Guideline For Retrieving Customer Usage Data From Utilities (Text Version)
Curtis: program lead with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, SWEEP. We're based in Boulder, Colorado and are a nonprofit, public interest organization promoting greater energy efficiency in the Southwest and are part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Recovery Act Technical Assistance Provider Network.
I'll be serving as a moderator for today's presentation on Guidelines for Retrieving Customer Usage Data from Utilities. Our speaker for today's presentation is Keith Freischlag, also with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Keith is Senior Associate for Utility Programs working to assist in the development, analysis and promotion of effective energy efficiency and load management programs.
Of particular note related to today's webinar is that Keith recently came to SWEEP having worked over 13 years for the utility industry in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. His perspective on today's webinar comes from years of experience in the private utilities sector. Keith also developed and worked with a number of gas and electric utility collaborative groups in the Northeast to provide stakeholder communication, develop program best practices and promote inductive program design. Additional areas of focus include the development of statewide data tracking systems, contractor development, utilities sub metering and stakeholder outreach and education.
Let's go over the agenda today. Keith, can you - there you go. I'll give a short intro on the Technical Assistance Program for those not aware of our services. And then we'll spend the bulk of our time - Danielle, you might need to go on mute if you don't mind.
Danielle: That must be pretty good.
I'm on mute. That's not me.
Curtis: Oh, okay. Leslie? Anyway.
Leslie: Are we having issues?
Curtis: I wasn't quite sure. I was hearing somebody in the background.
Keith: Let's just move along.
Curtis: Okay. I'll give a short intro in the Technical Assistance Program and we'll then have a discussion. These are our agenda items for today. We'll discuss on identifying utility stakeholders. And, of course, that's very important. Finding out who you talk to at the utility.
Here in Colorado the primary electric and gas provider is Xcel Energy. They're based in Minnesota and they have a service territory in eight states providing electricity to 3.4 million customers and 1.9 million customers for gas. And they have over 12,000 employees and revenues of $9 billion a year.
So, the question is where do you start? And Keith and I did a test and we called Xcel for utility data last week and I must say after 20Â minutes of being transferred we finally got to the fact that they couldn't provide that information to us. So, we realized what all of you are going through.
So this is a very important exercise as you gather data. It's the entry door into the future utility relationships. So, we'll be talking about that, discussion of procuring customer usage suggestions to streamline data collection processes and finally, an overview of data reporting requirements.
We'll also then go to questions and answers, so we'll be leaving 15Â minutes for your questions. Also, on the line to answer questions is Jules Fishelman. He is the IT manager with the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation and in his role he oversees the development of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation's tracking systems which support the organization's delivery of energy efficiency programs in Vermont and Ohio, which is expected to include the import of utilities data from over 70 investor owned and municipal utilities by the end of 2011.
Finally, on the line is Danielle Byrnett. She is with DOE. She's the Better Buildings Program Manager in D.C. and she tells me this crowd knows who she is so I'll leave that introduction there.
If you'll turn the next slide, Keith. The webinar will work like this. Everyone's muted, of course, except the four of us. I will go through the presentation, about 30 or 45 minutes, and we're gonna leave questions at the end. You don't have to wait to answer your question till the end so if you have a question, go ahead and put it in the question box. It's on the right-hand corner. It's the orange arrow which by clicking it you'll go in and out. The blue button is just to get full screen and type questions in the question box. When you are recognized, if you want to speak we can unmute you if you raise your hand with that function.
Our last slide we'll be taking a poll after questions to get an idea on future areas of interest related to this topic so we will need everyone's input at that time. Or, as a listener you'll receive a questionnaire evaluation when the webinar is over and we appreciate any comments that you might give us there.
So with that, what is the Technical Assistance Program? It's over 200 helping hands represented through several dozen organizations. Through TAP, DOE has launched an effort to assist SEP and the EECBG Grantees and sub recipients and, of course, Better Building sub recipients who most of you are. And you're eligible to receive the free direct assistance from these technical experts.
I know here in the Southwest at our organization we receive questions from states and municipalities on a wide variety of requests from assistance with state and local building codes to finding example RFPs for someone to imaging equipment. We're working on a county electric vehicle study and we support industrial program work and we're being asked questions like how to wean businesses off of energy efficiency rebates and incentives while maintaining high participation rates. Or, another question we've received is how to overcome issues of split incentives in both residential and commercial properties where landlords and tenants both lack the financial motivation to invest in energy efficiency measures.
And the questions go on and on. So, the key is asking. What's really important is the one-on-one assistance that you are able to receive. Although we do have some peer exchange meetings coming up soon across the country, and that's an effort to hear from you and your peers what's working and what's not. The first one is JanuaryÂ 19 in Los Angeles so we're piggybacking off the National Association of Counties 2011 Forum on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy that'll be held the 20th and 21st in Studio City, California.
A limited number of travel scholarships are available for those peer meetings for recipients so let us know if you're interested in attending the one in your state or your region.
