It’s no secret that utility companies are finding themselves more and more regulated and mandated by federal and state regulatory agencies to generate more and more power with existing or even fewer facilities. Energy efficiency has become the watchword. On the consumer side, demand for energy grows daily, while government regulations strangle the industry with curtailments in the building of additional production facilities and an increasing number of requirements for cleaner power.
Gas and electric utilities specifically are required to reduce the energy footprint of all their consumers, including residential, small business, commercial, or industrial. To accomplish this, large amounts of data must be gathered and analyzed. Incentive programs must be carried out, results must be monitored, and reports must be made available to authorities. This all occurs while managing and maintaining the real business of the utility, which is to supply power on demand to customers.
To meet the requirements and goals negotiated and agreed to with the regulatory agencies, utility companies conduct incentive programs to encourage customers to reduce their power demands through such actions as:
- Elimination of old, power-guzzling appliances and equipment
- Installation of solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, heat-reflective windows, etc.
- Use of automated technology-based controls for regulation of heating, cooling, lighting, etc.
Utility companies also often present demand response or energy-saving awareness programs to induce customers to reduce power usage during peak power demand times. For their cooperation in these programs, customers may receive rebates or other rewards to offset their expenditures.
Research and analysis of current customer equipment, usage, and demographics are required to determine which incentive programs will yield the most effective results. Based on this research, the utility company and regulatory agency mutually agree on the programs to conduct and the targets or goals for reducing customers’ power consumption. Marketing programs are then created to advertise and incentivize customers to participate. Detailed participant data must be gathered, compiled, and monitored before, during, and-after programs are implemented. These records must be merged with customer information systems (CIS) in order to produce reports that clearly and accurately present the compiled results in a timely manner.
These activities (from initial research to final reporting) have required data entry personnel to fill out numerous spreadsheets, programmers to create customized databases, and, in many cases, manual cross-referencing and checking in order to produce the desired results – a tedious, time-consuming, and costly endeavor that has fallen short of the goals of both the incentive program managers and the regulatory auditors, and which are rarely up-to-date, accurate, or complete. Add to this the fact that regulations are constantly changing and multiplying, and you compound the need for IT developers, personnel training, additional information storage, and ever more complex, detailed reports.
Obviously, such activities present a substantial cost to the utility companies. If goals are successfully met, costs can be offset with grants from the regulatory agencies for customer rate increases, which in turn, can increase company profits. However, if mandates or goals are not met, the utility companies can be charged enormous penalties. It is really important that utility companies find ways to reduce the costs of these activities and incentive programs and improve their data gathering and reporting capabilities.
This has resulted in the need for sophisticated tracking software that can manage all operational needs for both utilities and their associated energy efficiency implementers.
The solution is an automated system specifically designed for gas and electric utility companies to manage their energy efficiency programs from beginning to end. Stay tuned for Part 2.