Energy Efficiency Measurement 2.0: An Interview with William Miller

Energy Efficiency Measurement 2.0: An Interview with William Miller

August 19, 2014

Ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs have become an important tool for meeting electricity demand and addressing climate change issues in the United States. But methods for measuring and verifying those energy savings—justifying the current expenditure of $4.8 billion annually on utility efficiency programs—can be cumbersome, expensive, and, in some areas, do not provide a high level of trust. How can evaluation, measurement and verification (EM&V) take advantage of the new era of efficiency technologies, big data, and the SmartGrid, reassuring policymakers, ratepayers, and investors, and helping move the industry toward even larger goals for investment in efficiency?

With more than 26 years working at California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), many years as the head of the energy efficiency evaluation group, and the last few years working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), William Miller is in a unique position to explore and help to resolve these questions. We caught up with Bill just before he left for Jordan on a consulting job to help further develop that country's efficiency programs. Miller is based in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD).

Q: To meet the challenges of new electricity demand, not to mention to challenges of climate change, what goals for energy efficiency are realistic and how will we meet them?

A: In 2010, investment in ratepayer-funded efficiency programs was roughly $4.8 billion, and indications suggest funding will rise to almost $10 billion and greater by 2025.

This investment translates to roughly 18.4 Terrawatt-hours saved in 2010—or about 0.5% of total retail electricity sales. We want to look at how we can get to even $100 billion spent on these programs.

What's it going to take to scale this up? Who are the audiences whose concerns we need to address so that they say "yes" to spending the additional money?

One of the concerns people have is how we measure the energy savings coming out of the programs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a number of goals to meet this particular challenge, in three main categories: improving credibility and cross jurisdiction comparability; looking at emerging issues and technologies; and building capacity using best practices.

Q: To meet these goals, what kinds of projects are you and others working on?

A: I work on a number of specific projects—most come out from the DOE's Building Technology Office. I serve on the U.S. Technical Advisory Group for energy management. That gives me a perch to be involved in the development of international energy standards, on the measurement side of that. I've helped draft several international standards arising from ISO 50001—standards for energy management systems. These are standards that increase trust for buyers. For example, if manufacturers say they are complying with these standards, buyers can have some understanding of what that means.

I just finished a project for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—a road mapping exercise for efficiency measurement standards for energy use in buildings. I co-chaired the chapter on measuring energy efficiency. This was a collaborative process with a dozen experts, and it was just published in June. Now we're looking for ways to get the word out about this roadmap, which points to lots of specific things that will help move us toward a standard.

One example of something the roadmap pointed to was a gap in the use of common language when talking about and measuring energy performance. Berkeley Lab's effort on the BEDES database is a good step forward with this. The Building Energy Data Exchange Specification (BEDES) is a working "dictionary" of terminology and definitions that provides a common data format, definitions, and an exchange protocol for building characteristics, efficiency measures, and energy use. This is helpful on so many levels. For one example, states like to compare their performance to other states. So, is California doing better or worse than Massachusetts? If they don't agree on the data input, there is no way to know.

I've also been the primary architect of a process that DOE is still pursuing—the Uniform Methods Project. The idea was that if you look at how different states measure energy efficiency savings in utility programs across the country, results differ dramatically. This is because states use different methods of measurement—was the difference due to weather? To the engineering or statistical modeling? Is it the total building square footage or conditioned space square footage? Our thought was that if we use essentially the same calculation process, we could break down what caused the difference. We could see where the difference came from.

If we move to a national climate policy, and if efficiency is going to be included, we need to have confidence in the way it is measured and reported. The Uniform Methods Project is laying out a common reference, and states are starting to pick it up including Hawaii and about a dozen other states. Iowa, for example, has three large utilities and a bunch of small co-ops. Iowa is interested in their utilities having a standard way to measure their energy progress. I am an in-house advisor to the UMP process.

Q: You have talked about the "new paradigm" of energy efficiency EM&V. What do you mean?

A: In the new paradigm, there is a change in emphasis—we can quickly look at actual data from technology (from smart meters, energy management systems, and smart technology). This is saving people money—in the past, three to five percent of a utility program budget might go for measurement, with specialists tracking down numbers and analyzing them. Now, with all the technology, costs for measurement can be negligible, and they can be built into the building control system.

We have a lot of opportunity to take advantage of this big data now, with data coming in hourly and even more frequently, and there is a lot of excitement around taking advantage of the investments in Smart Grid technologies we've made nationally that give us quick trend lines for energy use information.

This is exciting because it means that we have an opportunity do energy efficiency savings calculations faster, cheaper, and at least as accurately as we did it 10 or 20 years ago. We take advantage of new technology and data coming from it, with ways to get information that allow us to meet our objectives. I'm open to the fact that we might actually change the paradigm about what energy is and how we measure it.

Q: You have a lot of experience in real-world applications of these issues. How is the private sector working with EM&V?

A: Businesses looks at it very practically to determine if company investments were worthwhile—they do not have agendas for technologies or methods. I spoke to a manager from Walmart who said that for a while they were installing solar panels, but then they took them off and started experimenting with daylighting. In the commercial sector, they care about actual performance.

What companies say, and what is built usually into their internal standards is simple: performance now compared to performance a year ago. They spend less time constructing and arguing about baselines.

I think we'll see innovation in the private sector—there are fewer stakeholders. Decisions are made quickly, with fewer stakeholders to work with. Think about the State of California and how many stakeholders there are to satisfy.

Q: What was the biggest change for you coming from the utility side to the government side?

A: One of the biggest challenges we face is that the methods we use are hard to explain to policy makers; they use complicated calculations and sometimes require long time delays for measurement and analysis. The delay raises costs for energy efficiency, above the pure technology improvement, compared to other "clean technologies" like wind and solar. That additional cost, or "premium," that energy efficiency incurs (the extra time, expense, and uncertainty introduced by the calculations) was called the "EM&V tax." I took on this issue as a challenge to address and try to overcome.

Q: What do you most hope to accomplish in your work at Berkeley Lab and DOE?

A: I think the heartbreak of this and many other labs is how slowly the information and technologies flow into the marketplace and are adopted for common use. We have good information and methods: what I'm most interested in accomplishing is helping to accelerate this process in the realm I've been working in. The sooner all the work we're doing gets out into the utilities and public, the faster efficiency can scale up and the better we'll be on addressing climate change and reaching our goals.

Kyra Epstein