So, in a nutshell, TAP has five teams offering a diverse set of skills related to program development and implementation as you can see from the summary list. Your questions can be assigned to any one of the several teams: the financing team, performance contracting team, regional coordinators and even the national laboratories.
SWEEP is part of Team 4 which is the program implementation team and is represented by these regional and national organizations. I'll show you this again at the end of the program with contacts so you'll know where to go for further information.
And that's the key to TAP: brokering and providing information and research to help you get the job done.
So, with that, on to our subject today. Keith, take it away.
Keith: Hi, and thanks for joining our webinar. The focus of this webinar is really to help the Grantees obtain data from utilities and to address a few of the issues. To start out with, we're recommending that Grantees develop a plan basically putting the data requests into writing and being very clear about what is being asked of the utilities and getting utility buy-in on what information is being asked by the Grantee.
So, again, just to go over this little quickly here. The idea is before you get started put a plan together. Identify what information you're looking for. Identify, as far as DOE is concerned, they really want to see 12 months of data, customer usage data, before serving the customer and then post completion, after serving the customer.
This information is being used for a number of purposes and we can talk about that a little bit later as we progress into this webinar. But you want to be real clear what information you need from the utility. You want to identify how you're gonna access the option. There are a number of different options that we'll talk about in this webinar that are web based, that are involved with getting a hold of extracts of utility databases down to specific requests to customer service for individual customer data.
You want to outline what type of data format you want from the utility. Grantees are gonna be required to store this data in an interim period prior to the completion of a database system. So it's real clear we would suggest an Excel format to start out with but a Grantee is really gonna want to be clear to the utility how would you like to receive this data from the utility.
You're gonna want to identify utility contact and a Grantee contact responsible for data reporting. While initial conversations might be made with whole stakeholder groups from the utility or even from the Grantee, it really makes a lot of sense to have one person responsible to contact the utility and one person at the Grantee responsible for collecting data.
You're gonna want to outline customer data privacy and lease requirements. Customer privacy is a very key issue right now with utilities and they're gonna want to make sure that they know where this data is gonna go. On your end you're gonna need to be able to agree with the utility on how this data gets handled, who is responsible for managing the data, who has access to actually see this data and to be clear that the data is not to be sold or reused for inappropriate purposes.
You're gonna want to identify DSM opportunities. It really makes a lot of sense for a utility that does have DSM programs to try to work together with Grantees in the Better Building program. If there are opportunities to leverage DSM funding that might exist, not only will it help stretch your dollars more and get more work done, but it'll also help to build that relationship with the utility and that's really what a lot of this is about. Is building a relationship with the utility and by building that relationship you'll be able to get the data, hopefully, it'll improve that ability to get that data and it'll give a reason for the utility to want to give you the data. If you're working together on the DSM side, there's a little bit better partnership approach.
Again, your plan will want to outline how the data's gonna be stored and you're gonna want to maintain data integrity and customer privacy. You're gonna receive reports from the utility. You're gonna have to determine how are we gonna store this.
And this should be in the plan. The utilities should be clear and communicated on this fact of what you're planning to do with the data, how you're gonna store it, what system it's gonna be put in.
And lastly, you'll identify any parties that will have access to the data. Utilities again are very concerned about customer privacy and while a lot of this data really consists of usage information, maybe an account number, a customer name and address, they want to make sure that nothing is gonna be done with this information. That's it's not gonna be sold to financial institutes. That it's gonna be protected. And that's a very key issue.
You're gonna provide your, again, your local utility an opportunity to apply DSM funding. Again, this partnership approach, good idea. It's gonna help stretch your program dollars further. It's gonna help build a better relationship with the utility. You're gonna actually be a partner in the DSM program if it's possible.
As part of that you're gonna have to identify what the utility DSM processes are. How do customers get assigned? How do you approve jobs? How do you invoice and report data? How do you do quality assurance? Are there quality assurance requirements that a utility might have?
These are things that you'll have to figure out in working and talking with the utility that you'll want to put into the plan to be clear on processes. And in addition to going along with that is determining a budget. If there is a utility DSM program that you can leverage, you certainly want to identify funding. Is there a funding limit? How does that funding limit get earmarked from a utility? And how does that information get tracked by the utility?
And, again, this is a great partnership opportunity between the utility and the Better Building program. Certainly it's gonna make life a little bit easier if you guys can all work together.
Another suggestion is to identify other DSM efforts in your jurisdiction, whether there's other era funding, state funding, municipal funding, federal funding. It does make a lot of sense to leverage these other funding sources. Again, to get more work done on your program. It's gonna improve the effectiveness of the program and the overall impact of the program.
And, again, these sources might have data reporting requirements that go along with them as well and again we suggest the same thing is to include that as part of the plan. To be very clear on how that works so that there is an expectation that is met through the program.
As I mentioned, you know, this similar data project reporting invoicing approval process would apply for other DSM areas as well.
