This year's Midwest Energy Solutions Conference (MES) incorporated interactive workshops into its agenda for the first time ever, and one of the three workshops focused on Net Zero Energy (NZE) in the Midwest. MEEA staff wanted attendees to consider what Net Zero Energy means for energy efficiency (EE) in the Midwest specifically. (For the purposes of the workshop, “NZE” was referring to any building, development or community that does not use more energy than it produces. See DOE’s NZE definitions).
To most outsiders, the world of energy efficiency probably appears static with slow, incremental changes. A furnace rebate here, light bulb swap-out there, maybe an updated building energy code every few years. But it should come as no surprise to industry insiders that this isn’t the case at all. An explosion of new technology across every part of our economy is rapidly changing our energy savings goals and the ways we identify and capture those savings.
The average Midwesterner pays 65% more for electricity than they did at the turn of the millennium. Saving energy is a key way to help lower customer bills even with rising rates. Utility Consumer Advocates (UCAs) represent residential customers before regulators and legislatures, and they use their expertise to help ensure ratepayer dollars are spent prudently and cost-effectively.
In September, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy completed a case study profiling MEEA’s HVAC Savings Adjustment and Verified Efficiency (HVAC SAVE) program, which tells the story of how MEEA partnered with utilities in Iowa to launch a HVAC quality installation and quality maintenance program that has resulted in over 100,000 jobs and substantial energy savings.
Industrial energy efficiency is losing ground in the Midwest. Though it’s one of the most cost-effective energy efficiency measures, states are increasingly allowing industrial customers to opt-out of paying into energy efficiency programs or exempting them from doing so altogether. As a result, overall energy savings and the cost-effectiveness of EE programs are on the edge of decline.
At a recent conference in Milwaukee hosted by M-WERC, the opportunities for reducing energy consumption at small- and medium-sized manufacturing facilities were touted repeatedly: Cost savings, productivity increases, improved worker safety and plant conditions, extended equipment lifetimes, corporate marketing benefits – the list goes on.
For the last century, utilities that provided safe, reliable and affordable service could be reasonably assured of their continued profitability as long as the demand for electricity continued climbing and competing outside pressures were minimized. However, in recent years, the model of hitching profits to increased infrastructure investment and greater sales is proving unsustainable in the long-term. Distributed energy resources and improved efficiency technologies are displacing increasing parts of the utility service, taking some of the revenues that go with it.
The Midwest has a strong track record of creativity and innovation: sliced bread, improv comedy, the Model T and, best of all, Post-It notes! And now we see that same spirit of innovation being pursued within the utility sector.
In my July 18 blog post, I alluded to the Missouri Public Service Commission’s (PSC) inquiry into emerging issues in utility regulation. Missouri is one of four Midwest states that have, or are undertaking, “utility 2.0” or “utility of the future” exploratory initiatives.
In April, the PSC issued an order (EW-2017-0245) opening a working case to explore five emerging issues:
As we hit mid-summer, I begin to look forward to the things I love about the fall: jackets and sweaters, my kids going back to school and four months of being up to my ears in utility data. This is the time of year that I plan for one of my most challenging annual tasks - updating MEEA’s tracking data to include the latest round of utility annual reporting on energy efficiency spending and savings. It's a labor of love that occupies much of my time September through January so we can release new estimates at our annual Midwest Energy Solutions Conference in February.