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.