Navigant Research Blog

Increasing SMB Customer Engagement through Integrated Demand-Side Management Programs

— October 5, 2017

For decades, utilities have had success reaching large commercial and industrial (C&I) as well as residential customers with demand-side management programs like energy efficiency and demand response. Large C&I customers typically have utility account managers catering to their service needs, while mass marketing techniques like bill stuffers, direct mail, door-to-door canvassing, advertising, social media, and retail channel partnerships effectively reach residential consumers.

However, the small to midsize business (SMB) customer segment is typically underrepresented when it comes to demand-side management (DSM) program participation, so it is considered hard to reach. Obstacles include the facts that there are too many SMBs for utilities to have a dedicated account managers, SMBs typically do not have staff resources focused on energy issues, and mass marketing does not easily penetrate the segment. In addition, no clear definition of SMBs exists. Some utilities and vendors use square footage, others use annual kilowatt-hours, and still others use kilowatt peak demand.

Examining the Issues

A 2016 study in California found that SMB customers accounted for 78% of customers, but only 33% of energy efficiency program incentives and 32% of energy savings from programs. The program participation rate for SMB customers is about one-third of the average for all business types. In Massachusetts, 1.4% of eligible customers participated in the small business direct install program, and the smallest customers did not receive attention comparable to customers closer to the 300 kW program cutoff. In PSEG Long Island’s energy efficiency program, the participation rate among SMBs was 3 times lower than among non-small business customers (5% vs. 15%).

Reaching SMBs

However, this segment makes up a large percentage of a utility’s customer base and has specific characteristics that make these customers great candidates for these programs. They are cost-conscious and will be more likely to participate if energy projects can be put in terms that resonate with them. They also care about community relations, so they will see value if they can show that they are doing something to help the local economy or environment. Recently, utilities have started aggressively pursuing SMBs with new integrated DSM (IDSM), demand response (DR), and energy efficiency product offerings to better leverage this untapped load resource and engage them to help improve J.D. Power customer satisfaction scores.

Join the Conversation

Navigant Research will host a free webinar on the topic of increasing SMB customer engagement through IDSM programs on October 10 at 2 p.m. EDT. I will be joined by Robert Duval, director of operations at Itron, and Jeremy Morrison, program manager at Duke Energy, and we will share best practices related to designing and deploying DR and energy efficiency programs for SMBs.

Key topics covered will include tips for DR and energy efficiency program design, recruitment strategies to maximize customer participation, approaches to maximize energy efficiency savings, and insights from a utility that has successfully deployed an integrated DR and energy efficiency program for SMBs.

 

As Summer Winds Down, a Look at Residential Demand Response Leaders

— September 19, 2017

Summer 2017 was relatively light from a demand response (DR) perspective in North America—aside from California, which saw extreme heat waves. There were not a lot of opportunities to test the capabilities of DR resources that utilities, regional transmission organizations, and retail electric providers had stockpiled to prepare for high load levels or energy prices. However, there was still plenty of merger and acquisition (M&A), technology development and new program design activity taking place.

Navigant Research took this opportunity to compile a Leaderboard that examines the current vendor landscape for residential DR (RDR). The report analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the key players in this global industry and displays those rankings visually in the Navigant Research Leaderboard Grid. This Leaderboard utilized broad guidelines to determine which market participants should be included to allow for companies that offer hardware and/or software and focus on technology or include program implementation services.

The Navigant Research Leaderboard Grid

(Source: Navigant Research)

This Leaderboard evaluated 15 companies based on 10 criteria to determine which competitors are Leaders, Contenders, Challengers, or Followers in the market. As the global RDR market has heated up in recent years, leading companies have invested heavily to develop their capabilities and strategy. There are a number of companies focused on other aspects of the smart grid arena now beginning to tackle the DR space, as well as many startup companies with new hardware and software offerings that take advantage of the plethora of available energy data and communication options for devices and customer messaging. Some of the incumbent RDR vendors are finding that they need to partner with these new players to keep pace with the changing marketplace.

The RDR industry is still maturing relative to the energy industry in general, but great strides have been made in turning DR into an operational resource for grid operators. In addition, this report combines both software and hardware offerings, as well as technology providers and program implementation services, which are all different segments that require diverse skill sets. Few companies attempt to serve all sides, thereby offering a complete solution.

As Navigant Research has published a series of DR-related Leaderboards over the past few years, it has been interesting to see the high level of new players and new technologies that enter the market on a regular basis. By the time the next is published, I expect to see more companies come on to the radar screen and disrupt the market, along with more M&As as successful startups are swallowed up by large energy players looking to expand their reach in the space.

 

AMI Data Brings New Possibilities for Energy Efficiency Measurement and Verification: Part 2

— August 4, 2017

Coauthored by Emily Cross and Peter Steele-Mosey

Part 1 of this blog series covered operational improvements and provided background on the role of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data in energy efficiency program evaluation, measurement, and verification (EM&V). This blog continues the discussion with a focus on program impact evaluation. Navigant Research examines these topics in detail in its report, Utility Strategies for Smart Meter Innovation: Energy Efficiency Measurement and Verification.

