SWEEP Says Utilities are Embedding Energy Experts in Customer Orgs

April 7, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

energy_savingsMany companies would like professional help for their energy management endeavors. For most, however, it is too expensive to hire an individual to fill that role. Inserting somebody already on staff into that position presents its challenges as well. Energy management is a diverse and complex field, so significant training is necessary. And, of course, the tasks that employee formerly performed must be reassigned.

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) sees an answer forming to the conundrum:  Utilities are training personnel to work for their customers in energy and efficiency management. “It allows the utilities to increase energy savings with a small marginal cost,” said Neil Kolwey, the Senior Associate for Industrial Program. “To make a long story sort, it is cost effective and there are ways to measure that it is.”

So far, participants in such programs are the Bonneville Power Administration, Rocky Mountain Power (in Utah and Wyoming), Puget Sound Energy, BC Hydro Industrial and Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator, Kolwey said.

The results can be substantial. “The most striking is that BC Hydro says that of all the energy savings they get from their industrial customers — which is substantial because they have one of the best programs in North America – 75 percent are from facilities that have funded energy managers.”

Though generally structured as one-year programs, many companies continue on because of the savings, Kolwey said. He said that the Bonneville Power Administration – which is a federal wholesaler of energy — has provided energy managers to 31 companies since 2009. Rocky Mountain Power has had 18 participating companies since it launched in 2013.

In general, industrial companies are the most interested in being part of the program, Kolwey said. The utilities are reluctant to share examples or case studies, but Kolwey said that the experience of an unnamed manufacturer in Utah is representative. The company targeted 4.5 GWh of annual savings. It was granted $113,000 to cover the employees’ salary and benefits, 25 percent of which was delivered up front. At the end of the year, it received a rebate based on 2.5 cents per kWh saved. This is on top of the savings in energy expenditures from the steps instituted by the energy manager, which totaled $270,000.

There are three ways in which the program can work: Either a participating company hires a full timer, a current employee is moved into the position (or more fully into it if his or her mandate partially covered energy efficiency) or a full-time employee is shared across multiple clients.

The training can last as long as a year. Kolwey said candidates generally come into the program with a basic understanding of energy issues. Elements included in the training are principles of energy management, how to analyze energy use at a facility, the best metrics of tracking improvement, how to get buy-in from management for changes, how to set long term goals, how to develop an energy efficiency team and how to spot low-cost improvements such as fixing compressed air leaks. Finally, the trainees would be taught how to measure impacts and report them to management.

SWEEP released a report earlier this year describing how different utilities have used the project. By next year, Kolwey said, SWEEP expects at least one more pilot to start and is hoping for a second.

Utilities increasingly are proactively working with customers to cut energy use. This saves both sides money in the long run. The customers pay less and the utility doesn’t have to build plants. In that context, the inexpensive step of adding a full- or part-time employee who has the knowledge and training to usher in big savings seems like a good idea.

One comment on “SWEEP Says Utilities are Embedding Energy Experts in Customer Orgs

  1. I have my disagreements with the SWEEP program as described in this article. Other utilities and customers should beware. Customers are getting energy assistance to people paid for by the utilities, which may skew the advice they give. I have gotten clients who have gone to utility “experts” in the Northeast who are not that knowledgeable or only knowledgeable in one area, and they are not helped. I understand the conundrum. It is best for a customer to hire an experienced energy engineer as consultant, who can bring in the team members specific for that customer’s energy usage, pay a reasonable fee for the knowledge and experience, and then no longer pay when the project is complete.

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