Soaring in the Clouds

Data and the Cloud Key to More Efficient EE and DSM Initiatives

More and more states are implementing policies requiring utilities to execute energy efficiency (EE) and demand-side management (DSM) programs to help residents reduce energy use. These policies have power generators, transmission operators and third-party implementers finding themselves overwhelmed managing the back office for EE and DSM programs efficiently and cost-effectively. As a result, more DSM organizations are implementing online cloud-based platforms to increase operational efficiency, as well as facilitate collaboration among outside stakeholder entities such as research teams and state agencies.

Administering, managing, forecasting and reporting to state policymakers and other stakeholders on the effectiveness of EE and DSM programs is both time-consuming and distracting for project administrators. During enrollment periods, their attention is better put on the strategy and implementation of these programs for maximum effect and enrollment, rather than having the burden of entering data and building graphs. The same is true during the third-party auditing and reporting phase of programs. Manually building the graphs and reports required to effectively communicate the efficacy of their EE and DSM programs to states and other stakeholders is not the highest leveraged use of a project administrator’s expertise.

Spreadsheet Hell–A Sure Dead End

Many might find it surprising to learn that some utilities and other large programs are still using outdated spreadsheets and other inefficient tools to manage their EE data and operations. This special kind of spreadsheet hell is described as an operation conducted with spreadsheets where standards are lacking and the information is scattered, hard to find, incomplete or missing. In addition, designing charts and graphs based on the data is time-consuming, and maintaining third-party compliance without automated standards is challenging and ineffective.

The state of Delaware is a good example. Before implementing an automated, cloud-connected DSM system, it used traditional spreadsheets and other outdated methods to track statewide energy initiatives. This resulted in issues associated with monitoring and sharing data with outside state agencies, as well as research teams. After the implementation of the automated DSM system, data is now housed and displayed in one environment.

Meanwhile, Missouri River Energy Services (MRES) needed a way to streamline its EE programs and incentivize rebate programs for its 60 plus member municipal utilities. Before employing its automated DSM monitoring platform, MRES could not track EE data or rebate information under a single unified solution. Today, it has thorough reporting, collaboration and proper monitoring across its territory.

Ultimately, utilities that are not using an automated DSM operating system are deprived of the full picture of their EE universe, and they are wasting ratepayer dollars and investor dividends on inefficient systems that reduce, not enhance, staff productivity. Without an automated, cloud-connected portal where utility personnel can see and manipulate everything in one place, it is next to impossible to compare programs and determine which ones are the most effective.

Avoiding the Late-Year Panic

The “late year panic” is a frequent problem that vaporizes once automated systems are in place. EE and DSM program administrators’ who manage programs and initiatives on spreadsheets are deprived of an adequate reporting environment to assess a program’s efficiency in mid-cycle. If the program is falling short of meeting its goals, late year panic sets in as program administrators rush to implement savings to meet year-end goals.

Automated operational management software designed for EE and DSM programs can give program administrators a clear picture in real-time of program performance and adoption rates. Pulling reports daily, weekly or monthly allows these organizations to test the health of their programs throughout the year and stave off surprises. For customized campaigns and programs, these solutions can be equipped with a variety of standard configurations, while also being customizable and flexible enough to benefit specific and unique customer needs.

Automated DSM Operations in Action

One example of an automated, cloud DSM platform at work is Waverly Light & Power (WLP), a municipal electric utility in Iowa known as a leader in EE. The utility typically completes more than 1,000 projects a year. Through the automation solution brought to it by energyOrbit, WLP reduced its average rebate application entry time by more than 30 percent.

Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) manages a portfolio of commercial and industrial EE incentive programs in Chicago. ComEd implemented a unified and verticalized customer relationship management (CRM) solution and a set of automated workflows that work with a variety of third-party implementation partners to conduct market segmentation and solutions-based outreach. The utility gained better visibility into how its outreach, which includes targeted reports by customer size, usage data, industry and geography, impacts customer participation. ComEd reviews this data in a 360-degree view of customer participation and outreach history, which allows seamless handoffs between ComEd’s implementation trade allies.

As more states require power providers to meet increasing demand for energy without investing in more generation facilities, agencies and companies are turning up the volume on their EE and DSM programs. Through the implementation of modern, integrated cloud software platforms, the often-overlooked power and efficacy of EE and DSM in meeting demand for more energy generation is being unleashed. Providing customers with more opportunities to reduce their energy use, save money and, eventually, decarbonize the grid is a goal shared by electricity providers and customers alike. | PGI

Udi Merhav, is CEO and founder of energyOrbit. A seasoned technology executive and entrepreneur, Merhav founded energyOrbit in 2006 after 15 years spent designing and implementing e-commerce and information technology solutions for high growth sectors including online legal services, financial services and energy efficiency/demand side management. With business development expertise in Asia Pacific markets, he worked in a variety of roles setting up joint ventures with Chinese companies and is a co-founder and co-investor in India-based Orit Innovations Ltd., providing Salesforce.com consulting services. Udi holds an undergraduate degree in Chinese regional studies and a master’s degree in international studies from the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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