Let's move on a little bit to customer data options. So, as you put this plan together and work with the utility, there's really three options on getting data from a utility. The good option is a direct data transfer. And what this means is a customer service rep is going to talk, your Grantee is gonna talk to a utility person, either a customer service rep or somebody in billing and they're either gonna email facts or maybe even snail mail, the 12-month customer data you've requested. And so that's good. That's a start.
A better preferred approach is to really get the data through a web-based portal. As part of the plan to identifying options with your utility to get your utility to allow the Grantee access to a web-based portal. A lot of the larger, investor-owned utilities have web-based systems where they allow their customers to go in and manage their account, to actually look at data, look at consumption, compare it to historical consumption, do all sorts of things. Pay bills even.
It's been our experience that utilities are able to give third parties access to partial information. So, if the utility would like to give you access to customer name, account number and data, they can do that without releasing too much private information about the customer. You're not gonna look into credit history or billing history or anything that they might consider private. They might even limit access to the customer phone number and, hopefully, as a customer of the Grantee you would already have the basic information.
So, again, the web portal would be a better approach and one of the things that makes this a better approach is that the Grantee has direct control over data requests. When you need data for a particular customer, it may be crunch time. You may need this information very quickly in order to report the data in a timely manner.
Part of the DOE report requires that Grantees show the percent reduction from their project in the utility use so there's a direct line that says in the report format that a lot of you have seen how much energy did you save, 25? 35? 45? 50 percent energy consumption? So, you need this information to report. Sometimes you might need it quickly and by having access to web-based portal your staff can do that themselves and do that in a rather quick manner however they need the data.
The best process for getting customer data is a database extract. I'll give you a couple of examples of this but this would be where you would work with the utility, particularly utilities that have IT departments. The IT department would do a quarterly extract of their database and that extract would show customer ID and 12 months of usage history for pretty much all of their residential customers.
Now, it's a little bit more complicated approach because it requires that the Grantee has some system to store and manage this extract. You would need to have a database and you would need to have someone that was savvy in running the database to run queries to be able to pull this information out. So, while it is a little bit more technically inclined, it allows you to have all the data right at your fingertips and in your own system. And if you're able to do that and you're able to have the expertise to manage that data, this is definitely a preferred system.
Now, let's get started out with meeting the utility. You've developed the plan. You've seen a couple different options for how to get the data or what types of data are out there. You really want to get started by working with the utility to get this kicked off and as Curtis mentioned earlier, that's not always so easy.
It's sometimes difficult to find the right utility contact. And I think that may be an area where a lot of Grantees are gonna see some frustration in getting transferred to different departments, different people, getting the runaround, not getting calls back. Those are all signs of not being in contact with the right stakeholder.
And so how do you find the right stakeholder? Well, one suggestion is to go through the state public utility commission. Either by contacting them and asking them for assistance in identifying the right stakeholder. Or by reviewing filings and other documents that are on PUC sites to identify the right folks.
Another suggestion is to work with the consumer advocate to identify the right utility contact. A lot of consumer advocates actually work under the state public utility commission. They're very helpful because they usually have a pretty good history in working directly with the utilities and might know a specific person to send you. Either, typically, you're gonna want to go to the customer service group, a billing group or an IT group. Sometimes maybe a business development group can assist in that area as well.
And do identifying those folks and getting a couple different options of managers or directors to talk with to get this started is a good suggestion.
Another are for this information might be a utility website or utility annual report. If it's an investor-owned utility, usually the annual report will list officers and directors and you'll be able to glean this information from a report. If it's a municipal, a lot of that information's on the website and is easily obtained. And don't be afraid of starting higher up the food chain. If you've gotta start higher up and ask for assistance, it's probably a better suggestion as you won't get transferred around in circles.
Written requests to a utility for specific contact information. If you are having a hard time getting to the right person, the idea of drafting a letter and asking for a contact, providing background on your project might work out pretty well, too. Be pretty well clear on the request.
And a last approach to getting the right utility contact might be to collaborate with other local groups and that would be a community action agency or welfare office or state energy office. Again, having history in dealing with utilities, these folks might have experience in dealing with contacts that are very helpful in utility and might help get the data more easily.
As we're going along, again, it's sometimes very confusing on how to actually find the right person. This is actually a slide that talks about some suggestions. Again, we'll go over them real quickly here.
If you're having problems getting through to the right person, what do you do? If you're having problems with data, one of the suggestions is to figure out who do you contact. You may be dealing with someone that's at a entry level position to get the data, a customer service representative, a billing analyst.
If there's a problem and the information is not coming in a timely manner, you're really gonna want to figure out what do you do with that information?
I'm gonna talk a little bit, I'm gonna skip over a little bit of this here. I think we've talked a little bit about this.
Next up with the utility is really setting up a meeting with the utility stakeholders. Once you've identified who you really need to talk to, and again a lot of this might seem common sense and again forgive me if I'm going over the basics but it's kind of how utilities work is you really want to make sure you're doing a face-to-face meeting. You're gonna get better attention. You're gonna get better service level if you've been able to meet face to face to establish a relationship. They're gonna know who you are, they're gonna know what you're looking for. They're gonna be more willing to work with you if you had that face-to-face meeting.
