2017 Technology Forum: Event in Review
With a focus on the future of energy efficiency, CEE hosted its 2017 Technology Forum at the Walker Art Center in early November. The audience left with a few memorable anecdotes (“watch out for British towns where the word rabbit is illegal,” and “don’t forget you have to feed the cat,” regarding energy conservation), as well as evidence that energy efficiency will continue to have multiple value streams for customers and energy utilities.
Our forum’s objective was to help utilities, regulators, program providers, and vested stakeholders —like communities, businesses, and advocates — grapple with the question: what will energy efficiency look like in the future? And more specifically, how will decreasing renewable energy technology costs and federal lighting standards change our understanding of energy efficiency’s value? The event offered both retrospective and prospective looks at energy efficiency’s benefits, and how the industry has produced new solutions time and again. Keynote Tom Eckman provided a wise and entertaining explanation of the important role that energy efficiency has played, and will continue to play, for utilities. He was followed by five expert illustrations of what energy efficiency will look like in the next five to 10 years.
Federal lighting efficiency standards going into effect in 2020 will have a significant impact on the cost effectiveness of utility energy efficiency programs and energy savings. Because lighting retrofits will no longer qualify as utility conservation improvements, we’ll need to look beyond lighting improvements for new services and technologies that can deliver value.
Second, Minnesota is currently conducting its Statewide Energy Efficiency Potential Study, primarily funded by the Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources. The study will identify our state’s potential for new energy savings and carbon reductions — through asking not just technology questions, but policy and program design questions. The study will engage with stakeholders about what this might look like, and what all the moving pieces are or could be. In fact, our forum served in part as one point of engagement for the study, to inform and discuss the barriers and opportunities ahead.
The substance of the event is probably best summarized by three themes.
1. Paying dividends
Energy efficiency is paying dividends. When we look at the impact of energy efficiency on utilities and society, its value can not be captured in lifetime savings and cost-effectiveness alone. Energy efficiency activities and programs have created new social norms, and shifted the way our society thinks about energy. While this may not change behavior as quickly as some might like, the energy efficiency industry has increased social awareness and brought it into mainstream consciousness. Additionally, the energy efficiency movement has lead to the development of conservation codes and standards for buildings, appliances, and electronics which otherwise would not have existed.
Lastly, as keynote Tom Eckman explained, the very existence of an energy efficiency industry has shown that it is “unprofitable” to not be energy efficient — well-performing buildings save businesses and families money, making efficiency a smart way to live and work. When asked if energy efficiency will be able to continue to keep delivering on “low-hanging fruit” (low-cost energy resources and benefits) beyond lighting, Tom recounted the seven conservation assessments that he worked on over 30 years in the Pacific Northwest. This same concern was raised with each assessment, and was consistently answered in turn by the next emerging conservation approach that provided new “low-hanging” value as a generation resource (energy) and capacity resource (demand).
2. Redefining “scale”
Think big. Think scale like you’ve never seen.
Aaron Berndt, an energy partnership lead at Nest, talked about the capabilities and benefits of smart thermostats. What’s new and especially exciting right now, he explained, is the scale at which tech companies like Nest are helping deploy conservation and demand response, enabling program opt-ins. They are prompting energy customers to engage in programs that many users may never even have known existed before mobile apps, software updates, and push messages. Furthermore, smart thermostats are software-driven, with instant updating that opens the door to even greater value.
At such a scale, aggregated conservation and demand response resources become a powerful distributed resource for utilities, in both targeted and broad market applications.
Currently just 3% of homes have a smart (Internet-connected) thermostat. The potential is huge for scaling up. Amazingly, using mobile apps and more accessible customer access, Nest was able to enroll tens of thousands of customers in a demand response program in just one day. Just five years ago, such a feat would have taken a utility “over a decade to accomplish,” said Aaron.
3. Measurement and verification designed for actual savings
While a pretty nerdy topic, measurement and verification popped up repeatedly in forum conversations. “M&V 2.0” is synonymous with automation — or the ability to track actual energy savings based on equipment efficiency or behavioral changes, as opposed to deemed or calculated and anticipated savings.
Eliot Crowe of Lawrence Berkley National Lab brought his deep knowledge to bear. Although the field has been developing techniques and technologies to verify and track savings in real-time for a while, M&V 2.0 is only now being tested in a few small pilots in the U.S. Eliot painted a picture five years in the future, where a handful of full-scale programs may pilot this approach, and within 10 years, it could be standard practice in a small fraction of conservation programs across the country.
As this approach turns a corner and starts to become a new reality, the industry will need to look at energy efficiency differently. A resource that has been known for its cost-effectiveness will begin to have inherent measurability and be increasingly reliable based on trends and real time updates. This could be pivotal because it would not just create value for utilities, but possibly also offer customers new value streams. Pivoting to leverage these opportunities may represent our industry’s next leap forward.
Full forum recording & presentations
Gallery of the event
Northwest Power & Conservation Council
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association