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Energy Cast Podcast: What do utility customers want from energy efficient upgrades?

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Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) could lead to dramatic energy savings by recognizing your energy habits.

Energy Cast is a podcast featuring some of the top experts across all links in the energy industry chain, including electric vehicles, renewables, generation and more! Jay Dauenhauer created the show and has been hosting Energy Cast for several years.

Click below to listen to the full episode:

It’s hard to believe that any energy efficiency companies existed 25 years ago.  For Franklin Energy, which just celebrated its Silver Anniversary in January, a lot has changed.

My guest, Franklin Founder and & CEO Paul Schueller, says the focus has always been on the Clients.  In Franklin’s case they tend to be utilities.  Of the company’s 1,200 employees, approx. ¾ work in the field, implementing programs.  “We have the honor and expectation of being the face of the utility in those settings,” he says.

Schueller says the public’s perception has perhaps changed the most in the past 25 years.  “It used to be this fringe, crazy-guys just trying to save energy, he says, ‘Why would a utility want to have their customers use less of their product?’”

He says today the public better understands the role efficiency plays as a grid stabilizer  and a job creator.  For the uninitiated, efficiency programs are as much about saving energy as they are about curbing peak demand, which can be both expensive and inefficient for utilities.

“All ratepayers for that utility benefit if you can fill in the valleys where you’re not selling much electricity, and cut off the peaks where you’re selling a lot,” says Shueller, “The flatter you can get that curve, the more controlled your costs are.”

I asked him if he thought energy storage presented a competitive or complementary issue.  After all, if storage can shift load, is efficiency as important?  “There’s plenty of room for both,” he says, “The number of resources–solar and wind—and the impact on systems is amazing.”

Paul says he is a big fan of Vehicle-2-Grid technology, which we covered in Episode 29.  He adds that storage could also work as a backup for utilities.  An emerging industry that he works with, he says, are server farms, which present a unique challenge because they have to be on-line and available 100% of the time.  If those farms were to use battery-backups, that spare storage could be tapped to help curb peak demand on the grid for a utility.

One of the biggest tools to com along is demand response, the 2-way communication between a consumer and a utility that allows a utility to curb demand.  It can sometimes be as abrupt as turning off machinery at factory.

However, Paul says the technology has gotten more sophisticated and subtle.  This could mean delaying when a washing machine turns on, or raising the temperature a few degrees on a thermostat.  Combined with artificial intelligence, web-enabled devices are getting to the point of predicting behavior and adjusting to meet the grid’s needs almost invisibly.

I asked him about the fine line energy efficiency companies walk—providing enough information to be worth the expense but not enough to be annoying.  I compare it to a fire suppression system.  You don’t care about it, you just want it to work.

Paul says that depends on the customer.  “For industrial customers, it’s process-driven.  It’s not even data, it’s ‘don’t mess with my process.’  The reality of the situation for the homeowner is, ‘I just want to be comfortable.'”

He envisions a future whereby rather than kilowatt-hours, customers simply pay “to be cool.”

Despite a now-national reach, Franklin is still based in Port Washington, Wisconsin, outside of Milwaukee.  I asked why it was important for Paul, who was born/raised/educated there, why this was important for him.

“I think that our-utility/client focus and customer engagement is well-suited to a Midwestern mentality.” (This podcast originally aired in May 2019.)

Dauenhauer is a member of the DISTRIBUTECH International advisory committees. Clarion Energy is the parent company of DISTRIBUTECH.


Energy Cast Podcast is hosted biweekly by Jay Dauenhauer.

Learn more about the podcast here.

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