EMI Consulting Insights
  • Posted 1.19.15 by Rob Bordner, Founder, President & CEO
    EMI Consulting: 20 Years!

    EMI Consulting was founded in the loft of a barn, sharing space with a Saddlebred horse, an ornery Shetland pony, and some polled Dorset sheep.  My objective was to engage my entrepreneurial instincts in the energy field I am so passionate about while also earning a good living, having balance, and spending time with my kids. 

    Twenty years later, as we approach a staff of thirty, creating a thriving and progressive place of work continues to be a top priority.  The loft space we now occupy in downtown Seattle is much larger, devoid of wild chickens in the background, and humming with activity as we work away on over 40 projects with clients in 20 different states.  In my role as CEO, some of the greatest moments come when I am working with our younger staff, many of whom are just starting out in their careers.  They are the future, and each is sure to make their mark. 

    This is such an incredibly exciting time to be working in the energy industry; the rate of technology change and innovation is rapid, and seemingly increasing each week.  Central plants, energy efficiency, distributed renewables, storage, the Internet of Things, and nanotechnology all have a role in this emerging energy system of the future.  I am grateful to all who have contributed to our success, including current and past employees, clients, and our families.  It is a privilege to work with such a great team and to work with such an amazing professional community of clients and peers — many of whom have also become lifelong friends. The work we are doing today to support a clean energy future is good work, work that is worth doing.  And I am looking forward to all that unfolds going forward!  

  • Posted 5.5.15 by Greg Lewis, Operations Manager
    EMI Consulting sets sail to save lives in the 21st Annual Leukemia Cup Regatta.

    If you tilt your head the right way, and it’s the right time of year, EMI Consulting’s offices overlook Elliot Bay.  Not surprising in a city largely surrounded by water but we all relish being so close to the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. An active and adventurous bunch with a passion to do work that matters, EMI Consulting staff jumped at the chance to step aboard Epilogue and sail in this year’s Leukemia Cup Regatta sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This nationwide event is held at yacht clubs across North America with the goal of raising money to fight and cure blood cancers.  In addition to being a corporate sponsor of this event, EMI Consulting will sail Epilogue with a crew of ten staff members and two blood cancer patients/survivors in an effort to raise money for a great cause, have a great day on the water, and secure bragging rights until next year’s race. 

  • Posted 10.3.14 by Ellen Steiner, Director of Customer and Market Research
    Warm Homes + Savings = Happy Mainers

    Comprehensive Results from a Heat Pump Evaluation

    We invite you to read our newly filed Emera Maine Heat Pump Pilot Program Evaluation, revised on November 20, 2014 with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

    Even though heat pumps are the fastest growing segment in the U.S. HVAC market, significant questions still remain regarding their true energy savings potential. We recently conducted a comprehensive evaluation of Emera Maine’s Heat Pump Pilot Program that starts to answer these questions. This work spanned two years from pilot conception to transition of the pilot to Efficiency Maine Trust for a full program rollout. This research combined in-depth up-front program planning, quantitative and qualitative market research, formative process evaluation, and in-depth impact analysis and was designed to provide both interim feedback to help Emera Maine make mid-program adjustments, as well as a traditional impact, market effects, and process summative evaluation report. 

    Our impact evaluation results show that heat pumps can save customers money. Based on data from 64 households where we installed sub-meters at the circuit breaker level and collected a year’s worth of data on fuel oil and electricity consumption both before and after the heat pumps were installed, we found that fuel oil savings exceed heat pump operating costs. However, perhaps just as important, are the findings related to contractor and customer education that are essential to maximizing energy savings including training contractors and educating customer on effective placement of heat pumps and educating customers how to effectively manage multiple heating sources in their homes.

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Jeremy Kraft, Associate Director
    Evaluators as a Partner, not an Auditor

    In our evaluation work, we come across two kinds of requests from utilities and public service commissions. The first kind is the classic summative evaluation. A program has been running for a year or two and the utility needs someone to come in and assess its performance. At the end of the day, the evaluators provide recommendations for program improvements and realization rates to apply to reported savings. The second kind is when a utility is looking for a long-term evaluation partner. Someone that can sit at the table up-front and help the program administrators understand the programs they are running before the summative “evaluation” begins.

    Recently, we’ve been playing this role with clients more frequently and the benefits are tangible. We’ve vetted savings calculation methodologies prior to approval of large custom projects and double-checked application materials against TRMs to avoid realization rate surprises. We've created process flow maps to identify implementation bottlenecks before they occur instead of identifying them retroactively via complaints from participants during a telephone survey. We've conducted web usability tests to understand how trade allies interact with a new portal before it’s launched to maximize uptake and participation with the new offering. 

    In every case, we’re using our skills as evaluators to solve problems before they occur. We still play our critical M&V role – verifying that savings are real and that programs are efficient – but we help programs run better in the meantime.