Again, you're gonna review with the utility your plan and you're gonna modify your plan as needed. You're gonna let â€˜em know your specific data fields that are needed for this particular program and you're gonna reassure them that this information is gonna be secure and that you're really not gonna have access to a lot of top secret customer information or information that can be very harmful. It's really just some basic information fields.
Again, you're gonna be talking with a management level stakeholder group to get them to agree to work with you on this project. And what you're gonna want to ask for is a specific point of contact so that on a day-to-day basis for making these requests, if you have to make a request via email or phone you're gonna want a point of contact.
If you have access to a web-based portal you're gonna want to have a contact in case you have a problem. If you get access and the utility agrees to give you a database extract, you're gonna want to have a contact in IT so that they're gonna send you quarterly updates so that this information is relatively fresh. You don't want to get one extract and then run all year long with information that can be outdated. You may have new customers. You may have discontinued customers. You really want to update that data quarterly anyways.
If you are making requests via email or phone, you really want to determine with the utility their preference for how these requests get fulfilled. A lot of times if they get single requests and you might have one residential customer that you need the data for, they might say let's batch these. Come to us with larger requests of 10, 15, 20 customers and we'll take care of this but it's gonna eat up too much time if you call us every day asking for data for a particular customer.
So talk about that, ask them what their preference is and ask them what a reasonable turnaround time is for these requests. You're gonna want to set an expectation and be on the same page. If your Grantee or your staff might think, "I need this within a day," and the utility might say, "Our turnaround's a week on this," you're gonna have a problem so be on the same page by identifying what the turnaround time is.
Again, Grantees should coordinate with their staff and contractors to comply with the terms of the plan that you put together. If you've agreed to have a certain turnaround time, you want to make sure that your staff and/or contractors - I mention contractors because some Grantees may prefer to bring in an outside contractor to handle this. It's an option and I include it in there as well.
You're gonna want to again - and this is very important which is why I mention it a second time - determine where the data will be stored in this interim period. In the long run, Q1 2011, the DOE database will be ready and there will be a data import feature in that database. I think Danielle can talk a little bit about this later but in the interim period you still have to put the data someplace. And this can be a very simple storage area, whether it's an Excel file. It doesn't have to be too complicated but it should be clear on where you're gonna put that data.
Again, this is a big issue of what to do with missing or faulty data. I have that question because having run programs for years and pulling data where you have missing months of data, maybe somebody goes on vacation. Maybe you have change in use data where in-laws come and visit a particular customer of yours that is working in the program.
What we've talked with DOE about is that that's okay. You're gonna get irregularities in particular data. They're not really requiring you to screen that data a lot. We'll talk about some screening opportunities down the line but it's really not something to worry about too much right now. You're just required to collect the data and report it.
Identify process for transferring data to contractors if needed for use in energy modeling tools or quality assurance inspections. And what I mean by that is some Grantees will be using contractors who might use a modeling software like TREAT or eQUEST to identify energy savings on their projects. That is a field that is in the reporting tool of how you estimated the savings, whether it's prescriptive savings, an estimated. Or whether it's engineered savings from a tool like this.
In order to get the data in the tool if you're gonna do bill matching in a tool like TREAT, you're gonna have to upload that data. You're gonna have to send it to a contractor. It makes sense to spend some time to figure out how that's gonna work so that once you implement your plan and implement your projects things work step in step. But it's certainly an area where you want to think about how the data's gonna flow and to make sure your contractors are prepared to handle the data.
You're gonna develop a process for retrieving post completion data. DOE is requiring that 12 months of post completion data gets collected and it's a timing question on the Grantee's part of when they request that data and again they're gonna store that data and how that gets reported. So don't forget you've also gotta get 12 months of post data.
And then you're gonna want to archive all the data. Here's a problem right here that happens is computers crash, systems crash, servers crash. It makes a lot of sense to archive this data so that if you have an interim period between collecting the data and reporting the data you have someplace to go to pull this up.
Actually, while we're on the plan I want to make a couple more suggestions. In talking with the DOE one of the suggestions that we came up with was perhaps using this information to screen customer participants. And what I mean by that is there's some very simple tools out there to look at energy use per square footage and why that's helpful is because if you want to have a high performance program you want to make sure folks that participate in the program have a need. They have a house that needs to be weatherized. They have a problem that needs to be addressed.
And so there's a thought of using some of this data for areas like customer screening. So, if you have data like that think about ideas that you might be able to use that data to help improve program performance.
You also might be able to use this data for quality control. While I'm not real clear on the quality control procedures in a particular program, having worked with contractors for many, many years having that usage data as part of a quality assurance program is certainly a best practice in a program and certainly something you ought to think about.
Let's talk about problem resolution. Inevitably you're gonna have problems that exist one way or another and just wanted to talk briefly about some ideas on how to address and resolve those problems.
First suggestion. Again, it may be common sense. I have to apologize if it is but don't be afraid to meet with your stakeholders. And this will be your management team at your utility. If there's a real problem and it's systematic and it's repetitive, don't feel bad to pick up your plan, meet with your utility contacts, review the plan and discuss this.
