric offers a menu of commercial customer rebates, including automated online energy monitoring analysis, lighting rebates and time-of-use rates. Support for commercial customers can help grow local industry and bring more jobs to the area. More jobs mean a stronger economy, and that, too, will be good for ratepayers.
Newly-manufactured clothes washers for homes, multi-family buildings and laundromats are good candidates for customer incentive programs aimed at saving energy and water.
Efficiency standards taking effect Jan. 1, 2018, will reduce energy use in residential top-loading clothes washers by 18 percent and water use by 23 percent. The standards for the generally more efficient front-loading washers were increased in 2015 and will remain unchanged in 2018.
Combined, the changes in the 2015 and 2018 standards will eliminate the need for 1.3 gigawatts of electricity generating capacity over 30 years, according to a Department of Energy estimate. That is roughly the output of two average-sized coal plants. For water utilities, the new appliances will save 3 trillion gallons of water over the same period of time, and consumers can net up to $30 billion in savings.
Commercial washers, of the type used in multi-family buildings and laundromats, will see energy use reductions of 15 percent for top-loading models and 18 percent for front-loaders. The standards will also cut the water consumption of front-loaders by 20 percent, while the water use of top-loaders will remain essentially unchanged.
A blog post by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project goes into depths on the history of standards for clothes washers, along with the benefits to consumers and the potential for more savings. Electricity and water providers stand to gain new tools to meet their load management goals and build stronger customer relationships, making strong efficiency standards a win for everyone.
Recognizing customer needs in the growing residential solar market, Roseville Electric Utility has developed a program to help homeowners make sound decisions about installing solar systems and, in the process, is increasing customer satisfaction.
Solar installers are now marketing more aggressively to consumers who are definitely interested but want to be better informed before investing in a system. This creates an opening for utilities to become trusted energy advisors, said Alanya Schofield, a senior director at consulting firm E Source.
Schofield made her remarks at the American Public Power Association’s(APPA) Public Power Forward summit in November and participated in a panel that included Roseville Electric Utility Director Michelle Bertolino. Public Power Forward is an APPA strategic initiative to help public power utilities prepare for a new era in electricity.
Seeing, meeting need California passed a law in 2015 requiring utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030, increased from the previous goal of 33 percent by 2020. Many public power utilities in the state, however, have been proactively encouraging clean power and energy efficiency for years. Roseville Electric Utility’s Trusted Solar Advisor program is just the latest among many examples.
Roseville Electric Utility launched the program in April 2014, in response to the growing number of customers calling with questions about installing solar arrays. A promotional campaign and workshops followed to introduce the website to customers.
Educating first The website provides a starting point for customers who are trying to figure out if solar is right for them. A solar calculator—the WattPlan created by Clean Power Research —allows customers to make cost-benefit comparisons based on electricity use, generation, financing options and system size.
Visitors will also find frequently asked questions and information about rebates Roseville offers for solar installation. The Trusted Solar Advisor stresses the importance of doing efficiency upgrades first, and links to a DIY Home Energy Analyzer.
Install when ready Once a customer decides to go forward with a solar installation, the permitting process begins. Roseville customers can download the residential PV packet and find links to residential and business installation and interconnection forms.
Rather than maintain an approved contractor list, the utility provides helpful resources. The website includes links to Go Solar California, sponsored by the California Energy Commission, and the Contractor State Licensing Board so that customers can ensure their contractors have a valid license.
Staying neutral and staying current are the keys to gaining customer trust, noted Energy Program Technician David Dominguez. “We focus on making sure we give our customers the most relevant and up-to-date information,” he said. “That allows them to come to their own conclusions.”
Dominguez, who handles the utility’s retrofit solar interconnections, is the Trusted Solar Advisor and he was answering customers’ solar questions before Roseville created the program. Some customers just feel more comfortable talking to a representative, or they may still have questions after visiting the website, Dominguez acknowledged. “But now, with the website, when people call, they often have a much better idea of what they need to know.”
On the wide spectrum of utility policies that encourage customers to adopt renewable energy systems, Overton Power District 5 (OPD) is on the ambitious end of the spectrum.
