About the Client
The client is a regulated electric transmission and distribution utility that efficiently, safely, and reliably delivers electricity to customers in a northernmost region of the eastern US. They install, operate, and maintain transmission and distribution infrastructure, and also offer programs and tools to help customers use energy more efficiently.
The utility industry is changing dramatically, and with it the services customers will need and the technologies that will drive their energy interaction. Companies like our client recognize that adapting means testing to see what services, products, devices, and equipment will add value and be effective in their own region. From strategies for smart meters to changing attitudes toward ductless heat pumps, the company is paving the way for their customers to change with the times.
Given the efficiency of ductless heat pumps today, our client believed there could be great upside for customers who commonly use fuel oil to heat their homes. However, in their region, ductless heat pumps have something of a reputation. For a long time, heat pumps performed poorly when the outside air was below certain temperatures, which made them incompatible with many homes in this region. Yet, evolution in the technology allows modern heat pumps to operate more effectively in cold climates, making them a truly viable heating alternative.
To determine the efficiency of ductless heat pumps among their customers, the utility decided to launch a pilot program to test the use case of cold climate heat pumps.
EMI Consulting was first contacted to help with the strategic planning of the pilot, including identifying potential barriers and creating KPIs to track progress. When our client’s regulators approved the final plan, we were then asked to support the pilot’s success by providing embedded evaluation research throughout delivery, conducting summative analysis on the impact of the pilot (in terms of lowered energy costs and reduced GHG emissions), and creating recommendations for how to improve future implementation.
The primary objective of the pilot program itself was simple: that customers would realize an overall reduction in energy costs by purchasing energy-efficient heat pumps to heat their homes. In addition, they would also benefit from non-energy impacts such as increased comfort and improved indoor air quality. The program had a number of activities aimed at overcoming barriers (such as lack of awareness and up-front-costs), including marketing outreach to customers and installers, an online registry of contractors, financial rebates, and on-bill financing.
The goals of the research were to determine the impact of the program on participating customers’ overall energy costs, to assess changes in the ductless heat pump market, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the program at achieving the desired outcomes. To address these goals, our team collected and analyzed data from several sources, including telephone surveys, qualitative research, and minute-by-minute in-home meter data.
The product of this research was a comprehensive report that addressed key questions about the program’s impact, effectiveness, and efficiency.
We helped our client prove that this type of pilot can be effective—and a win-win-win for customers, utilities, and commissions. We also provided the utility with key recommendations that would allow them to be optimally successful in future implementation, should they decide to scale. Most importantly, we helped them realize their ability to introduce new and transformative ways for their customers to improve their energy efficiency, while effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions.