The Scouts’ motto of “Be Prepared” may be old, but it’s still relevant in today’s world. Prepared for what? Well, the motto means being in a state of readiness for anything that comes along, being willing and able to tackle whatever is needed.
There is no denying that there is a lot of change afoot in the energy industry, with new policies, goals, programs, technologies, and data streams adding new challenges as well as new opportunities for all stakeholders. These trends were front and center in discussions by the evaluation community at the biennial International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC) in August.
Over 400 attendants discussed many topics, including how evaluators and evaluation are still relevant in the midst of this change. Like scouts, they are a go-to resource that is already helping the industry get ready for whatever comes along. This conference touched on many ways in which this is happening, and identified many challenges that need to be tackled.
First, some definitions. Measurement and verification (M&V) are important management tools or activities; typically they are regulatory-directed, since you can only manage what you can measure. Evaluation refers more broadly to understanding how things work and identifying what works. These activities are often connected and referred to in combination as EM&V. In the energy world, evaluation encompasses a variety of tasks. It includes process evaluation, which involves looking at how to streamline or optimize workflows. It includes impact evaluation, which develops quantitative estimates of performance. It includes market assessments. Load management, forecasting, rate impacts, and cost-effectiveness are also contributing elements; and evaluation encompasses development of protocols used to standardize and sanction methods or measurements, work on databases, policy evaluation, and more. In short, the curious minds and engineering, social science, political science, and economic tools of the EM&V trade inform, design, and answer research questions that are helping to support the innovation that is needed to keep the industry moving forward.
The conference identified several areas that are a nexus of innovation in the industry, where evaluators can and are helping our industry be prepared:
Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)
The penetration of behind-the-meter resources is growing nationally and globally, but the current framework for how these are planned and delivered is siloed, which inhibits evaluation of impacts and does not allow for their optimization. DERs can include non-wires alternative projects, aspects of transportation and storage, demand response, TOU rates, EV uses, PV, and grid modernization. M&V is not currently required for every type of distributed resource, such as grid modernizations; this can create challenges for resource management. Evaluators can develop operable and standardized definitions of DERs and their features, do research to understand “the why” of DER adoption, and can develop transparent (albeit complicated) measurement approaches within an integrated framework
For climate change mitigation, new metrics must be developed to track progress towards environmental policy goals. This includes measuring and verifying GHG emission impacts aligned with emerging state environmental policies. Both policies and incentives with climate as a focus are still emerging. Some of those policies involve building performance standards. Good examples are Washington state’s HB 1257 and SB 5116, which are focused on building energy labeling and beneficial electrification. Evaluators can drill down to better understand and characterize a state’s building stock and building types in terms that relate to these policies. They can refine approaches to measure and verify impacts at the building or facility-level, and can translate energy efficiency program impacts into environmental benefits.
Meters and Methods
The availability and uses of metering data are growing nationally. However, the reality for many utilities is that even when smart meters (AMI) or other smart appliance data exists, it is not readily available for program design or evaluation purposes, and not necessarily integrated with the descriptive information needed for analyses of efficiency programs. Evaluators are helping to demonstrate the many use cases for this type of data, including pay for performance and strategic energy management programs. Evaluators are among the stakeholders working to meet technical and other industry needs such as models that can recognize non-routine events and identify PV-use within a building, protocols for judging the performance of proprietary software products, and ways to reduce risk and optimize program results using rapid feedback, embedded evaluation, and whole-building modeling.
In summary, when thinking about the many issues confronting the evolving energy industry, here is some advice from Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” While I don’t think Einstein was a boy scout, his advice pairs well with the motto of “Be Prepared”. Based on some of the papers in the conference and the discussions on the panels, the evaluation community has had the privilege to start thinking about DERs, metrics, data integration, and technology from their ongoing work. While tackling the challenges in the industry requires innovation and new paradigms, there are valuable skills and experience to build on. It helps to remember: “The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.”
If you’d like to see the papers and presentations, they are available online at the IEPEC website.