  • Posted 11.4.15 by Dave Van Holde, Managing Engineer
    The Market for Air Source Heat Pumps is Getting Hotter

    EMI Consulting’s recent study found that heating with air source heat pumps is often less expensive than with oil or electric furnaces. Heat pumps were more cost effective than oil furnaces in 40 states and more cost effective than electric furnaces in 47 states.  Although natural gas usually provides the least expensive heat source, heat pumps are often the best alternative when access to natural gas is expensive or unavailable. Heat pumps also offer a value no other heating system can provide; they act as an air conditioning system. This 2-in-1 package can avoid added costs of traditional air conditioning systems or add an additional benefit to homeowners without a current AC system.

    Meanwhile, air source heat pump technologies, efficiencies, and markets continue to improve and expand. Heat pump shipments have increased 43% since 2009, and yet they account for only 9% of residential space heating according to the Air Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute and the Energy Information Administration, respectively. From our assessment, heat pumps have substantial room for growth.

    Check out our Tech Insight or our Full Report!

  • Posted 2.18.15 by Todd Malinick, Managing Consultant
    “Build it and they will come”

    Energy efficiency program implementation is not always a Field of Dreams. We often act is if the energy efficiency programs we work with are in demand. However, the pathway to energy efficiency program participation often does not involve a customer seeking out a program – the reality is that participation in many programs occurs through contractors or trade allies. And as a matter of fact, notable proportions of customers are often not even aware they participated in a program!

    This is inherently an issue of supply and demand. Utilities work hard to develop and supply programs that are effective at reducing overall energy consumption. But often, customers are not actively demanding these same programs, so getting customers to participate can be a challenge and overall program outcomes can be sub-optimal. This is because there is often a disconnect between supply and demand, but this disconnect can be overcome. Strategic marketing and promotional campaigns can do a lot to stimulate demand if they are well thought out and appeal to the right customers, and focus on the right wants and needs. As a starting point for ensuring program designers and implementers are considering the right factors, it is important to consider two questions:

    Who is your program targeting? This is about understanding your target customer (and these are rarely all your customers). Decades of offering energy efficiency programs have shown that not all customers participate in programs. However, many customers participate repeatedly year-after-year. Thus, recruitment resources can be more efficiently spent focusing on the customers that are more likely to participate. Relatedly, one size does not fit all. Segmenting your customers and customizing messages and promotions targeted to the different segments is clearly a winning strategy. Though not common enough in the energy efficiency industry, segmentation is catching on and will most certainly be a foundational component of program designs in the future.

    What do your customers value? Determining the right messaging is not always an easy and straightforward task. Customers participate in energy efficiency programs for a widerange of reasons: to save money, to improve equipment reliability, to reduce impacts on the environment, to preserve business operations, because their friends or family recommended it, the list goes on... Customers can effectively be drawn into programs by emphasizing the value propositions that resonate with their particular wants and needs. However, programs are often developed and implemented without in-depth insights into what the prospective participants really want – or what the program can really deliver.

    Market research can help bridge the frequent chasm between supply and demand. Such research can help to develop a robust, well-informed marketing strategy that leverages customer insights to maximize the performance of energy efficiency programs. Also, in this era of the customer-oriented marketplace, working to ensure that your programs are meeting your customer wants and needs will help foster stronger customer engagement and improved customer satisfaction.

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Jess Chandler, Managing Consultant
    Your Savings May Vary with Operating Hours

    Savings from commercial lighting programs are highly dependent upon the hours of use (HOU) estimated or assumed for the lights. The HOU are either deemed or customized for the facility. Deemed HOU means that often just one number is applied to the various facility types covered in a typical commercial lighting program. However, EMI Consulting research has found that HOU varies widely across facilities and facility types and correlates well to the reported facility operating hours.

    We combined metered lighting HOU data collected from over 4,000 commercial spaces and found that annual reported operating hours for a facility were a good predictor of lighting hours of use except for special cases. In these special cases, facility contacts were able to identify spaces or lights that operated on different schedules than operating hours.  (Some of these examples are shown in the figure.)  Estimates of savings may be more consistent with actual energy savings if the type of facility, combined with the reported operating hours, are used.

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Lisa Perry, Managing Consultant
    How far can energy efficiency financing take us?

    Financing programs should be seen as a valuable complement, not replacement, for traditional utility programs.  Financing programs are one of today's fastest growing types of energy efficiency program, in part because they offer policy makers and utilities the tantalizing possibility of replacing taxpayer and ratepayer funding with private capital. This was an argument I heard applied from states as diverse as Connecticut to Ohio at the 2014 ACEEE Finance Forum.