Desert Southwest Energy Services Representative Audrey Colletti pointed out the strategy in OPD’s most recent integrated resource plan (IRP). “I look for customer goals and achievements in their IRPs and alternative reports,” explained Colletti.
“For example, one customer hasn’t increased rates in over five years, while another is thinking of decreasing rates. Some offer renewable power that is less expensive than fossil generation, but it is unusual for a small customer to make such an aggressive push to add more renewables.”
The Southern Nevada power provider is playing the long game with an eye on someday generating most of its own electricity through renewables. “But that day is a long way off,” acknowledged OPD General Manager Mendis Cooper. “Our current goal is to provide ways to help our customers.”
Keeping customers in mind Happily, the steps OPD is taking to increase renewables in its portfolio are also good for its 15,000, mostly residential customers. Its generous net-metering policy for small renewable systems is a notable step. Customers who install renewable generators that comply with OPD policies are eligible to receive a rebate of up to $2,500 for homeowners and up to $5,000 for large commercial industrial accounts. Since OPD implemented the policy, 49 net meters have been installed.
Increasing energy-efficiency programs is also part of OPD’s long-range plan that benefits customers in the near term. Thanks to a power contract, OPD will soon be stepping up its efforts to move customers to more efficient appliances and water and space heating systems. “We see natural gas as a reliability measure, but the savings will help to finance more customer efficiency measures, too,” Cooper explained.
Piecing together affordable sustainability Even with the high cost of tapping gas lines, low natural gas prices are a boon to OPD—for now. “In eight to 10 years, gas prices are likely to go up,” said Cooper. “The cost of renewable resources, which are getting more competitive all the time, won’t be rising.”
The transition to a sustainable power supply is challenging for a utility that must rely on other providers for both generation and transmission, as OPD does. Cooper would like to get more WAPA hydropower, but acknowledges that ongoing drought conditions make that unlikely. OPD now has 49 rooftop solar arrays on its system, but the utility is investigating the feasibility of and support for utility-scale development. “That is where our customers will really see the benefits of alternative energy,” the general manager observed.
OPD also offers customers rebates for wind turbines and ground-source heat pumps.
Using all tools OPD’s comprehensive long-range plan presents other opportunities—and identifies challenges—for load management as well. A scheme to install low-impedance transformers and implement power factor correction promises to increase systemwide efficiency.
With spillover growth from Las Vegas expected to add load over the next five years, OPD is working to encourage Clark County to adopt high-efficiency building standards. Programs to rebate measures such as weather stripping, relamping, heat pump systems and window replacement are being considered for existing buildings.
Another, nearly inexhaustible resource—an engaged and energy-savvy customer base—factors into OPD’s plans, too. The IRP highlights the utility’s use of social media to educate its customers about building technology, appliance energy use, efficient equipment and systems and no-cost common sense behaviors.
It will take every tool at OPD’s disposal to move its portfolio toward clean resources and self-generation. But that is what long-term planning is for, notes Cooper. “The IRP keeps our goals at the forefront where we can’t forget about them, and it reminds us every day of the issues we have to address.”
Utilities often struggle to educate contractors, staff and volunteers on building science; sales and marketing; program offerings and business development. To help residential energy-efficiency program managers plan technical, outreach and professional training, the Department of Energy Better Buildings Residential Network recently launched a Training Toolkit.
This toolkit—the fourth Residential Network Voluntary Member Initiative—includes tips, resources and examples to help you realize the value of providing training opportunities for contractors, staff and volunteers. A study of more than 140 energy-efficiency programs across the country found that contractor training activities led to more comprehensive upgrades, a higher assessment-to-upgrade conversion rate, improved program processes, improved quality control and increased revenues, among other benefits.
To achieve such results, program staff, volunteers and contractors must have a thorough understanding of building science; sales and marketing; residential energy efficiency program offerings and business development. In the Training Toolkit, program managers will discover training resources and opportunities, compiled and reviewed by Better Buildings Residential Network members, to build that expertise in-house.
