I hadn’t attended the Association of Energy Service Professional’s (AESP’s) annual conference in 10 years. I hadn’t been to New Orleans in 20 years. When the two came together in February, I decided it was time to kill two birds with one stone. Neither disappointed. I’ll focus on the conference here, but the beignets, bands, and Bourbon Street were as epic as I remembered.
The conference was twice as big as the last time I was there, and the topics have become much broader, reflecting the maturation of the industry. The opening session, Business Models – The Evolving Role of Demand-Side Management (DSM) in Utilities, was a shot across the comfort zone bow that most DSM professionals have settled into. Val Jensen, Senior Vice President of Customer Operations at ComEd, stated that while the energy efficiency group is now a driver of revenue for the company, he would like to see the end of energy efficiency programs as we know them today. He views it as an inefficient cottage industry that is not as unique as we think and is really more of a commodity. Energy efficiency program design is more a reflection of program evaluation than serving customers in a useful way. He believes that the utility should become a platform, where energy efficiency is a high value application that can be offered. The notion that utilities should make money from energy efficiency has been viewed as dirty, but being incented financially to do something is a powerful motivator.
After that wake-up call, I enjoyed seeing some of the presentations that were on the leading edges of DSM. There was a notable smattering of natural gas presentations—a field historically dominated by the electric side of the house. Integrating natural gas and electric DSM programs plays a growing role as utilities try to find more cost-effective ways to meet their goals. Converting fuel oil heating customers to natural gas, and natural gas HVAC applications to electric (like heat pumps) holds promise in saving energy and emissions.
Another buzz term I focused on was customer engagement, in part because I am working on a report covering that topic. A panel with three utility marketplace offerings, energyOrbit, Enervee, and Simple Energy, showed how customers could be enticed to make more efficient purchases by providing information and comparisons on product ratings and costs. It was even posited that traditional energy efficiency rebates could be rendered obsolete through superior data sharing, but that point was hotly contested by the panel.
Not Just a Bystander
I also participated in my own panel, Non-Wires Alternatives: The New Model to Integrate and Target DSM and DER, but that wasn’t nearly as intriguing as the talk on using drones for energy efficiency site visits!
All in all, it was great to get back to the AESP crowd and see some familiar faces as well as new, innovative companies and young, enthusiastic industry players carrying the mantle for the next generation of DSM.