    The challenge with the idea that financing programs can replace traditional utility programs is that financing by itself does not overcome all of the barriers that traditional utility programs target through rebates, marketing, and education. Take rebates, for example. While financing can help overcome customers’ barriers related to high first cost and lack of capital, these are not the only reasons utilities offer rebates. Rebates can be necessary when a project that is not cost-effective for an individual customer is economical for the utility. This can occur because customers make decisions about efficiency project payback based on their current energy rates, while utilities' cost-effectiveness is based on the higher marginal costs of investing in additional supply or generation. By helping align customers' payback with the value of efficiency for the utilities, rebates can be an important tool to help utilities meet demand at the lowest cost possible. Financing programs do not address the underlying differences in the economics of efficiency for customers and utilities. 

    Of course, money isn't everything. The growing field of behavioral programs is showing us just how much factors other than payback matter to customers. At least as currently designed, financing programs do not provide customers with information, education, and non-financial motivators that utility programs have found can drive efficiency. 

  • Posted 5.19.15 by Andrea Salazar, Senior Consultant
    More Data = More Savings?

    The Value of Submeter Data in Energy Information System Implementations

    In a perfect world, facilities would have time series data on every single piece of equipment as well as other sensor data (temperature, pressure, occupancy) that could be mined for energy savings opportunities, right? Maybe.

     The falling costs of computing power and data storage mean that “big data” is starting to permeate every facet of modern life. In the built environment, this data is being fed into energy information systems (EIS) - software and hardware systems that gather energy-related data, run it through an analytics engine, and present building operators with analyses that allow them to reduce energy consumption.

     EIS platforms use benchmarking, normalization, year-over-year energy usage comparisons, and anomaly detection to uncover inefficiencies that can be difficult to find otherwise. While a number of analyses enabled by these tools can be performed using just whole-building energy consumption data, the number and types of analyses that can be performed increases with more granular data.

    However, deeper metering can be expensive. One of the keys to a cost-effective EIS implementation is to strike a balance between providing highly accurate data to the analytics engine (more submeters) and keeping costs down (less submeters). Unfortunately, not much information is currently available regarding the cost-effectiveness of EIS implementations.

     In my recent research I attempted to remedy this situation. Using depth of metering, cost, and energy savings data from 27 commercial building EIS implementations, I found that with some exceptions, deeper submetering is correlated to deeper energy savings and those additional savings are achieved cost-effectively. In this case it appears that more data is mo’ betta’.

  • Posted 9.9.14 by Sean Ong, Senior Engineer
    Why it doesn’t pay to use payback for solar

    We live in a world where energy efficiency and renewable energy projects are often measured by their payback period – the number of years it would take to “pay back” the initial investment.  When shopping for an expensive energy upgrade or purchase (such as a rooftop solar system) it’s natural for consumers to wonder how long it will take to recoup the money spent.

    The reality, however, is that using the payback metric for solar is rarely appropriate and often hides its economic attractiveness. The reason is that the vast majority of rooftop solar systems today are installed using innovative financing structures such as solar leases and power purchase agreements. In several states over 80% of all residential solar installations use these third-party owned arrangements. Under these arrangements, solar customers could have zero upfront costs and realize immediate savings from the first day. That’s essentially a “zero” payback! Yet, traditional payback calculations would still indicate paybacks exceeding ten or twenty years. That’s enough to stop customers from further investigating and participating in utility or public solar programs.

    In an age when solar companies and utilities are getting into the zero-down rooftop solar business, it’s best to use the more robust breakeven calculation, which takes into account the lifetime costs and benefits (net present value.) This method answers a simple customer question: “Will I break even if I purchase this system?”  Breakeven conditions, or even a slight cost above breakeven, may be enough to motivate customers to go solar if they have a preference for clean energy.

  • Posted 6.10.15 by Michael Blonsky, Consultant
    One Storage Technology to Rule Them All?

    Short answer: Absolutely not.

     While it seems like lithium-ion batteries will continue to dominate the EV/hybrid car market, the grid energy storage market is still very much up for grabs. Finding the right technology for a particular application is complicated given the wide range of important technical factors. Peak leveling and other high use systems require excellent cyclability, power capacity and operating efficiency. Backup power systems should focus more on high storage efficiency, power capacity, and energy capacity. Grid stabilization systems should be specialized to quickly and efficiently adjust power output and switch between charging and discharging states. Grid interconnection locations greatly influence technical and economic needs for storage systems; Utility scale systems require high efficiency and long lifetimes, while distributed systems are often small, modular, and low-maintenance.

     Once the application’s important factors are defined, it is still difficult to choose from all of the possible energy storage technologies. For supply side applications, pumped hydropower and compressed air storage are the most mature solutions, but lead to environmental concerns and energy loss from transmission. Large-scale batteries like flow batteries and sodium batteries have significant technical advantages in efficiency and lifetime. A wide range of technologies is available for demand side and distributed applications, each offering something a little different. Batteries (namely Li-ion and lead acid) have many strong technical features, thermal storage is very cheap and practical for specific applications, ultracapacitors have very high power capacities, and flywheel storage is a mature solution with a long lifetime. Given such a wide variety of factors and technology options, it is likely that many energy storage systems will find their niche in the grid.