The toolkit provides resources on three types of training:
Technical training – Covering building science, energy assessments, technologies and techniques
Outreach training – Covering promotion of program offerings, sales training and customer engagement
Professional training – Covering business development and management for participating contractors
Additional resources at the end of the toolkit include more details on the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center. This online collection of resources and lessons learned concerning training and other topics is based on years of on-the-job experience in residential energy-efficiency programs.
Get involved The Better Buildings Residential Network connects energy-efficiency programs and partners to share best practices and learn from one another to increase the number of energy-efficient homes. Several Western customers, including the cities of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Palo Alto, California, participate in the initiative.
Members of the Residential Network join with other energy-efficiency programs and partners to identify and address common challenges and market opportunities through voluntary initiatives that result in the development of new tools and resources. Your feedback concerning this toolkit and your training efforts help the network improve its resources and identify new issues.
Contact the Residential Network for more information about joining or participating in the next voluntary initiative.
California utilities have benefitted from strong building efficiency codes that have helped keep energy use constant in the state for decades. Power providers also appreciate the challenges building owners and developers face in complying with the toughest efficiency codes in the nation. Green Technology Training is offering a seminar that can help construction and real estate professionals, as well as utility key account staff and program managers, get up to speed on the latest revisions.
2016 Building Efficiency Standards: Changes and Challenges will cover the Title 24 changes that go into effect January 2017 for both residential and commercial buildings, from high performance walls and attics to lighting and lighting controls. With each round of revisions, the state’s Energy Code moves closer to the goal of zero net energy for all new construction. Staying up to date with its evolution will help utilities as they design new efficiency programs, update preferred contractor lists and advise commercial customers on retrofits.
For convenience, Green Technology is offering the seminar on multiple dates at locations throughout the state:
This training is a good opportunity to prepare your staff to support customers as they work toward creating the most efficient building stock in the country. Knowledge is power, and knowledge of the California Building Code is the power to become an indispensable resource your customers can rely on.
Keeping customer outreach programs fresh is a challenge for even the most customer-oriented utility. The Marketing and Outreach Handbook from the Energy Department’s Better Buildings Program recommends using in-home events to show customers the real-world benefits of energy-efficiency upgrades.
Unlike remodeling projects, the benefits of a home energy upgrade are generally not immediately visible to the casual observer. Strategies that demonstrate tangible benefits from upgrades can help customers understand the value of such projects and motivate them to invest in improvements.
Utility-sponsored house parties and demonstration homes help make energy efficiency real by showing potential customers what a home energy assessment or upgrade entails. In some cases, the hosts of these events were interested or satisfied customers—trusted marketing sources—who invited friends and neighbors to their homes. Utility program staff and contractors were typically on hand to walk the guests through an assessment of the house or to point out the efficiency measures in upgraded homes, and to answer any questions.
The handbook offers case studies of successful home tour programs across the United States. A few proven practices that make upgrade benefits visible include:
Show how assessments work Energy Impact Illinois used “house parties” to build momentum for energy assessments and upgrades. Trusted neighbors hosted contractors who showed guests where energy was being wasted and explained ways to improve comfort while saving energy.
Hold house tours New Orleans, Louisiana Worthwhile Investments Save Energy gave open house tours in the upgraded homes of happy clients. Signs highlighting completed work were posted throughout the house, and the upgrade contractor was present to talk about the associated energy savings. These showcase events produced high-quality leads who were likely to undertake projects.
Invite the whole neighborhood ShopSmart with JEA,a Florida utility rebate program, threw a Home Energy Makeover: Block Party to raise community awareness about its rebate opportunities. Homeowners who had received home energy assessments from a local energy professional hosted block parties for their neighbors. The energy professional reviewed the assessment and upgrade process, discussed rebate options and answered questions from friends and neighbors who attended.
Make efficiency personal The California Center for Sustainable Energyprovided demonstration tours in homes that completed upgrades in Chula Vista, California. Potential customers could learn about their neighbors’ experiences, ask questions of the home performance professionals who installed the upgrades and sign up for an energy assessment of their own home for less than $50.