If it's a serious problem and you're really not getting attention or you're not getting reports on a regular basis or there's a real contagious issue, consider a couple of different approaches to take it to the next level. Not something I would really suggest but it is an idea. If a utility tells you to pound sand right off the bat, think about going up the food chain either internally at the utility or through a regulatory or consumer advocate approach.
Again, meet in person to resolve key problems. Face-to-face meetings are always very productive. They help to build that relationship and really would really suggest that.
Schedule occasional conference calls just to check in. It doesn't hurt to have a 15-minute call on a quarterly basis just to talk about what's working and what doesn't work. Recognize utility efforts to share customer data. If you've gotta put an op-ed piece out in the local newspaper to thank the utilities, that's gonna help your relationship.
Whether it's an external or internal communication, in working with your utility stakeholders make sure you're gonna recognize what's working and what's not working. Don't just talk negative and complain but recognize them for their commitment to helping this data communication stay on track. That's a very helpful and desirable behavior.
Let's talk about data characteristics real quick here. Again, we're talking about customer name, address, possibly an account number, possibly a customer rate class if it's available. You're talking about monthly usage information for 12 months. They basically are gonna look for heating consumption data and cooling data but you're gonna need it for electric and you're gonna need it for gas as well. And again, this is for both prior to the project and post project completion.
Optional information. I put down here cost per KWH or therm. A lot of the tools that contractors use in weatherization services, that's helpful information in being able to evaluate a particular project in the field. In a screening tool like TREAT you're gonna look at a savings to investment ratio. That's what the tool produces. In order to develop savings to investment ratio you need a cost per KWH or therm so you might need that or be able to agree with a number to be able to give your contractors. So think about that.
Customer payment information or credit information, you really don't need that. In fact, I would really advise that you don't touch that because that is really information that is really a little bit more customer privacy related. The utility wants to secure that.
Demographic information on the customer. That might be helpful in going out to serve customers. The utility might have some information about this whether it's being able to identify the customer on a low income rate or a particular housing type, they might have some information they can share. It's worth discussing.
As I mentioned, again, customer account numbers. That helps the Grantee keep apples to apples. It can get confusing at times, in particular demographics with data where the customer name may be confusing. You may have a call from one customer but the utility doesn't recognize that particular name at that address. Having an account number clarifies that. You know without a shadow of a doubt you have the right person when you're looking at that address and looking for that particular data.
So there will be a little bit of fogginess on that where you might talk to a homeowner whose name isn't on the account who might have a different last name. Be prepared for that.
Again, customer phone numbers or billing address. You should pretty much already have this information. Sorry about this. It's really not something you're gonna need to collect from the utility and, again, the utility might not want to share that either so be prepared for that.
A little bit more about data requirements. DOE data reporting requirements as we mentioned 12 months consumption history before the project and after the project.
Interim data reporting process in place with Excel based form. What this means, you've seen this. I've got an email with the form. It's not an easy form. There's a lot of data points that they're looking to collect. This customer data is just one piece and again it's focused on percent savings over the project.
And, I mentioned here, the DOE data storage tool that's in development. We've been told that that's gonna be complete Q1 2011. It's an Oracle based tool. It's gonna help you actually store this customer usage data. It's gonna help you report the rest of your data. The tool is gonna be able to take care of a lot of these data storage and management needs that you have right now. So, hopefully this will improve life.
Let's talk about available options. You might find yourself in a situation where your staff might have difficulty in dealing with this customer data business. Or maybe you're having a difficult time dealing with your utility and these suggestions really haven't helped you out. There are a few contractors out there nationally that have a lot of experience dealing directly with utilities. In many cases the utilities currently have contacts with them.
Take, for example, Energy Federation, EFI. EFI processes rebates in a number of different programs across the country from lighting to appliances to gas HVAC rebates. They have pretty good IT staff there that are very capable of receiving database extracts from the utility and being able to manage that. Being able to provide you with reporting and to kind of take care of your DOE reporting.
So, again, consider that as an option if you're really having problems with data. There may be some solutions out there and we can certainly talk about this going forward. I've had a great experience personally in dealing with some of these contractors. They've done a job that utilities would have had a very difficult time in actually implementing some of the programs and, again, they're a good resource to have out there.
I'm gonna bring Curtis back in here to talk about accessing TAP resources and about perhaps asking for additional assistance in this subject going forward.
Curtis: Thanks, Keith. Before we go to questions I would like to again highlight the Technical Assistance Program and how to seek further information. And there's your first step. It's the solution center and this is where you went to log in today. You're familiar with this so we go to ask questions and find information. It's ground zero. Next.
Again, these are the organizations from Team 4 and our service territories and all of these organizations as nonprofit, public-interest organizations, including the American Council for Energy Efficiency Economy and Natural Resource Defense Council, have staff on board that have utility expertise. I now here it's SWEEP and utilities are our primary customers, clientele. We work mainly with IOUs as an organization. So, these groups are great.
