Monthly Archives: May 2016

CEEIC Spring Educational Symposium

By Kara Downey

As a member of Opinion Dynamics’ Data Science Group, my work focuses on non-traditional projects with non-traditional data.  Attending the California Energy Efficiency Industry Council’s (CEEIC) one-day symposium, held May 3 in Berkeley, provided a timely update on the challenges and issues regarding the integration of EE and DR into California’s distributed energy future.

Kara Downey, Energy Data Scientist

Kara Downey, Energy Data Scientist

About 150 professionals were in attendance including a contingent from Opinion Dynamics: Meg Matt, Executive Vice President (and CEEIC board member), Managing Director Hannah Arnold and Sharyn Barata, Senior Vice President, Industry Engagement.

The speakers included representatives from California utilities, grid operators, regulators, implementers and evaluators. I heard two clear themes emerge: variability in the grid is only going to grow; and flexibility in program design, implementation, and evaluation will be critical to successfully meet this challenge. The growth of solar and other distributed resources among utility customers, the appearance of new strains on the grid (hello, electric cars!), and the expansion of advanced metering infrastructure and the wealth of data it provides, all contribute to the changes to the energy efficiency landscape.

This exceptional event was a full-blown course on distributed energy resources and how they interact with demand response and energy efficiency programs. I was fully engaged in the presentations, as evidenced by my 14 pages of notes!  A few of the symposium’s highlights included:

  • How does DER affect grid stability, and how using demand response programs to increase, as well as decrease load at certain times, may addressed these challenges
  • Experiments in using energy efficiency as a grid resource
  • Customer perspectives on participating in DR programs
  • An incredibly helpful overview of the myriad policies and proceedings that affect DER, DR, and EE programs in California

The symposium closed with a keynote from Ed Randolph, Director of the CPUC Energy Division, who had just returned from the New Orleans Jazz Festival. His clever and informative presentation used jazz as a metaphor for California’s energy future. Citing the growth of renewables and increasing climate variability, he said (with the right set of “instruments”) an orchestra of demand response and energy efficiency programs—can result in a beautiful piece of music.

The Opinion Dynamics team left the symposium invigorated to continue our work delivering all the right “notes” to our clients.

Zero Net Energy: What it is and the Evaluation Challenges It Presents

By Isabelle Gecils

Imagine a future where buildings produce as much energy as they consume. Tenants of these buildings cannot only save on energy costs, but also boast how they are reducing their carbon footprint. Welcome to the world of zero net energy (ZNE) buildings.

The latest energy consumption values associated with commercial buildings support the need for a new approach to reduce energy usage. Total electricity consumption in commercial buildings has almost doubled in a little over 30 years. While the industry has focused on energy efficiency—and that has reduced consumption significantly–the fact remains that new types of electronic equipment, and more need to use existing electronic equipment, has led to significant increases in actual usage. Couple this with the greater need for cuts in fossil fuel usage (to address climate change), and many believe that energy efficiency needs a partner.

ZNE buildings seek to marry energy efficiency with renewable energy resources to both reduce energy usage and reduce the carbon footprint associated with a building.

In its simplest definition, a zero net energy building is one that is optimally efficient and, over the course of a year, generates energy onsite by using clean renewable resources in the same proportion to the amount the building consumes.

zne image

The concept of ZNE buildings, and even the definition of ZNE, is still in somewhat of an infancy stage. Defining ZNE is crucial so that implementers, designers and evaluators can develop successful strategies to achieve and measure success. Some of the key questions ZNE advocates are currently wrestling with include:

  • How do you define energy? There are several definitions for ZNE based on how the energy use accounting is done – site energy, source energy, energy cost, carbon emissions or in the case of California, the Time Dependent Valuation (TDV) metric. In addition, one must consider what whether the focus should be on electricity only, or include natural gas and other energy sources.
  • Do renewables need to be onsite? ZNE pioneers assumed that renewables, often PV, would be placed on site. However, some facilities, especially multi-story commercial buildings, have limited space to allow for PV arrays to meet all their energy needs. There is not a consensus yet whether a building that may source renewables from a distant PV plan would qualify for ZNE. There is also a lack of consensus on the list of clean technologies that qualify beyond PV.
  • When does the clock start ticking? Unlike other energy savings and demand reduction targets that heavily rely on modeling and assumptions, ZNE requires an actual confirmation that renewables have met the building’s energy consumption for a given amount of time – typically measured on the first 12 months of occupancy. However, during its first year, the building may not have reached full occupancy. Conversely, a commercial facility may open its doors for after-hours classes that increase load. Anomalous weather years may also influence energy consumption. In that case, can a ZNE building’s goals be accurately verified each year? If not, will evaluators adjust actual data to reflect expected future changes?

The industry is currently debating these questions, and Opinion Dynamics is leading two seminal efforts to provide more context to the discussion:

  • The ZNE State Agency Decision Maker study looks at the challenges local and state governments face to meet ZNE goals. An Executive Order by the governor of California mandates that state agencies shall take measures toward achieving ZNE for 50% of the square footage of existing state-owned buildings by 2025. Despite its focus on existing government facilities, the ability to break down barriers to allow existing buildings to be retrofitted to meet ZNE standards has wide-ranging implications that go beyond government facilities. Our work will provide insights on how decision-makers plan to meet this Executive Order.
  • The CEC ZNE Community Study is one of the first studies that looks at a community of 50 ZNE homes. Opinion Dynamics will assess the trade-offs and rankings homebuyers make in their decision to purchase an energy efficient home, and how they perceive the effectiveness of the ZNE label. Once residents have occupied their homes, we will assess how their behavior affects their ZNE status

We look forward to sharing our results in the future.