Conservation Applied Research and Development Grants: Helping to meet Minnesota's energy reduction goals
The Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) Grant Program is a unique energy research and development program here in Minnesota. In this interview Program Administrator Mary Sue Lobenstein talks about program challenges and successes, program and technology trends, and role of the CARD program in meeting our state’s energy saving goals.
Helen: The CARD program is an example of an innovative state program. Can you describe the CARD program and how Minnesota came to offer it?
Mary Sue: CARD was developed as part the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act. As a result of that legislation, Minnesota utilities have a goal to save 1.5 percent of their annual energy sales through their energy conservation programs. At the time this legislation was enacted, the 1.5 percent savings goal was considered a high benchmark and the legislature wanted to provide assistance to the utilities in achieving that goal. The CARD program was created to fund research and development activities in energy efficiency and conservation that would help Minnesota utilities meet this savings goal.
Helen: Is it an annual program (the funding seems to be set up that way)? Is there an end date to the funding?
Mary Sue: While it is not a requirement of the program, we have typically administered it as an annual program. Each year there are usually one or two major requests for proposals (RFPs). There is no end date for the funding.
Helen: How do you ensure the needs of the ratepayers are best met in the program?
Mary Sue: That is key to the program and is something that we are always working to ensure. The main way we do this is through stakeholder feedback and by working directly with utilities to understand what they need in order to create successful conservation programs, which in turn helps ratepayers. We also try to address current technology trends in a way that ensures we are using the funds as effectively as possible, funding new topics and technologies that have not previously been researched.
Helen: The program does not generally give grants to proprietary development projects; what is the ideal stage for a new technology to be considered for funding by CARD?
Mary Sue: It is ideal when a technology is at a point where it could be developed into a utility program relatively quickly. We are not interested in the early stage development of technologies, but rather when a technology has been lab tested, is in the pre- or early commercial stage of development, and is ready to be field tested either for the first time or for the first time in a Minnesota climate.
There are some exceptions to funding proprietary development projects, such as in the case of software, diagnostic tools or a technology that would not be developed by the private sector. In these instances, it would typically be a part of a larger CARD project and the results would not be proprietary but would be available publicly or for Minnesota utilities to utilize.
Helen: Are you seeing trends in the types of CARD proposals and are these trends reflecting the needs of program or technology research applicable in Minnesota?
Mary Sue: We are seeing a trend towards better proposals that are more on target, which we hope is the result of an improved RFP that more clearly states what we are looking for. We have also seen increased competition.
Helen: After a project finds successful results what are the steps to turn it in to a utility program?
Mary Sue: This is something that is very important to me – that projects are not simply reports sitting on the shelf, but that they are actionable in a way that utilities can use in program development. Once results come in we need to disseminate the results, especially to the utilities, but also to program implementers, trade allies, and others. Dissemination takes many forms, including articles in our monthly newsletter, distribution of final reports, webinars on project results, and presentations at conferences and other events. At the same time, we also try to work directly with utilities on how to turn project results into program offerings.
Helen: Can CARD projects provide the data needed to directly add a measure to the Technical Reference Manual?
Mary Sue: Yes and I would like to see more proposals that include that element. The Technical Reference Manual is something the utilities look to for standard methodologies for calculating savings and cost-effectiveness of conservation measures, but as such it also contains ideas for specific program offerings. It would be great to see more CARD projects that resulted in data that directly informs the Technical Reference Manual.
Helen: How do you determine if a project is successful?
Mary Sue: One measure of success is how effective we are at getting the results of CARD projects into the hands of utilities so that they can make use of them. A second measure is whether or not project results are valuable to utilities once they have them – if they are actually using them to help develop conservation programs and offerings
Helen: What do you like most about working in this program? What are some challenges?
Mary Sue: The biggest challenge is making sure the results of CARD research are widely disseminated and that the results are turned in to actionable items that help utilities meet their energy saving goals and help ratepayers save money. Figuring out how to overcome that challenges is what I enjoy most about working on the program. I also feel excited by the variety of research that is happening through the CARD program. I think that CARD provides essential research funding that wouldn’t otherwise be available and allows Minnesota to be on the cutting edge of this research effort. We are fortunate to have a program like CARD in Minnesota and fortunate that legislators had the foresight to establish it.