So this next slide here, again, will highlight your points of contact for the area that you might be in under the various service territories of the nonprofits.
So, with that, let's take the remaining 15, 20 minutes and go to questions and again it's that orange arrow to the right of your screen. And as a reminder, Jules is with us and Danielle with DOE and so we're gonna open it up here for questions and then we'll conclude with our poll and that'll be our presentation.
So, Keith, now you have the box with the questions in them.
Keith: Okay. I'm trying to sort through. I've got a whole list of questions here. Let's get this and start from the first point. Will this PowerPoint be posted somewhere? Thanks.
Curtis, you'll probably best answer that.
Curtis: Yeah. It'll be on the solutions center website in a few days and both slides and verbal recording of the presentation will be written out there.
Danielle: And this is Danielle. We'll put it on the Google Groups tomorrow for folks in Better Building.
Keith: Okay. We've got another question. What is DSM? Sorry if I jumped over those terms. DSM is demand site management. It's an acronym that's used in the utility industry to represent energy efficiency programs that are offered from the utility. These are quite usually programs that are funded by systems benefit charge. They're funded by customers to go out and save electricity, gas and sometimes other fossil fuels and so again if you're gonna talk with the utility you might want to ask about DSM so you can speak the speak. But DSM is demand site management.
This next question is a long one. I'll read it out to you actually. Do organizations like Earth Aid collect the information from individual consumers' online utility profiles, user names and passwords, and then scrape the utility data from the Internet to track customer usage, need to have an agreement in place with the respect of utilities or is the consumer's authorization sufficient to allow full access to that data?
There's a couple of different parts to this particular question. Usually when you're talking about companies that are scraping utility data, it's usually coming from a web-based portal. And that's kind of the good, better, best. It's the better part of that that we talked about a little bit earlier.
In order to get access to that you need a password. Your password's protected and you need to ask the utility to get login and access level. So, you still need utility approval to get access to that particular tool. You wouldn't necessarily need customer approval. You'd need the utility approval.
And this actually addresses a bit of a question there because some utilities use customer release forms and they require a customer release form for every project. That's usually if you're a customer calling a utility asking for information.
If you're a contractor, that's almost unheard of. Most contractors that are any decent size work directly with the utility and usually get a utility database extract and in order to do that they usually put together a plan, an agreement, and they sign a contract often that's disclosure that outlines how this information is to be handled and disclosed.
So, again, it's tough to answer. Whether Earth Aid has any kind of authorization or not, we can just look at the existing systems in place that are offered by utilities and talk about what the utility rules are for those systems. So, I think that probably would answer that first part.
And then the second part of the question: any potential legal or privacy issues there? Does a third party have to comply with certain data security storage requirements? And yeah, there are legal and privacy issues related to customer data.
Usually utilities limit the data that's provided to contractors or anybody else looking for this information. They're just gonna minimize it to address, consumption history, maybe an account number. Minimal information. And the reason they do that is to avoid any potential privacy issues or legal issues. So I hope that answers the question.
But, again, just to talk about this, you may get pushback from the utility who may ask you to fill out an individual request and have a customer sign the request for every project. That's a little painful process. And, again, I would certainly suggest trying to work around that because it's gonna save you a lot of time.
If you're a small Grantee and you only have a few projects, it might not be so bad. But for larger Grantees that nigh have a larger number of projects that they're responsible for, that's gonna take a lot of time to go through that process. I would certainly offer to sign a contract with the utility to make sure the data's protected and get the utility to share minor customer data information.
Again, sorry. DSM. Don't know what that stands for. Again, demand site management. That equates energy efficiency programs. And again each utility has a whole series of programs that they offer whether they're gas or electric that range from low income weatherization programs to non- low income weatherization programs, lighting retrofit programs. You really gotta take a look at your local utility. This information's usually available either at the Public Utility Commission or on the utility's website. They usually promote the programs.
But, for example, if a utility offers a lighting program and wants to provide free CFLs to their customers, you can leverage that as part of your weatherization, save more energy and get more work done. So, really identify which programs they offer and again you're gonna have to determine whether they fit to the Better Buildings program for what you are responsible for.
Curtis: Let me just mention this, Keith. Electric and gas utilities nationwide are spending over $5 billion per year on energy efficiency and load management DSM programs. And this amount is growing by around 20 percent per year in recent years.
At the same time many states are adopting energy saving goals and requirements and this is forcing these utilities to look for innovative strategies, new programs and new partners in order to maximize the energy savings they achieve. So, they're looking for you.
Utilities definitely can be a significant funder of some of your efforts leveraging their resources at the local level and in the post ARRA era if the issues and barriers listed can be addressed. So, I thought I'd just mention that. They are definitely resources to tap now and hopefully well into the future.
Keith: Very good. There is a question here about the recording of the webinar. You might be able to answer that, Curtis.
Curtis: Well, again, we are recording. We'll have transcripts of it and Danielle mentioned that it'll be on their Google website tomorrow and it'll be on the solution center. How you logged in today. You go back to the solution center in a few days and we'll have it there for you also.
