REV Connect
Analysis  
20 June 2017

Using energy efficiency as a tool for enhanced customer engagement

Regardless of the politics in Washington, utilities are working toward modernising the US electric grid to minimise energy consumed and maximise the effectiveness of DERs

"This is being driven by economics and state policies, such as ten percent of US states (including California and New York) who are seeking to expand renewable energy mandates. In particular, California and Massachusetts are weighing a complete shift away from fossil fuels by 2050," writes guest contributor, Udi Merhav, CEO of energyOrbit.

Merhav quotes Ajay Arora, Ameren's vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning, who said noting the Trump Administration’s recent efforts to rollback the Clean Power Plan, “Ameren [Missouri] was already focused on transitioning to cleaner energy.

“The most important thing to note is we are investing heavily in both energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Merhav continues on to say that while states are re-assuming leadership on energy in the vacuum of federal direction, utilities are taking the lead on grid modernisation. Bringing an electrical grid system that hasn’t fundamentally changed much in the last 100 years into the 21st century is a massive undertaking. It will take years of methodical planning and piloting, require technical ingenuity, rate reforms and other financial mechanisms to fully realise. Even if some utilities are insulated from implementing distributed energy resource (DER) models today (due to a lack of state mandates) the long term trend is towards cleaner energy, not away from it.

Distributed energy resource (DER) planning

Since utilities tend to plan on twenty-year horizons, their ability to identify issues with grid reliability and potential new demands for clean power early, is the only way they will have enough time to prepare for the implementation of future solutions. Utilities have several tools at their disposal for planning future DER rollouts, especially to replace traditional infrastructure investments. From Locational Net Benefit Analysis (LNBA) to Integration Capacity Analysis (ICA), they can identify both locations for future DER investments and estimate how much additional generation and storage might be needed in a given location. But what they cannot illustrate is which ratepayers, (either commercial, industrial or residential) would be predisposed to living near DER investments or installing DERs on their properties, should they have the opportunity. Luckily, there’s a third tool in the utility DER expansion toolbox.

Although frequently overlooked, this tool gives utilities pinpoint accuracy as to which of its customers are potential DER customers. Through the use of this tool customers find themselves motivated to do more to integrate renewables into the grid over time. Additionally, using this tool utilities can identify who these ratepayers are and where they are located in their service area. This often overlooked, yet compelling tool is a customer engagement platform that dynamically, and thoroughly replicates workflow automation for powering demand side management (DSM) programmes. Beyond opening up avenues for DER implementation, such systems have shown increase efficiency and operational savings in DSM operations by up to 75%.

On site energy efficiency audits, upgrades and the provisioning of EE rebates provide invaluable insights into customers predisposition for participating in future DERs.  Through comprehensive tracking and analysis of these customers within the utility’s DSM programmes, they can readily see exactly where in their territory environmentally or economically motivated customers are located. They can also understand quickly what level of engagement these customers have already taken in relation to energy efficiency and evaluate their potential willingness to someday expand their activities into DERs such as solar. Once these customers realise and enjoy the benefits of lower utility bills and energy savings, they are often motivated to do even more to optimise their energy use and reduce their carbon footprint. This is how energy efficiency becomes a gateway to the smoother, more efficient implementation of DERs like solar and energy storage.

Unified customer engagement platform

However, utilities who do not have comprehensive and automated methods for tracking and reporting on their energy efficiency and DSM operations struggle to identify EE customers who could be future DER customers. Automotive, customer engagement platforms offer utilities a cloud-connected, comprehensive and unified platform for DSM teams to drive and monitor initiatives and programmes across agencies. Through cloud-connected tracking, reporting and analysis, both from the office and in the field, utilities are able to peer through this customer window and establish relationships early in preparation for future DER rollouts. In addition, such clarity into their ratepayer actions can inform the development of new business models, new rate plans, and solidify a stronger customer service relationship with ratepayers. Through this “off-label” utilisation of , through DSM programmes utilities are gaining enhanced customer engagement to reinvent their business models in face of inevitable changes in the 21st century of energy.

“We envision a future where new customer-sited technologies coexist with the centralised generation and delivery systems. By embracing technology and leveraging it to improve operations and develop new businesses, our industry can effectively respond to changing consumer expectations, improve reliability, transition to clean energy, and lay the groundwork for a truly modern, integrated grid, all while continuing to focus on our customers,“ Joseph Nigro CEO, constellation and executive vice president, Exelon told Price Waterhouse Cooper in a report.

Future energy paradigm

Throughout the nation today, a populous and generational shift is building to integrate more renewables into our energy mix. On the ground, activist citizens are organizing to resist the construction of new fossil fuel generation capacity in their communities. Simultaneously, states are stepping into the leadership vacuum left by the Federal government on energy policy and doubling down on energy efficiency and renewable mandates. Meanwhile, utilities continue to implement new technologies such as DERs that upgrade our aging electrical grid that increasingly  shows signs of distress, through outages and power quality problems.

All of these factors and more are pushing the transition to a more modernised grid infrastructure that will carry us through the next 100 years. Forward-thinking utilities are leveraging cloud-connected, and automated operational management platforms to plan for DER rollouts by building and nurturing relationships with their most energy educated customers today, in preparation for the coming uptake of renewable energy that is widely expected. Those utilities that  are well prepared will establish themselves to thrive in the world of 21st Century energy through the cost-effective use of tools they have at their disposal today.  

 

About the author

Udi Merhav is the CEO of energyOrbit, the market leading cloud solution for demand-side management operations for utilities and third-party implementers in North America since 2007. A seasoned technology executive and entrepreneur, Udi has spent 21 years designing and implementing e-commerce and information technology solutions for high growth sectors.

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