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Mar 15, 2017

Bringing Energy Efficiency into the 21st Century

 

In April 2016, RMI hosted its third annual eLab Accelerator. Described as a boot camp for electricity innovation, the four-day intensive work session brought together 13 teams from across North America—from North Carolina to Ottawa and California to New York—to work on new business models, energy innovation districts, and innovative DER valuation. Together with RMI facilitators, Reos Partners, and a panel of expert faculty, the teams sped progress on their respective efforts. This article describes one of the themes that emerged from the event. 

Energy efficiency in the built environment and the role it plays in supporting a path to a clean and low-carbon future is complex. Recent reports have led to heated debates over the effectiveness of existing efficiency programs and how best to ensure actual energy savings. Today, energy efficiency is entering a new chapter, and several exciting developments on the horizon support a transition from energy efficiency as solely a demand-side management opportunity to one that is evaluated and procured alongside energy supply resources.

The recent rapid advancement in technology is supporting a series of conversations about new opportunities and approaches to delivering energy efficiency, both as a stand-alone resource and through integrated deployment alongside other distributed energy resources (DERs) like rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV). Several pilots have recently launched to test new technologies and demonstrate innovative approaches for deploying energy efficiency. One example is the PG&E pay-for-performance pilot program, which aims to evaluate metered energy-savings models and the ability to use granular data to support new approaches to procuring and valuing energy efficiency. By shifting how energy efficiency is valued and procured, new opportunities arise for directly engaging customers in how and when they use energy, providing the ability to design more effective programs and even open new markets.

While several pilots are underway in various places across the country, new models for delivering energy efficiency are still in the early stages of development. Several project teams from across the U.S. came to the annual eLab Accelerator event in 2016 to work on advancing different components of the energy-efficiency value proposition. Designed to provide a venue for addressing the most pressing grid-edge needs, eLab’s project boot camp provided a unique opportunity for national experts and project teams to work together to advance ambitious clean energy goals.


Advancing Energy-Efficiency Programs Through Enhanced Analytics

Measurement and verification (M&V) 2.0 is a relatively new concept that is focused on improving energy-efficiency programs through enhanced M&V processes that use customer usage data and state-of-the-art data analytics. The M&V 2.0 team consisted of experts from across the landscape of the energy-efficiency world who came together at Accelerator to establish a concerted and continuing effort to advance the M&V 2.0 concept.

Tim Guiterman, a member of the team and director of measurement and optimization solutions at EnergySavvy, described how the company’s work can begin to advance the energy-efficiency programs of today and of the future:

With M&V 2.0 technologies at the program level, you can understand many customers’ demand and usage in a more comprehensive way through advanced analytics. You can very quickly, effectively, and confidently identify large energy users with high peak loads and begin the very basic process of disaggregation. With M&V 2.0 technology at the customer-facility level, the data gets more granular, so you can identify and target the best customers to get involved in energy-efficiency programs. As you create new energy-efficiency programs, the continuous measurement of these programs lets you refine and understand what is working and what is not working to make the program more effective on a real-time basis, as opposed to waiting several months or years.

These advancements in how a building’s energy use is quantified could vastly change the types of programs and incentives that can be provided to all customer types, which can accelerate the adoption of energy efficiency and support new market mechanisms, such as pay for performance. The M&V 2.0 team will soon release a white paper describing the recent advancements in data analytics and how this could advance the way energy efficiency is valued.


Supporting Small Businesses with Energy Efficiency & Renewables

The City of Fresno, California, has a goal to create a thriving business corridor powered by clean energy in its Tower District. California residents pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country, and Fresno, along with the greater Central Valley region, has a more extreme climate than the state’s more temperate coastal areas. The Power the Tower team came to Accelerator to help commercial customers in the Tower District access clean energy technology and save money on their energy bills. The team is working not only to advance cost-savings opportunities through the deployment of energy efficiency and other distributed energy resources, but also to brand the community as a clean energy destination.

 “For some small businesses in the Tower District, the time of peak energy demand—and peak energy pricing—is very important because it is during the time they have the most customers,” said Jorge Madrid, the team champion from Environmental Defense Fund, describing how “time-of-use” prices could benefit businesses in the Tower District. “Some of the companies we are interested in engaging could have technology interventions to help minimize that peak-time use. The difficult part is that a lot of small-business owners are not closely tracking their energy usage and the relationship between their equipment, buildings, and flow of customers," he said. "The ability to very precisely measure when the peak time is, and select cost-effective energy saving solutions, could be a very large money saver for small-business owners. To do that you need accurate analytics at a granular basis.” 

A key takeaway for the Fresno team, and the energy-efficiency industry at large, is that service providers and programs need to couple advancements in technology with a better understanding of customers’ needs and their ability to enact solutions. By doing so, utilities and service providers can work in concert to support a business's bottom line, while also engaging those commercial customers to empower them with new clean energy solutions.


Offsetting a New Natural Gas Plant Through Energy Efficiency and Distributed Renewables

In the past several decades, customers’ peak electricity use in Duke Energy Progress’s western region, including the city of Asheville, North Carolina, has more than doubled and additional growth is expected. To meet growing demand, Duke Energy Progress proposed the construction of new transmission line and natural gas-fired electricity generation. Following objections from the Asheville community, Duke Energy Progress revised the plan to eliminate the new transmission line and contingent natural gas peaker plant, whose need could be avoided by reducing peak demand and deploying distributed renewables. 

The Energy Innovation Asheville team came to Accelerator to continue the work between Duke Energy, the community of Asheville, and Buncombe County to meet the region’s energy needs through clean and locally sited energy resources. At the event, the team identified ways to increase access to energy-efficiency programs and constructed a plan to help customers understand the role they play in achieving the community’s energy goals. 

Robert Sipes, a team member from Duke Energy, noted the team’s priorities for advancing their energy-efficiency programs. “One of the big priorities we’ve had is that we have a big portfolio of energy-efficiency and demand-side-management (DSM) programs; they are just not heavily subscribed. So one of the low-hanging fruits is going after promoting and increasing participation in existing programs," he said. "The second step is engaging with customers in the community to understand how existing programs can be refined or improved and to understand what new programs customers want or could make good use of.” Supercharging customer participation in utility DSM programs will not only be critical to the success of the initiative in Asheville, but will also serve as an important example for utilities and communities across the nation.


Accelerator 2017: A Place to Continue the Transition to New Models for Energy Efficiency

While each team came to Accelerator with a different set of objectives, each is working to address one or more critical questions that, if solved, will help advance energy-efficiency program design and implementation. Whether conceiving of innovative approaches to valuing energy savings, developing new commercial models that align business needs and clean energy opportunities, or evaluating and improving existing utility DSM programs and their ability to meet long-term objectives, these teams are advancing solutions that will help bring energy-efficiency programs into the 21st century. In doing so, all three aim to engage customers directly to help reach the ultimate goal of a cleaner, more reliable, and cost-effective electricity system. As the conversation continues to evolve and more projects begin tackling this transition, eLab hopes to support additional teams in the fourth year of Accelerator in 2017.


Image courtesy of iStock.

 

 
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