Program Impact Evaluation

The use of AMI data for program evaluation has the potential to substantially reduce evaluation costs. A major cost associated with the evaluation of large customer (commercial and industrial) energy efficiency program evaluation is onsite verification and metering. For some programs, it is possible to reduce the number of site visits required or reduce the frequency of site visits. Another opportunity for faster program evaluation using AMI data is large-scale validation of coincident demand savings for energy efficiency programs. With AMI data, it is a straightforward matter to isolate demand impacts occurring during utility system peak performance hours.

Programs operating in utility services areas with full penetration of smart meters, deploying energy efficiency measures with consistent load reduction patterns, are excellent candidates for evaluation using hourly or subhourly AMI data. Energy efficiency impact analysis using utility data assumes enough of the program participant savings are above a minimum measurable threshold. That is, the signal-to-noise, savings-to-baseline ratio must be high enough to see the savings in the meter data for a substantial number of participants in the program. Otherwise, program savings estimates may be statistically non‑significant even if savings are being achieved.

A hybrid EM&V approach, using a combination of advanced, automated AMI data analytics and targeted in‑depth evaluation, provides the most value to utility clients and regulators. Automated impact analysis using AMI data (M&V 2.0) can serve as an initial screening of participants. It can quantify realized savings measured at each participant meter using high accuracy pre-post time-of-week/time-of-year and temperature normalized savings models. Participant projects screened out of the automated analysis can be identified and sampled for deeper analysis, providing targeted insights to utility clients and regulators for more complex projects.

Where automated screening methods provide sufficient program feedback without further investigation into the reasons for measured savings, evaluation costs could be reduced relative to traditional methods. Automated M&V2.0 screening provides a high level, statistically significant measure of program performance without the need for follow-up evaluation for programs with established performance. The evaluator using such methods must demonstrate there is no bias introduced by using only projects with measurable savings to characterize program performance.

For mass-market (residential and small commercial) programs, traditional evaluation often involves the application of survey findings to validate and update deemed savings values. In many cases, an empirical econometric approach can deliver an answer with just customer AMI data and program tracking data if the key question to be answered is simply: how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) and kilowatts (kW) is this program giving me? Such empirically-based savings could reduce program implementation and evaluation costs by streamlining or eliminating the ex ante customer application process, provided savings are measurable at the meter.

 

Natural Gas Demand Response – Current Utility Programs: Part 3

— July 25, 2017

Coauthored by Paul Moran

As we discussed in our last blog, demand response (DR) in the natural gas sector has been less prevalent in the natural gas industry than in the electricity industry due to the lack of clear market signals that otherwise would enable market participants to put a price on deferred natural gas consumption. However, changing market factors are leading to increased interest in the practice. There are several utilities currently running innovative natural gas DR programs to discern the value of it alleviating system constraints.

Rebates for Home Heating

This year, Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) launched a natural gas DR program called the SoCalGas Advisory Thermostat Program, partially in response to supply concerns related to a leak at its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. It offers program participants up to $50 in rebates while helping them reduce natural gas costs for home heating. To be eligible for the rebate, program participants agree to allow minor adjustments to their smart thermostat settings on days when a SoCalGas Advisory conservation event is called. SoCalGas manages the ecobee thermostats and makes adjustments remotely, using a software platform developed by EnergyHub. Participants are notified before any adjustments occur. This represents the first rebate program of this type offered by a natural gas utility for gas heating.

Interruptible Gas Has Its Perks

Xcel Energy has an interruptible gas program for large commercial and industrial customers that does not include physical control of the gas supply by the utility. It is used to allay pipeline or distribution constraints as well as economic concerns when gas prices increase or spike. Customers get a notice one hour prior to the need and then it is up to them to decide what to curtail or whether to go on a backup fuel supply. It can be isolated to certain geographic areas on the system rather than an all-or-nothing approach.

Pilot Programs in New England

The New England region is at the literal end of the gas pipeline infrastructure and is at risk of experiencing more supply shortages than other areas of the country. Even before the polar vortex, the Independent System Operator of New England instituted a winter fuel supply program, including winter DR. Some of the Massachusetts utilities have undertaken pilot programs with smart thermostat vendors like Nest to test the natural gas DR theory with residential customers by changing heating setpoints. The programs have not yet moved beyond the pilot stage.

Although the absence of a clear price signal is a significant impediment to the adoption of natural gas DR, these innovative programs demonstrate that utilities have a strong interest in exploring its promise to provide a less expensive means of alleviating pipeline constraints. In our final blog of this series, we will discuss how National Grid is exploring new applications for natural gas DR to reduce peak load and improve system efficiency across its service territory.

 

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