The Role of Information Technology in Energy Efficiency Portfolio Management

by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

Energy efficiency programs continue to expand across the nation with utilities often playing the central role in delivering programs. This expansion challenges utilities to deliver more energy savings more efficiently. A robust information technology platform can play a significant role in a utility’s success in delivering cost-effective energy efficiency program portfolios.

Effective information technology platforms can impact energy efficiency program delivery significantly by providing timely, accurate data that can be used for program management and regulatory requirements, among others. Utilities that are building or expanding their energy efficiency program offerings are evaluating the information technology infrastructure. A good information technology investment will provide solid functionality along with business benefits that will enhance energy efficiency delivery.

Documenting the success of an energy efficiency portfolio can be daunting. To begin with, the energy savings associated with energy efficiency measures cannot be metered. Most energy efficiency programs are funded by ratepayer dollars; hence the need and obligation to ensure these dollars are being managed effectively. In addition, many stakeholder groups representing interested parties such as low-income advocates, ratepayers and environmentalists increasingly are interested in near realtime information on how programs are performing.

To address these challenges, utilities must amass a huge amount of data on their energy efficiency portfolios. This data is verified, analyzed, combined and mined to report on the success of the programs to regulatory bodies and to aid in program design, management and evaluation.

Support Regulatory Requirements

An information technology infrastructure must support numerous regulatory reporting requirements. Utilities must create a portfolio of energy efficiency programs and submit these in a plan for regulatory approval. This submission is grounded in data analytics that outline for each program the expected costs, benefits, participants, impact on peak-load reduction and nonenergy benefits among many other details. The information technology system also must be able to track, compare and report performance against the filed energy efficiency plan. In addition, information technology systems must be queried on an ad hoc basis to respond to information requirements.

From an information technology perspective, effectively supporting regulatory requirements starts with defining all data outputs required by regulatory bodies. The system also must support user-defined data queries and analytics. A focus on data quality is critical to an information technology system. Tools to ensure accurate data entry and maintenance, along with storing the source of the data for future reference, are critical.

Program Design, Management and Evaluation

Utilities strive to enhance the design of energy efficiency programs and reduce portfolio costs. An effective information technology system can provide the data analytics on program performance at a detailed energy efficiency measure level. This enables program managers to evaluate program effectiveness. An information technology system that supports program managers’ adjusting variables easily in a program design helps reduce program costs. Utility management of the energy efficiency portfolio demands an information technology system that provides for easy, timely access to information. Program managers with access to timely data on the performance of programs can adjust programs midcourse to achieve savings, participation or cost objectives. Many program managers are interested in how external contractors are delivering programs from cost and quality perspectives. A robust information technology system can provide contractor performance data and support active contractor management.

Many information technology systems support seamless dataflow directly from the contractor at the job site to the information technology system. This streamlines the process, reduces costs, increases data accuracy and supports timely data analysis.

Evaluating energy efficiency programs for energy savings, market penetration, cost and customer impact is grounded in robust energy efficiency information technology platforms. The most common evaluation approach–the impact evaluation– assesses gross savings, net savings, nonenergy benefits and demand savings. These attributes and their sources are documented in the information technology system.Program evaluators will retrieve, analyze and report based on the data within the information technology system.

Utilities that are expanding or building energy efficiency programs are wise to review and assess their information technology systems. A robust system that collects, verifies, stores, retrieves and displays accurate and timely data can benefit the energy efficiency programs. Utilities with solid information technology systems are much better positioned to meet regulatory requirements, stakeholder requests and internal data analytical demands confidently and on a timely basis.

Author

Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices,” is available at http://pennwell books.com.

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