Missing Asilomar – EMI Consulting at the 2020 ACEEE Virtual Summer Study

Asilomar boardwark at dusk
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Eight months ago, I blocked off the week of August 17th on my calendar to attend the American Council of an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) Summer Study at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California. Every other year, I look forward to this week with my colleagues, old and new, attending a plethora of panels and events, learning about the latest in energy efficiency in the built environment. Over my time in the clean energy industry, I have many fond memories of this conference: chatting about net-zero standards on the beach, meeting up with clients for a hike at Point Lobos, sharing a bottle of wine with coworkers while we discuss all that we learned that day. And back in January, the summer of 2020 was going to be no different.

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread across the United States, ACEEE has made the prudent decision to go virtual this year, presenting a selection of the conference content online minus the daily strolls along the boardwalk. I’m looking forward to attending these panels from the safety of my home office, but I am sad that myself and the EMI Consulting team won’t be able to attend in-person. This year, we had a great line-up of papers selected for inclusion in the conference materials. I’m proud of the research we conducted, and I still want to recognize the effort our team put into these papers and be able to share some of what we’ve learned with the broader energy efficiency industry. While these papers won’t be presented virtually, you will still be able to find them in the conference proceedings once they are published, and as a teaser, I have provided summaries below. (1)

First up, Hannah Justus and Katie Cary (with co-authors Amy Glapinski and Chad Miller from Consumers Energy) authored a paper on the benefits of usability testing (UX) in energy efficiency program delivery titled, “Designing for Success: Using UX Testing and Visual Design to Ease Customer Decision-Making.” As opportunities for easy upgrades diminish, energy efficiency programs may experience difficulty in achieving cost-effective savings. To promote more complex projects, it is important to provide quality experiences that motivate customers to engage in energy efficiency. UX testing allows researchers to observe customer processes in real-time, rather than relying on customers’ memories of their experience after it occurred, leading to more detailed and actionable results. Hannah and Katie’s paper explores lessons learned, examines the value of combining UX testing and design review, and recommends the best applications for this process.

Second, Brett Close (with co-authors Nick Minderman and Michael Colby from Xcel Energy) developed a paper titled, “Mind the (Home Lighting) Gap: Using Monte Carlo Simulation to Support Design of a Residential Market Transformation Program.” The paper explores an approach using a Monte Carlo simulation to investigate potential cost-effectiveness outcomes for a pilot midstream program. As program administrators seek new offerings for their portfolios, they are confronted with uncertainty in market uptake and costs for consumer product programs that might help fulfill these multiple goals. If this uncertainty is reflected at all in program planning, it is often done through creating a simplistic set of scenarios involving “high,” “medium,” and “low” cases for how cost-effectiveness inputs change. However, Monte Carlo simulation modeling can provide more nuanced feedback that replicates a typical Excel-based cost-effectiveness calculator as a programmed function in statistical software. As a case study, Brett’s paper demonstrates how the simulation supports the integration of a midstream market transformation program, which targets a selection of large appliances, into an energy efficiency portfolio.

Next, Katie Cary and Lisa Perry (with co-author, Joe Forcillo and Joe Wadel from Consumers Energy) developed a paper titled, “This is Your Pilot Speaking: Tactics for Using Evaluation to Support Successful Pilot Development” that describes the pilot program evaluation process EMI Consulting and Consumers Energy have developed over 10 years of program delivery. This collaborative process (based on adapted developmental evaluation approach) has allowed the Consumers Energy program team to transition 18 of 23 pilots to full-scale programs since 2010. The paper describes the tailored, collaborative approach, highlights keys to success in using a developmental approach to pilot program evaluations, and examines the value of engaging with both program staff and evaluators early in a program’s design process.

And last but not least, Leigh Michael (along with Amy Glapinski from Consumers Energy) wrote a paper focusing on the emerging legal cannabis industry in Michigan titled, “High-Growth Potential: Best Practices to Engage Cannabis Growers in Energy Efficiency Efforts.” As states continue to legalize cannabis for recreational use, utilities face both a challenge and an opportunity: how can they proactively engage this high energy-consumption industry to pursue energy efficiency opportunities? This paper explores best practices in conducting grower and peer utility research to help utilities design energy efficiency program offerings for commercial cannabis growers. Grounded in examples from research conducted for Consumers Energy, it addresses three key challenges, as well as potential solutions, that utilities may face when working with the cannabis industry: 1. market uncertainty, 2. lack of industry-specific research around how energy efficiency equipment benefits product quality and yield, and 3. a history of grower wariness toward utilities.

These papers, plus many others, are included as part of this year’s conference proceedings, which will be posted online after the conference concludes. While it would be more fun to engage with other experts over the findings from the conference in-person (maybe while observing the jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium), there is still plenty to be gained from the virtual conference. I hope everyone can enjoy the conference from the safety of their homes, and I look forward to seeing everyone back at Asilomar in 2022. Until then, if you have any questions or want to talk about our team’s work in detail, please feel free to reach out to me directly.

1 As soon as ACEEE had published the papers online, we will add links to the content here.