Making the Management of Energy Efficiency Programs More Efficient

By Susan Ryba

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of Public Power magazine.

Like many utilities, Waverly Light & Power used Microsoft® Excel to track its energy efficiency program details. The spreadsheet approach worked well enough until the utility’s reporting requirements became more complex.  The staff began to notice inconsistencies in data collection and work flows. After searching for a more reliable data tracking method, the utility selected the Cloud-computing solution from energyOrbit to manage its energy efficiency programs and projects.

Affiliated with Hometown Connections, energyOrbit offers public power utilities a web-based system for managing rebate programs and other conservation incentives. The energyOrbit solution streamlines the tracking of program participants, options, calculations and measures that are often isolated in individual spreadsheets on several desktops. Utilities deploy energyOrbit to automate such functions as the processing of residential and commercial program applications, the calculation of rebates for energy efficient appliances/lighting/HVAC equipment, and the reporting of conservation program results to government agencies.

Established in 1904, Iowa’s Waverly Light and Power (WLP) is a municipally-owned electric utility that serves more than 4,600 customers. The utility is committed to energy efficiency and is the recipient of numerous state and national awards. WLP’s residential energy efficiency rebate programs include incentives for LED bulbs and fixtures, solar water heaters, heat pump water heaters, air-air heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, central air, proper disposal of refrigerators and clothes washers, and Energy Star new home building certification.

“When WLP began researching web-based software packages for energy efficiency program management, we found energyOrbit provided the best solution for meeting utility and customer needs,” said Curt Atkins, Energy Services Manager.  “Currently the energyOrbit solution is utilized to streamline our internal work flow processes and reporting functions to our management and Board. The staff members using energyOrbit daily are able to view on screen current projects, remaining budget dollars, and overall goals for each of WLP’s energy efficiency programs.  With the capability of real-time data at our finger tips, I am confident the reports generated are done in a timely fashion and are accurate.” Going forward, Atkins anticipates WLP will begin to utilize energyOrbit’s ability to have customers submit their rebate applications on-line.

According to Atkins, the old ways of tracking program results were very cumbersome. “If my manager or Board requested current information, it would literally take one of my staff a day to update our program results.  With energyOrbit, any one of the authorized users can generate pretty much anything that is asked of us within a few minutes with very little work.  This feature alone is an enormous benefit to WLP.”

In addition to increasing staff productivity, energyOrbit enables a quick turnaround for rebate payments to customers.  Atkins stated, “Under our old way of doing things, rebate payments would average about a two-week turnaround once staff received the documentation.  Currently we are averaging approximately five business days on rebate payments once we receive the proper documentation from our customers.”

Atkins added, “The energyOrbit team was simply amazing to work with.  At the time of deployment, WLP faced a fairly tight time line to begin utilizing the software.  The energyOrbit staff was very receptive to WLP’s needs and understood the limitations of our size utility.  When we encountered an obstacle, energyOrbit’s team was always there to provide a solution to keep things on track.”    

Roseville Electric in California shares WLP’s commitment to providing a broad array of energy efficiency incentives. The utility processes about 6,500 rebates per year for energy efficient air conditioners, freezers, pool pumps, refrigerators, shade trees, solar systems and sunscreens. The utility serves more than 53,000 residential and business customers located in Placer County, just east of Sacramento.

Prior to deploying energyOrbit, Roseville Electric processed manually all rebate applications, calculations and payments. In most cases, multiple copies of documents were made and multiple approvals were needed to process each payment.  Martin Bailey, Roseville Electric’s Retail Energy Services supervisor, calculated that to continue on with the manual process would cost the utility nearly $1 million over the next 7 to 8 years.  “These physical rebate copies (if stacked up) would create a stack of paper almost 400 feet high,” Bailey said.  “So we save money, reduce errors (no double payments), process the applications more quickly and determine the rebate information in much less time via the energyOrbit reports.  Our goal is to process 100% of our rebate applications via the energyOrbit web portal in 2014.”

When searching for a new software package for energy program management, Roseville Electric did not want to go through a custom software process.  Martin Bailey said, “We valued that the energyOrbit solution was already developed and in use elsewhere.  In addition, we believed energyOrbit would be attentive to the needs of a mid-size utility like ours and that we would not be treated as a lower priority than larger utilities. And we were right. The great team from energyOrbit offers very timely service, and our rebates are approved and paid 40% faster with virtually no mistakes.”

Susan Ryba is a marketing consultant for Hometown Connections.

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