UTILITYBUSINESS BY CHUCK ROSS
In December 2014, the utility Ameren
Missouri filed its energy-efficiency plan
with the Missouri Public Service Commission. It came with a caveat for its
customers and agency commissioners:
despite greater-than-expected savings in
the current plan, the utility anticipated
its proposed effort would net less than
half of the original plan’s savings. The
utility argued the low-hanging fruit had
been gathered in the few years of utility-financed efficiency upgrades, and further
progress was going to be more expensive.
On the surface, this might seem like
a reasonable argument. After all, in its
first year, the current 2013–2016 plan is
estimated to have saved much more than
300 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity
use. The utility is shooting for close to
800 GWh in total savings by the end of
2015, which the company said is enough
to put off the need for a new power plant.
However, these savings have largely been
achieved through lighting upgrades, and
national efficiency experts say they’ve
likely only scratched the surface.
“Lighting has been the biggest target. It has been a major source of energy
savings nationally,” said Ian Hoffman,
researcher with the Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory’s (LBL) Electricity
Markets and Policy Group.
These savings are easy to understand
with some simple math. Replacing a
60-watt (W) incandescent lamp with an
equally bright compact fluorescent lamp
or light-emitting diode product can save
Hoffman said home air conditioning
also has been a big target for achievable
residential savings, though these empha-ses now are shifting.
“Now we’re seeing a proliferation of
other plug loads in the house,” he said.
There has also been a lot going on in
commercial offices and the industrial
process space, where a few changes can
result in significantly larger savings.
Missouri—along with Ohio and
Indiana, where utility-led campaigns
have frozen or eliminated mandated
energy-efficiency programs—has a regulated electricity market and vertically
integrated utilities, meaning electric
utilities in those states own both generation and distribution, giving them a
direct interest in growing their generation business. Meanwhile, states leading
the efficiency pack, including Massachusetts and Vermont, operate under
deregulated rules, which separate the
financial relationship between generation and distribution.
There isn’t a direct relationship,
however, between deregulation and
successful efficiency incentives. California, a regulated state, was second
only to Massachusetts in 2014 energy
savings, according to the 2014 State
Energy Efficiency Scorecard prepared
by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Matthias Bell,
manager of Boulder, Colo.-based Rocky
Mountain Institute’s (RMI) electricity
practice, said the difference between
California and some other regulated
states lies in an acceptance by both
Golden State utilities and regulators that
the relationship between electricity providers and their customers is changing.
“There are utilities in the U.S. that
have that mindset—we need to change
to make ourselves more service ori-
ented,” he said. “Energy efficiency is a
good first step.”
Such utilities see a need to think
beyond easy fixes, such as one-for-one
lamp replacements, to more systemic
efficiency options. For example, Bell
said that RMI sees a big opportunity in
“retrocommissioning” the operations of
mid-size buildings. This involves a close
audit of how motors, lighting, heating
and air conditioning and other energy-
using systems are operating, comparing
those findings to original specifications,
and making the adjustments necessary
to bring operations back up to original
design levels (or even improving them).
Other utilities are finding success
in behavioral-based programs. Used by
both electricity and heating-gas utilities,
these efforts involve sending out monthly
reports to residential customers, which
enables them to compare their energy
consumption to that of their neighbors.
Such a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses
approach might seem a little silly on the
surface, but the competitive motivation
seems to be working. According to LBL’s
Hoffman, resulting year-over-year savings attributed to these monthly reports
are totaling 1. 2–1. 5 percent.
Consumer awareness and control
over their electricity use is only growing
as utilities begin to tap into the information potential offered by the millions of
smart meters now being deployed across
the country. Hoffman said planners are
paying new attention to how energy efficiency and demand response—that is, the
ability of customers to dial down electricity consumption during high-usage
periods—can work together, possibly
leading to new kinds of incentives to
limit the need for new generation.
“There’s a lot of thinking out there
about the integration of energy efficiency and demand response, really
looking at how you can shave and shift
peaks,” he said.
ROSS is a freelance writer located in Brewster, Mass. He can be reached at chuck@chuck-
Energy efficiency moves beyond lighting
ross.com. I S T
Still Plenty of Low-Hanging Fruit
ENERGY-EFFICIENCY PROGRAMS have been a part of electric-utility operations for a
decade or more, since state utility commissions began valuing the kilowatt-hours saved
(aka negawatts) as an alternative to the new generation capacity they could potentially
displace. Some utilities are beginning to argue against the cost-effectiveness of such
efforts, while advocates say we have only begun to realize efficiency’s potential.