Keith: Next question, do you have any suggestions for working with utilities that are resistant to releasing data at all? And that is something that a lot of the Grantees are probably gonna run into.
Depending on who they ask. And that's part of the key to answering that question. If you call customer service and you talk to them, you're gonna get a lot of flack. They're not gonna want to release data. They're gonna be difficult to work with.
That's why I suggest going up the food chain. The more management stakeholders that you talk with the more likely you're gonna get cooperation. Particularly when they know that this is part of a DOE grant and particularly if they know that there may be an opportunity to leverage their DSM programs, this is a good partnership and success story that they want to take credit for, too.
And I talked about some of the suggestions on trying to partner with them and taking kind of a positive approach. If you're really not getting any assistance at all, there are a number of Public Utility Commission regulations that require the sharing of customer data, the release of customer data. I might look into that and talk to the Public Utility Commission to find out for your area and jurisdiction what are the regulations regarding requirement the utilities to release data.
And, two, you might be able to get an advocate there to help you with this request. And that would be another suggestion. Whether it is a consumer advocate or someone in the Public Utility Commission, if you let them know what you're looking to do and provide them with the feedback that you're getting from the utility that outlines this resistance to releasing data, that might be a good step to getting their help to help get this done.
And here's a little insight, too, for those that are being served by municipal public utilities. They generally buy their power from power administrations, many of them, and that includes the Bonneville Power Administration serving the Northwest states or the Western Area Power Administration serving 11 Western states or the Tennessee Valley Authority in the East.
And so you can go up to those power administrations. They're federal agencies and tap into their information and their contact database and that can help leverage additional information, too, when you're not seeing your local utility responsive.
But generally your letterhead carries a lot of credibility as a city or county in particular. They know you're gonna pay your bills versus those that are organizations. So, you know, just keep highlighting. Send them a letter and then follow up.
There's another question. Are there tools/approaches for managing customer release forms in cases where the utility requires a signed customer release prior to sharing data?
I didn't really deal with that much in past lives. I really dealt mostly with contractors that either had web-based access or extracts of our database. For release forms it's a painful process of getting customers to sign release forms. I would certainly, you know, you could kind of use common sense of scanning a copy of that release form and maybe emailing it to the utility so as far as on your end you would be working through that with the customer as you recruited them into the program to get them to sign the release form.
So, there is a way of doing that. Just scanning the form and then archiving the form so that you have a folder with all the forms from your participants. So, there are some suggestions and we can certainly talk about that going forward.
Next question. In talking about finding the right utility contract. You talked about a consumer advocate. Were you referring to someone at the utility or at the PUC? Thanks.
Most states, whether it's through the Public Utility Commission or other offices, have consumer advocates. They're not utility employees. They're an advocate that either works for the state or works for the Public Utility Commission that is there to help customers whether it's a utility complaint because their service is out or they got disconnected unfairly. Whatever the issue is, there are consumer advocates and you can certainly look for them in your area.
In the Denver area it's P.B. Schechter is a consumer advocate and that would certainly be a great resource of being able to get help here.
Curtis: And they're government employees. They're working for state government. They're working for you. And they're great resources as Keith highlights.
Keith: The next question. Are there recommended leverage points for a public utility? Mayor's office, governor's office? I'm not quite sure what this question means as far as leverage points.
As you develop the relationship with the utility there's a lot of things you can do to promote that relationship and a lot of this is relationship building. So, you can certainly go to the mayor and praise the utility for their cooperation. Again, you want to promote what's working, not just talk about what's not working.
So, I'm not quite sure what that means. We'll move on to the next one. Would it help if an elected official requested the information from utilities on official letterhead on behalf of their local residents, i.e. mayor, city, yeah.
I would say that would be more of a last resort. When you throw ideas and problems like that up the flagpole they can sometimes have unintended consequences. If the utility takes offense to that and they're called on the spot by an elected official or it hit the newspaper or it appears that they're not cooperative, it could really damage your relationship. And again, this is all about relationship building. I would really start going up the food chain before you get to doing something publicly like that with a utility. You could really have some unintended consequences.
Can you provide us with a sample/template checklist for some deliverables? E.g. Language for privacy and release requirements.
My suggestion on this is we really - this was gonna be an overview webinar to really kind of touch upon the subject and make some suggestions. What I would really request is that if this is something that you really need a lot more help on and really want more suggestions on forms and things like that, that we try to make this a TAP request and try to formalize it. So, that's my suggestion there. Curtis, you might want to talk a little bit about that.
Curtis: Yeah. We're gonna have a poll here in just a moment to hear from you as far as additional information you want in this subject area. And that'll help us develop future webinars, presentations, case studies, things of the like.
So, we'll be hearing from you and also as you do your evaluation, add that and we'll do our best to follow up.
Keith: The next question says would you recommend a centralized approach in states that have a number of utility companies serving different areas of the state? Or should this be customized for each utility?
