Energy Evaluation at 5280 Feet Above Sea Level

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From August 20th to August 22nd, EMI Consulting attended the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC) to both share our own knowledge and learn from others in the industry.

Taking place in Denver, IEPEC focuses on the critique and discussion of objective evaluations of energy programs, including efforts that provide energy efficiency, demand response, transportation electrification, and decarbonization. Attended by over 400 professionals from utilities, regulatory agencies, and consulting firms, IEPEC brings together an unprecedented mix of professionals who are advancing the practice of energy program evaluation through advanced analytics, innovative research methods, and sound strategy.

Kicked off by Shawn White from Xcel Energy and L. Hunter Lovins of Natural Capitalism Solutions, the conference covered a wide range of topics, but I’ve highlighted my key take-aways below.

  • Decarbonization. Across the conference, there was increased focus on decarbonization, recognizing that past models of relying on deemed energy savings and engineering reviews of conservation projects may not accurately reflect the true GHG reductions those efforts achieve. During one panel examining the metrics needed to properly track climate change mitigation, Shawn White from Xcel Energy discussed the challenges of repurposing demand-side management efforts to achieve carbon reductions given Xcel Energy’s generation mix (i.e., heavy usage of wind power). Similarly, several panels discussed how to keep customers engaged in decarbonization efforts, as the methods of intervention may start to shift, in order to maximize their value. I believe these efforts are especially critical for disadvantaged communities which have the potential of getting left behind as communities decarbonize.
  • Developmental Evaluation. Picking up the themes from previous IEPEC agendas, there were several presentations that highlighted developmental evaluation approaches (sometimes referred to as adaptive, integrated, formative, or embedded evaluation). But whatever name is used, in essence, this approach is designed to make evaluation research more actionable in complex, dynamic environments. Katie Cary from EMI Consulting highlighted examples of integrating data analytics into process evaluations, increasing the rigor and usability of an approach that is often seen as “soft science.” Similarly, several panels discussed the importance of early evaluation of pilot programs and large projects. In the examples discussed in these panels, program managers were better able to adapt to unforeseen challenges and target customers by incorporating developmental evaluation approaches into design.
  • Transportation Electrification. Finally, several panels discussed the need to apply evaluation techniques to transportation electrification efforts. While these programs often have different regulatory reporting requirements than traditional demand-side management efforts, utilities are recognizing the need to apply evaluation techniques to pilot efforts to identify lessons learned and to assess how to successfully scale early program designs. Panels discussed the challenges of current research on electric vehicle adoption and usage, highlighting the difficulty of generalizing findings beyond early adopters given the nascency of the EV market. My perspective is that this caveat is especially relevant for customers’ acceptance of TOU rate structures; something that has worked for early adopters but that may be more difficult with a wider general population.

In summary, IEPEC 2019 was a fantastic venue to learn more about some of the challenges facing our industry today. A highlight of this event is always getting the chance to talk through these big ideas with the friends and colleagues that I have developed over my career.

As Bill LeBlanc from E Source pointed out in his closing plenary, while our methods may need to evolve to address new challenges, there are many challenges we’ve been tackling for 20+ years (I’m looking at you, cost-effectiveness testing). At EMI Consulting, we are excited to support our utility clients with these challenges through a mix of strategy, data analytics, and customer research.