Minnesota Blazing a Transparency Trail for Energy Savings Information
“Minnesota has been a great petri dish for the platform.”
-Leo Steidel of Energy Platforms
Minnesota continues to be a leader in clean and efficient energy, but in the area of energy savings assistance technologies, it is a true trailblazer. Minnesota’s Energy Savings Platform (ESP®) is a sophisticated tool that allows utility energy savings and other key metrics to be dynamically tracked in one place and is the first of its kind in the US. The Cloud-based platform is designed for two purposes: program management and energy savings reporting. While the tool addresses the technical assistance requirements called out in the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, the tool has multiple benefits. Beyond providing a free portal for utilities to manage their program operations, the reporting side of the platform helps utilities share their energy savings and costs more transparently with policymakers, the business community, and the public. The innovation pragmatism of the platform has already caught the eye of other states.
While most Minnesotans have not heard of ESP, the reporting application (ReportingESP™) is soon to be an open access resource for all Minnesotan’s to enjoy. The first core function of the system is its capability to help utilities report their energy savings. This portion of the platform, launched in 2011, was the first to be released. Since then it has operated as a semi-open portal that can be accessed with permission, but by the end of June 2014, a public portal for ReportingESP will be launched to provide an interactive view into energy efficiency program activity and achievements.
While energy savings data by utility is already available on an annual basis through the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s annual Energy and Carbon Dioxide Savings Reports to the Minnesota Legislature, it is provided in a static, report format. More detailed information can be found in utility annual status reports for CIP, but these reports are difficult to access and interpret for the general public.
The second core function of the platform is its ability to support energy efficiency program management through access to state of the art operating and tracking tools, available for free to Minnesota utilities. Large, investor-owned utilities, like Xcel and Center Point, have used their own program operations and data management tools for years, but not all utilities have engineering and IT resources needed to achieve CIP goals. The lack of tools available to these utilities is a limitation for running effective programs and reporting accurate energy savings data. ESP helps to level the playing field and make operating an energy savings program less burdensome.
ESP’s program management application improves the accuracy and reliability of reported energy savings through integration of Minnesota’s Technical Reference Manual (TRM), a set of standard algorithms and assumptions for documenting the impacts of energy efficiency programs. By implementing the TRM as SmartMeasures™ in ESP, Minnesota utilities are provided with a set of common tools for tracking and reporting energy savings with pre-approved calculations. This functionality is central to the use of energy efficiency as a utility resource in Minnesota.
While utilities have had access to the operations side of the platform since it was rolled out in May of 2012, utilities are not required to us this service. However, all utilities required to operate efficiency programs under Minnesota law are required to use ReportingESP for reporting their energy savings data annually as of 2014. ReportingESP was first rolled out for Minnesota’s electric cooperatives and municipal utilities in 2011, and will be rolled out to Minnesota’s investor-owned utilities in 2014.
Minnesota: Good Testing Grounds
Minnesota software development company Energy Platforms built ESP from the ground up, working with the Minnesota Department of Commerce and utilities to understand the capabilities and limitations in the previous reporting process and existing program management software. Minnesota has four electric and six natural gas investor-owned utilities, 125 electric and five natural gas distribution municipal utilities, and 44 distribution cooperatives required to operate efficiency programs, many of which have to coordinate information flows not only with Commerce, like the other utilities, but also with their power and transmission providers. Leo Steidel of Energy Platforms emphasized that Minnesota has nearly every utility scenario that exists across the country. “Minnesota has been a great petri dish for the platform.” The State of Massachusetts is also working with Energy Platforms to improve energy efficiency data management in the Commonwealth. Massachusetts selected Energy Platforms specifically because of their experience with the State of Minnesota.
This unique public-private partnership between Energy Platforms and the State of Minnesota is an example of how public benefit can be expanded through collaboration. Because significant funding for the development of ESP was provided through Commerce’s Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) program, Minnesota utilities are provided free access to the platform. In addition, any new improvements or functionality that other states fund may be utilized in Minnesota at no additional cost.
While the purpose of the Energy Savings Platform was to respond to the Next Generation Energy Act, the innovative nature of this response allowed for more holistic goals of increased transparency and increased measurement and verification ease and accuracy. Policymakers in particular are expected to find this tool informative, allowing them to use timely data to understand what efforts each utility is making to save energy today, what challenges they are facing, and where future opportunities lay.