I attended and spoke at the EEI National Key Accounts conference last month in Vegas. This 700 person conference brings together utilities with companies with facilities in multiple states. This was my first time attending and I left impressed (kudos to the team at EEI).
The event is the largest, in person, gathering of corporate energy managers that I am aware with perhaps 200 attending. Most were from large, national retailers including Marriot, Starwoods, Staples, Macy, Saks, Home Depot, Walgreens, Shell, Jack in the Box, Pepsi, among others. This wealth of corporate energy managers and utilities representative provided for a rich set of discussions and a snapshot of major trends in corporate energy management.
Here are my notes from public presentations:
- Companies continue to see a linkage between sustainability and energy management and most programs are now linked
- Interest in PPA and renewables grows
- More CEO and CFO are asking questions about energy management
- Energy management and facilities teams need to improve their skills in explaining and selling energy management program benefits to senior management
- Utilities remain key to so many initiatives (rebates and demand response programs, custom incentives, on-bill financing, etc.)
- It continues to be incredibly frustrating for companies with hundreds of facilities across United States that each utility has different rebate programs, definitions, forms, etc. Many ask: why can’t one rebate form be used across utilities?
- Interest in Enterprise Energy Management accelerates (my talk was one of three talks aobut EEM). Companies would like all the technology systems (BMS, monitoring, bill management, maintenance, etc.) to work together, but recognize, however, that the integration challenges and cost may be large (one national retailer mentioned that his ideal system involves combining 12 systems they use today)
- More utilities are incorporating “customer plans” in their rolling, 5 year business planning process and are establishing Chief Customer Officers. This is huge difference from ten years ago when business planning and prioritization was primarily based on financial returns with no regard about the impact to customers
- Several utilities combine regulatory and customer roles in a SVP of Regulation and Customer
- Planning and investing in reliability, especially given severe storms in recent years, has crowed out some investments that improve customer experience. Tree maintenance and management remains a perennial challenge with local communities. Northeast Utilities however mentioned that for the first time that some communities impacted by Sandy were asked for more aggressive tree trimming.
- All utilities are increasing customer choice (plans, pricing, programs) and see this trend continuing
- On-site generation is growing faster than anticipated in some areas, impacting utility revenue
In conversations with many corporate energy managers, I was struck by the similarities of the trends and challenges they face. I’m told that ten years ago there were very few corporate energy manager in the audience. The number will undoubtedly increase in the next ten years.
Paul Baier is VP of sustainability consulting and research for Groom Energy.