Once a utility defines an energy efficiency problem or opportunity and designs an energy efficiency (EE) or demand response (DR) program to address it, the next step is a crucial one: actually delivering on the program. With many moving parts to deal with and stakeholders to corral, there is no shortage of things that could go wrong.
To help your program achieve its goals, I’ve come up with key considerations you need to be sure you deal with in order to achieve success in an EE or DR program.
In-house or outsource
There’s no hard and fast rule around when it’s best to deliver on an EE or DR program yourself or to outsource some or all of the delivery, as there are tradeoffs no matter what you decide. Third parties bring experience, as they’ve typically implemented similar programs in other locations. Such experience comes at a price, of course, so it’s often less expensive to implement the program internally. Some utilities take a happy medium approach, by starting internally to make sure all is well and gradually migrating delivery to a third party.
And the decision may be different for a DR vs. an EE program. A DR program is highly operational in nature, involving different groups including the call center, operations and energy efficiency experts. EE programs are more static in nature, having to do with long-term load planning. As such, it may be easier to outsource an EE program than a DR program. If you do wind up outsourcing one but not the other, just make sure you’ve got good coordination between the two; it’s not good for a customer to get two different pieces of mail from the same utility talking about two different but related programs.
Include the billing team
If your program involves an incentive payment, you need to bring in your financial folks to talk about how to implement it. Operational personnel, from both the transmission and operational sides (those buying and selling power), will also need to be in on the discussion to get a firm understanding of how the program will work. Will it be a credit on the customer’s bill? If so, how often – monthly, quarterly? Get all the potential stakeholders talking together and you’ll come up with a better result.
If your program involves a visit to the customer’s home to install some sort of equipment, scheduling that visit is a particularly sensitive area to tackle. Once a customer says “yes” to a program, the idea is to schedule the visit as soon as possible, so you don’t lose them. This becomes a balancing act between having enough work to keep your installation personnel busy, but enough installers such that you can get them to each potential customer quickly. In general, the closer you can be from “yes” to installation the less likely your installer will be turned away at the door, which is expensive.
In addition to scheduling installation of any required devices, utilities also have to address event scheduling, meaning those periods when you’ll be asking customers to use less energy. Event scheduling requires careful planning with your operations team to determine those periods when it’s in the utility’s best interest to have customers use less energy.
There’s some debate over whether to tell customers when events are happening. In a thermostat program, such as when the utility will remotely raise the thermostat temperature a couple of degrees in summer, it’s important to let customers know, since the thermostat is something they are likely to see.
For switch devices, where maybe the AC unit cycles on and off on its own, it’s more of a grey area. Some subscribe to the notion that not telling customers makes sense since they are not likely to notice a small rise in temperature. Others believe if you inform customers of an event during a peak usage period they will take it upon themselves to take additional steps to reduce load. Of course, others will opt out entirely because they just don’t want to be hot. Each utility will have to decide its own course here but, all things considered, I think it’s best to be straightforward with customers and let them know when events are happening. At the very least, it should reduce the number of angry calls to your call center.
In a previous post we discussed the sort of cyber security tools and practices utilities should have in place to prevent cyber attacks on their own infrastructure and to protect customer data and privacy. A best practice is to have periodic check-ins between the program rollout team and the security staff to ensure there are no loose ends.
Similarly, another best practice is to have everyone involved in a program rollout get together early on to go over a readiness checklist. For an EE program such meetings may take periodically throughout the year but for a seasonal DR program it should happen maybe in May for a program that starts in June. The idea is to simply make sure everyone who has a role to play, from operations teams to the call center, has taken all the steps they need to prepare and has all the information they need. Once the program launches, it’s also a good idea to have weekly or bi-weekly meetings during the DR season to determine whether everything is working correctly and to make any necessary adjustments.
End of season assessment
When the DR season is done, have another meeting with the team to talk about what needs to be fixed for next year, what you learned and ideas for improvement on how to deliver on the program. This is such an important topic that we’ll delve into it in more depth in our next post.