Recently, two CEE employees, Kevin Bengtson and Lester Shen, traveled to Colorado to attend two different energy efficiency conferences. We sat down with them to hear about their experiences.
Emma: What conference did you attend?
Lester: 27th Annual E Source Forum in Denver, CO.
Kevin: Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange (RMUEE) in Aspen, CO.
Emma: Have you attended this conference before?
Kevin: No, it was my first time.
Lester: Yes, I believe it was my 4th or 5th year.
Emma: Lester, was there anything new at the E Source Forum this year?
Lester: There has been a change in consumer knowledge. For instance, every year at the opening plenary a video series called PowerWalking is shown. In the video a man named Bill LeBlanc ambushes people on the street and asks them energy related questions. It’s usually quite humorous. It was very interesting this year though. Perhaps the questions were easier but consumers were much more aware and mature in their responses than in years past.
Emma: Who attends these conferences?
Kevin: At RMUEE it’s mostly municipals and rural co-ops.
Lester: The E Source Forum is mostly a utility conference including IOUs, munis, and co-ops. There are also vendors.
Emma: After hearing what people are doing in other parts of the country what are we doing locally that’s unique?
Lester: Well obviously because of our climate we deal with unique situations regarding heating and cooling. However for the most part I think what we’re doing at CEE is relevant to all other areas of the country. What’s unique is our research and technology work. It’s not just of interest, it’s cutting edge.
Kevin: I would agree with Lester. It’s cutting edge. In terms of what other states are doing and comparing those programs to Minnesota, I would say we are a bit further along the curve as far as the cutting edge stuff goes. I think the unique things we’re doing locally are for our markets. I’m thinking specifically of our small industrial programs and then the direct install work.
Lester: That isn’t necessarily unique to our region, what’s unique is that we’re a little bit farther along. People are watching to see what we’re doing with RTUs [roof top units], water heaters, and combi systems.
Kevin: I’ll tell you something unique about a few of the western states.
Kevin: Something not found in Minnesota are energy efficient grow houses. With new [medical marijuana] laws in Colorado and Washington there’s suddenly a business segment that’s using a lot of electricity for grow-lights. Because of the nature of the business, it is difficult to get inroads to work with them on efficiency. They are very private and very secure. That led to the question at RUMEE: How do we get this type of greenhouse to think about energy efficiency? It is a situation they have to think through in the west that we don’t face here.
Emma: Were there any reoccurring themes that surfaced over the course of your conference?
Kevin: One recurring theme that came up in our conference was data. Data privacy and security. Who owns the data? Who uses the data? How do we use data to engage customers?
The other theme I noticed was that municipals and rural co-ops are aggregating their programs to a certain extent, which we’ve seen in Minnesota with the Triad utilities that serve Owatonna, Austin, and Rochester. There is both a group of 4-5 municipals in Colorado starting to share their efficiency services and a group of rural co-ops.
Another theme was that programs are becoming vendor driven. The utilities are designing frameworks for programs and then they’re handing them over to a vendor to run. Less and less utility staff are going through rebate processing or engagement with the customers.
Lester: Yeah, vendors were definitely at the conferences to show different types of software.
Kevin: Yes, that was another theme: software. You would bring up data and people would go two different directions. You would have half the crowd starting to talk about data privacy and data security, and the other half discussing data solutions. I actually heard an IOU executive say, “I’m tired hearing about a software solution. If I had a nickel for every time a vendor said, ‘We have a software solution for you!’ (meaning a data solution), I’d be rich”.
Emma: Is there anything that got you energized?
Kevin: The opening keynote speaker at my conference was a market researcher named Susan Shelton from the Shelton Group. Her talk was phenomenal. The slide deck was on engaging more customers in energy efficiency measures, specifically residential focused.
Shelton talked about a message of deep engagement, emphasizing how to make things simpler instead of coming up with an exhaustive list of things to do. Her focus was on doing five things together rather than having separate programs. She also emphasized that 1) you have to make sure people know what the energy efficiency problem is 2) they need to know they have an energy problem and 3) that you have the solution.
Lester: Jim Rogers, former CEO of Duke Energy, was on a panel at the opening session of E Source. His comments were real interesting to me because he talked about what we need to do going forward. He said you have to be fast and nimble to explore opportunities, and because of the way utilities are structured and regulated it is difficult for them to be innovative. I think that was interesting because it was kind of saying for innovation you need to be an entrepreneur, which is us. I think there is a very good opportunity for us to do what we’ve been doing for a very long time, which is to implement.
“Where are the opportunities, and how can we take advantage of those opportunities?” has been our model for a long time. I think it reinforces that this model is important in these exciting times, and that we can be an important resource.
Photo Credit: Zach Dischner via Creative Commons