Making the Rounds, Watching the Trends – February Conference Recaps

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February was a busy month for EMI Consulting on the conference circuit. In addition to attending the California Efficiency + Demand Management Council’s annual EM&V Forum, we sent staff to conferences in Anaheim and Chicago to participate and share in the collective learnings from the national community of energy professionals. These engagements are great ways to check the pulse of the industry and see how the trends discussed are impacting our clients. Below, Directors Quinn Parker and Matthew Rose, share their takeaways from the conferences they attended, and they weigh in on how the trending topics will shape the industry as a whole and how EMI Consulting can continue to support clients through these changes.

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Last month I attended the annual Association of Energy Service Professionals (AESP) conference in Anaheim, California. This was no normal AESP conference, it was the 30th Annual Conference. Why does this matter? AESP is a member-based association with a mission to advance the industry through professional development, networking, and support for a resilient, sustainable energy future. And some of those professionals that sat next to me in the expo hall and the breakout sessions were not even born 30 year ago. They are not nostalgic about the way things used to be, nor do they care to sit back and wait for change to happen. They are pushing forward and challenging the status quo. At EMI Consulting, we are embracing the change that we see coming to the industry and channeling our collective knowledge and passion to push forward clean energy in the work that we do. So I was especially excited to be at AESP’s 30th Annual Conference this year, where the agenda was an excellent combination of sharing experiences and discussing future opportunities. Overall, it resonated with me personally and professionally, but there were a few discussions that stood out during the conference.

Electrification and carbon reduction were well-represented on the agenda. The content covered many aspects from how to measure carbon reduction to how to drive adoption of electrification technologies. These topics, though somewhat familiar to professionals that attend AESP conferences, have never been covered as in-depth. The knowledge we need to succeed in this changing energy environment is changing. What I heard was that we should build on what we have learned over the last 30 years, but that we should be prepared to think differently. For example, Brian Uchtmann from Michaels Energy made it very clear we should change our thinking and potentially our methodologies when evaluating for carbon reduction. EMI Consulting has been honored to contribute to both of these trends, helping understand customer perceptions of and barriers to electrification and helping adapt traditional energy efficiency evaluation approaches both to estimate carbon reductions and to reduce the burden of evaluation activities on program participants to accelerate carbon reductions.

While electrification is a direction many utilities find themselves going, the foundation of our industry is still cost-effective energy efficiency programs. I was impressed listening to ComEd, NV Energy, and National Grid discuss how they are continuing to evolve their mature programs and how there is still opportunity. Kevin Rose at National Grid discussed the untapped potential of codes and standards programs. Let’s continue to push forward these cost-effective programs!

Last but certainly not least, I applaud AESP’s dedication to diversity and professional development. Sessions on supplier diversity, unconscious bias, and climbing the ladder all addressed important issues in our industry. Melissa Culbertson and I had the honor of facilitating a session on mentoring. Melissa and I gained much more than we gave in this intimate session discussing the value of growing your professional network and finding those moments to receive mentoring. This group shared their insights and I believe we all left appreciating the value of mentorship, not just to the mentee but to the mentor.

I highlighted just a few of the sessions, but this conference agenda was so rich that I heard attendees complaining that they didn’t know which one to go to because there was just so much interest. There is a dynamic change happening in our industry, driven by new professionals with different perspectives, pushed by new technologies that allow unprecedented access to information and customer demands, all of which challenge the traditional business model. These changes are having a dramatic impact on our industry, calling firms like EMI Consulting to rise to the challenge and take on these complex issues. These changes were also reflected in the conference agenda, showing that AESP is also evolving. Are you?

This year’s Midwest Energy Solutions conference, hosted by the Midwest Efficiency Alliance (MEEA), was well attended. Sponsors said attendance was the largest ever—more than 700 attendees, including a mix of midwestern regional utilities, evaluation firms, and most notably, a strong presence of implementation firms. There were also a number of state-level regulatory staff, state action agencies, and social organizations in attendance (e.g., neighborhood organizations, state research organizations, national labs).

As in past years, sessions focused on state-level policy, energy efficiency as a resource, electrification, health, and energy efficiency. There was also attention directed at issues of social equity, community perspectives and engagement, and the need for innovation in delivering new technologies. Below I’ve included some of my observations from the conference:

Michigan was prominent. Commissioner Sally Talberg from the Michigan Public Services Commission, was the keynote speaker, and she highlighted the various initiatives in the state, MI Power Grid, and the impact of environmental concerns in planning. She also acknowledged that the move elsewhere to focus on electrification is not an objective today in Michigan, where natural gas supplies more than 85% of the heat in the state, making it a significant hurdle to move to electric technologies.

The need to rethink energy efficiency was also a theme of the conference. Speakers stressed the need to change how energy efficiency contributes to clean energy goals moving forward. Programs will look very different in 3-5 years due to new technologies, lessons of experience in being able to scale pilots to the greater market, better understanding of how to apply AMI and customer data to target and measure programs, and the need for industry training and education as a key to job development in energy efficiency.

There were also a number of discussions suggesting that a key challenge for utilities is the lack of coordination internally and the siloing of relevant departments (e.g., energy efficiency seems to be positioned separately from demand response/management even when they are located near each other). The attention to these challenges reflected a need to better integrate energy management initiatives for customers in a way that can leverage recruitment, savings propositions, technologies, data, and outcomes.

Finally, the midwest remains fragmented in its acceptance and support of energy efficiency programs. For every state or utility announcing success in energy efficiency, there was an acknowledgement that some states have retrenched, including Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio (First Energy was noted as the only IOU in the MEEA region without any attendance).