Midwest Energy Efficiency Solutions Conference- in Five Minutes
Last week the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance hosted its 2014 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference in Chicago. Attendance was record breaking for the second year in a row, breaking beyond 600 attendees. While it was my first time to MEEA’s January conference, I look forward to conferences for the opportunity to meet new industry experts, trade insights and stories, and to hear, hopefully, rich presentations touching on an array of topics. This year’s MEEA conference delivered, with well-balanced sessions bringing together speakers with diverse opinions and expertise.
A breadth of topics to represent the entire Midwest
The array of topics and representation from different entities and parts of the Midwest was extensive. The two presentations from DOE staff (which I saw – as there is not enough of me to be at all sessions!) provided the necessary national context. From this level, industrial energy efficiency, energy data management, and appliance standards stood out across the speakers. The cross section of speakers uncovered emerging focus in the area of industrial efficiency, where efficiency standards for industrial equipment will be a higher priority into 2015 and 2016.
Multiple presentations touched on the various paths of action being taken at the state level under the new Clean Air Act, section 111(d) deadlines. As state stakeholders grapple with how to create a draft plan for compliance by June 2014, perspectives from coal heavy states like Kentucky pointed to demand response and forestation as paths forward. In Minnesota, the Center for Energy and Environment is participating in 111(d) conversations and figuring out what role efficiency might play in our compliance path.
Beyond efficiency being an essential tool for achieving 111(d) requirements, Sustainable FERC, an NRDC initiative, talked about its value as a reliability tool and how this should be integrated in the future capacity markets. Such integration would not only credit efficiency, but value efficiency relative to the measurement life.
A fresh perspective was brought during one of the plenary sessions from the Alliance for Water Efficiency. She flipped the water question on its head and said, let’s not focus on how much water is in energy, but how much energy is in water. In this context, the concept of ‘peak water’ comes to life. A million gallons of water, or about 1.6 olympic-size pools worth of water, will contain 2,000 kWh to 24,000 kWh of embedded energy, depending on the part of the country and a number of other factors. The California Public Service Commission is working on its $10 million dollar study to look more at the opportunities and challenges with capturing joint energy and water savings.
Take-aways in efficiency, rates, rebates, and CHP
- A few energy efficiency providers and manufacturers talked about moving efficiency rebates up the supply chain to distributors instead of retailers. Vermont Energy in particular spoke about how this has helped them drop costs -- reducing labor costs by 45% -- while increasing impact.
- The design of rates and charges were brought up a number of times. Most notably, NRDC spoke about its new minimum bill proposal to Sacramento’s municipal utility (SMUD) and the less recent idea that demand charges for CHP facilities should reflect peak hours. The former was drafted to align with SMUD’s principles, including economic efficiency and minimal cost to customers that takes into consideration environmental costs.
- The state of Illinois is piloting a code compliance utility program that uses the utility avoided cost as a rebate funding stream. Through this program new construction and deep retrofit projects can receive rebates when exceeding an estimated baseline code compliance of 70%. The program is one of a kind in the Midwest and is estimated to account for 3% of the state energy savings, but only require 1% of the conservation budget.
- CHP continues to be seen as a key element to efficiency and a cleaner energy future and micro-grids and getting more attention on the scene as well, yet these solutions are hard to find traction in some places. Building on recommendations from ACEEE, that utilities need to be incentivized to move in this direction, John Cuttica, from the University of Illinois’ Energy Resource Center, challenged the industry to include utilities in CHP conversations earlier and more often.
Resiliency, geo-targeting, and other trends
Some minor themes were evident at the conference, despite the breadth of presentation topics. While not a new trend, public buildings as models for energy efficiency was brought up repeatedly, including in the keynote address from DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary, Dr. Hogan. Also, resiliency was mentioned in many contexts as a growing driver for cities and businesses to invest in efficiency. Both of these may have been further galvanized by Obama’s Climate Action Plan released in June, 2013.
Geo-targeting was definitely a buzzword across all three days. Utilities and program providers, from Michigan especially, are working to address reliability by identifying congested areas in T&D system for targeted efficiency efforts. While results on these efforts were not discussed, it was always mentioned as a way to deliver services more cost-effectively.
I look forward to next year’s conference, as this year's provided great opportunities for peer-to-peer sharing.