I want to tell you there is that each utility is unique in its own eyes and you're often gonna have states that have multiple utilities and each utility might have different policies. Some might be easier to deal with than others.
I certainly would recommend if you've got multiple utilities and you have a pretty decent grant involved here you might want to shoot for the database and get an extract of the database. That that might be a better approach and then use that same approach when going out to talk to the other utilities. I would really try to figure out your preference and then try to get that from multiple utilities.
Dealing with multiple utilities at the same time for data requests could get very tangled so I certainly would either go web based or data extract in that area definitely. So I would think that you could pretty much take a centralized approach. You just still have to get their buy-in and you'd have to be prepared for pushback because each utility might have their own practices or maybe they don't like the idea that they're being kind of asked to streamline.
Curtis: Danielle, do you want to comment on the DOE tool database that will be launched next month?
Danielle: Sure. Next month is a little bit early in Q1.
Keith: Actually I heard the first quarter of 2011. I didn't know if it was March or January. Sorry.
Danielle: We're building it in January and February. We expect to have it fully built in February so we can be beta testing it with the Grantees in March and then it'll be fully operational for the first quarter reporting that has to happen in April.
That tool will allow for XML data transfer which is possibly an option that some utilities might be willing to move ahead with. We're finalizing the XML terms basically and definitions right now. And are working with a variety of stakeholders to do that in the hopes of using terms that are already in existence and are being used commonly by utilities and national institutions'' software, etc.
So that will be available yes, next quarter. And this is probably - I don't want to get too sidetracked here but I will mention that there will be a memo going out tomorrow to all of the Grantees letting them know that they do not need to use the detail building by building retrofit spreadsheet for the Quarter 4 reporting that's due next month that will be going through DecemberÂ 30. We are holding off on that so that they don't have to learn an interim spreadsheet before going ahead with the XML Oracle database. And there will be more information on that tomorrow.
Keith: Thank you, Danielle.
Curtis: Danielle, as we wrap it up here. Or Jules?
Keith: I've got a couple more quick comments regarding Danielle's statement of the XML extract. XML is just a format for data and once that format becomes available that is a good time to take that to utility if you're gonna get a database extract or if you're gonna get an individual request and you're gonna ask them for an XL format, if you give them the format it's a lot easier for their IT group to structure that data report if you've given them the format, than trying to do it the other way around. If the format's not the same as it needs to be, if it's not aligned correctly, a lot of times the data won't go into a database like that and you certainly want to give them the format if you choose that path.
Curtis: And Jules you are the IT manager. Do you have anything to add here to this discussion?
Jules: There is a tremendous amount of things to understand and things to know when you start to practically work with utility data and import it into a tracking system of some sort. I think, though, what we provided is a great overview orienting folks to the major concepts involved. The devil is always in the details, though, and that's why the prior planning is so critical that Keith talked about. So nothing specific but thanks.
Curtis: Okay. No other resource for us to TAP or for Grantees to TAP.
Keith: Curtis, I think I have two more questions real quick here. There's a question regarding security basically outlining that the utility that this Grantee is working with requires that the data is stored in a highly secure system and that they can't afford that. It's expensive to put that together and they asked why this security was necessary.
What I would suggest is they maybe go back to the utility and try to collect a little bit less information. That might be a hint to this. That if you're collecting too much information the utility may consider it to require security like this. If they collected less information maybe they wouldn't have that need. So, something to think about. Maybe taking off the customer name. Sticking with the address might help. Look around for data points to change.
And there was another quick question about can DOE send reps to be with us for initial meetings with the utilities? It might be nice to have federal big sticks.
And again that suggestion kind of leads into more of a TAP request approach that we ought to talk about so. But, thank you again for your time. Do you have anything else to add, Curtis?
Curtis: No. Why don't you take us on to the next slide?
Keith: Okay. The poll.
Curtis: Yeah. This, as I mentioned earlier, is the poll that we'd like you to take. So if you will all participate in that with us using your orange arrow. We want to look forward here now and see - what we've done today has been the general overview and yet realizing that the DOE tool and things will be occurring with your collection of information in the months ahead, we want to make sure we're working with you providing you additional tools and information that are helping you get the job done.
So, these are some areas. I guess just tell us whether one's important to you and how much; data use, two. We talked a little bit about customer screening, quality assurance, security. We talked about data management, types of format, reporting, and then definitely something probably related to the importing of the data to the DOE tool or any other subject areas related to utility relationships, data collection and customer service.
So, all your comments will be recorded as you go ahead and enter it like it's a question and if you could do that for us right now we'd appreciate that. Also, for most up-to-date information and registration links on future webinars that will be starting in the first of the year, please continue to visit the solution center website and there's the address down at the bottom of the slide.
So, with that, and as you finish your homework here, as far as participants, I want to thank you for being part of today's DOE webinar. Thank you, Keith, for an excellent presentation and for Danielle and Jules for being available for questions.
Again, questions and evaluation will be coming your way soon so you can add more comments even further related to the poll here. So, if there's nothing else, to everyone Happy Holidays and have a good day. Thank you.