Maggie Gibbs, an account executive at Arizona Public Service, used to spend hours every month tracking the savings from the home performance with Energy Star program. The utility had to regularly report on metrics to its state regulator as part of its goal to save 22 percent of its retail sales by 2020.
It wasn’t just Gibbs who was having hours consumed by reporting requirements. Contractors that worked with the program were also frustrated with the time it took them to file all of the information the utility needed. “The administrative overhead per project was really high,” said Gibbs.
The problem is hardly unique to APS. Utilities across the U.S. are trying to ramp up energy efficiency programs to meet energy efficiency resource standards, while offering more value to customers. Handing out CFLs just doesn’t cut it anymore. But for many utilities, the program administration is locked into software that doesn’t allow for the scale or scope of what the programs are trying to achieve.
“We really needed a tool that was more dynamic,” said Gibbs. The utility put out an RFP in 2013 to find that solution. APS chose EnergySavvy, a startup that has steadily been landing deals with large utility clients that need a new energy efficiency platform. It most recently added AEP Ohio to its roster of customers.
The Seattle-based company started with an online audit tool that helped utilities target customers for their energy efficiency programs. It now offers an enterprise platform that brings the entire stakeholder chain -- from customers to contractors to the utility -- into one place.
APS needed software that offered an online audit that could be white-labeled and was easy to use. It also had to be streamlined on the backend to offer easy-to-use measurement and analytics to all stakeholders.
Many of the online audits Gibbs’ team assessed were not very user-friendly. Most people don’t know the age of their appliances and certainly don’t know where to find the serial numbers, or can’t be bothered.
EnergySavvy’s tool only took about five minutes and allowed people to simply choose “I don’t know” as an option, which made it easier to complete. The completion rate for the online audit tool is now over 90 percent, “significantly higher” than it was before, said Gibbs.
With EnergySavvy’s platform, customers can then be segmented into more specific actions. Not everyone is pushed toward a whole-home retrofit -- which costs the customer $99 while APS picks up the other $300.
“We can take these hot leads and touch them at a very specific point,” said Gibbs, whether that’s a refrigerator recycling program or a duct test and repair program. The utility has also been able to integrate the platform into its call center as part of its high bill strategy.
Behind the scenes, contractors reported being 70 percent more satisfied with the new system. Most importantly, there was a 66 percent reduction in time needed to produce reports for APS. The cost and administrative time was cut in half to review and approve projects.
Customers can also log in and see the status of their projects, which gives visibility that was not there before. Gibbs and her team can also check on projects that are overdue, rather than waiting weeks and possibly months to find out things are off track. The workflow has improved tremendously, with customers being offered more tailored programs, although hurdles remain. Gibbs said that the rate of customers that get a full home audit and then follow through with the recommendations has not changed substantially.
When it comes to many of the deeper retrofits, some customers may start with APS but then take their business elsewhere because of the time it can take to complete a utility program, given the reporting burden.
The primary barrier to deep home retrofits, however, is project cost for most APS customers. APS is partnered with the National Bank of Arizona, but is investigating the more novel financing mechanisms that are proliferating, such as on-bill financing and property-assessed clean energy (PACE) programs. For utilities, most changes to energy efficiency programs must be approved by a regulator.
In California, for instance, $500 million in residential PACE in 2014 was more than double the volume of the statewide Energy Upgrade California Home Upgrade program, according to Matt Golden, a principal with Efficiency.org.
For EnergySavvy, which has said that 2015 will be a big year for partnerships, the next step could be to look beyond just efficiency partners such as Opower. Once utilities have upgraded and slashed their own costs to run programs, the next horizon is to help homeowners afford more comprehensive projects that the utility can help deliver.