Start here for success You will find more residential energy-efficiency outreach tips, step-by-step instructions and program examples in Marketing & Outreach – Develop Implementation Plans to jump-start your outreach program. If you haven’t used the Better Building Residential Program Solution Center, take a tour through its resources for key lessons and best practices drawn from the experience of utilities, energy organizations and their partners.
Out-of-date lights at Bear Paw Lodge 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 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.
A rebate of $31,500 from Holy Cross, plus $2,500 from Energy Smart Colorado, 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 up 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 (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 Efficiency, Clean Energy Economy for the Region and Walking Mountains Science Center, 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.”
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.
Talking to customers about controlling their energy use can make utilities feel like parents—you repeat yourself like a broken record and you suspect your audience is just rolling their eyes and tuning out your words of wisdom. Facing summer peaking season and historic drought, Glendale Water & Power (GWP) was determined to find fresh ways to engage its customers.
Partnering to reach goals
Home energy management supplier CEIVA Energy helped GWP develop a campaign that drew on communications techniques from none other than Disney Studios. Dean Schiller, who runs the company, is a former Disney executive. He recently shared several tips for successful story telling with Smart Grid News, which included advice on being practical, topical, clever yet accessible, and relevant to consumers of all ages.
Those tips sound like a recipe for getting dialogue going with customers, which is what GWP had in mind when it formed the partnership with CEIVA Energy two years ago. Funding for the program came from grants GWP received from the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commissions to help fund the utility’s modernization programs.
Glendale Public Benefits Coordinator Atineh Haroutunian explained that the municipal utility had three goals for the program. “We wanted to increase our residential customers’ engagement and satisfaction, improve their awareness of energy and water use, and encourage conservation and shift use to off-peak hours,” she said.
Pilot program changes behavior
GWP launched the program in early 2013, deploying the platform in about 90 residences. The Homeview system collects data directly from the home’s digital meter, analyzes the information and converts it into compelling messages and visuals. The cloud service then dispatches these conservation messages to the homeowner on several platforms including a “glanceable” In Home Display in a digital picture frame.
The real-time energy-use data and conservation messages got the participants to take notice—and make changes. The information convinced one family that it was time to retire their energy-hog space heater. Another customer told Haroutunian that she placed the display near her children’s room to teach them about energy use in a concrete way.
GWP engaged an independent research company to evaluate the program. They found that 74 percent of customers recalled the conservation messages, and 88 percent of those who remembered the message liked it. Among program participants, awareness of hourly electricity costs grew by 85 percent after the deployment. After joining the pilot program, 83 percent of respondents said they changed their behavior to reduce energy and water use. Also, participants overwhelmingly reported that installing Homeview was easy, a critical but sometimes overlooked factor in program success.
Time to grow
Numbers like that spell success and persuaded GWP to expand its customer engagement program earlier this year. Using newsletters, direct mail and a little help from the local media, GWP’s conservation team recruited 500 new customers to install the Homeview platform.
The utility worked with CEIVA Energy to craft conservation messages that align with its current priorities, such as saving water or managing air conditioning use. Throughout the day, customers see the messages as part of their picture rotation, along with information about how much energy they are using. GWP reinforces these messages by distributing them in social media and community outreach newsletters.
A new feature in Phase Two is the integration of a programmable thermostat with the Homeview display. “By tying specific heating and cooling behavior directly to energy use, we are giving customers one more tool to understand their habits and make changes that will reduce their energy costs even more,” Haroutunian said.
Benefits for all
The beauty of a successful customer program is that it is good for the utility that provides it, too. CEIVA Energy offers additional utility services that GWP can use to improve its operations and make future programs more effective. The Entryway smart meter integration software allows GWP to analyze home energy use, monitor home energy management devices and deliver residential demand response. Product licensing, implementation, integration, training and ongoing maintenance and service are part of the package, as well.
The most valuable outcome of the partnership, however, may be finding the “magic mix” of technology and message that inspires homeowners to be conscious of their energy use. Instead of feeling like it is scolding its customers about turning off the lights, Glendale Water and Power will now be having a conversation with informed partners. And that is something worth talking about.