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Market Transformation in Wonderland

By November 11, 2013November 8th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

I just completed my draft of the forthcoming paper titled, “Know-How and the Incessant Energy Diet”, for the AESP 2014 National Conference.  In preparation for that, I thought, this is more work than writing Energy Rant blog posts because I have to scrounge for expert research to back my assertions because “this is the way it is – trust me”, isn’t good enough for a published paper.  Fortunately, I found plenty of ammo to make my point in a couple evaluation publications including this one conducted by our friends at Research into Action regarding the Southern California Edison Retrocommissioning program.  That paper triggered this rant on market transformation.

To reiterate in case you missed it, ACEEE describes market transformation as, “The strategic process of intervening in a market to create lasting change in market behavior by removing identified barriers or exploiting opportunities to accelerate the adoption of all cost-effective energy efficiency as a matter of standard practice.”  To me, this includes incentivizing more efficient, more expensive technology to increase market share, which draws in more manufacturers, which creates competition to reduce cost, improve quality, and reduce prices for consumers to widely adopt the technology permanently – faster.  One would be hard pressed to claim this doesn’t work because it does.

The other is to transform service providers, like architects, engineers, and contractors into providers of energy efficiency services like in depth energy efficiency studies and retrocommissioning.  This does not work worth a darn.

Consider restaurants.  We buy calories and experiences at restaurants, and as I age, I’m more interested in the experience than the calories.  Calories include shear mass and bulk of glop like a platter of fettuccine alfredo at Olive Garden or Fazoli’s, weighing in at four and a half pounds and 6300 calories.  This is what 20 somethings, high school kids, and college students go for.  I’ve been there.  The restaurant experience includes everything from wait time, staff friendliness, and flavor, to restaurant atmosphere, décor, background music, and expertise of wait staff.

One can break restaurants into a million categories, but for this rant, I’ll categorize them as cheap and fast mass market (McDonalds), casual (Applebee’s), upscale casual (Ruth’s Chris or maybe Outback), and ones I prefer when I have time.  For the first bunch, I expect calories, and a good experience would include freshness, reasonable wait times, and a decent-size Sam Adams.  From a restaurant I prefer, I get something very unique and a show at a decent price.

The show-biz experience at a restaurant includes wait staff who know every ingredient in every dish, off the top of their head; they can fluently answer questions, are there precisely when you want them and they are not pests.  They have worked at the restaurant a long time, and it is their profession.  I’ve even been to conferences where the lunch wait staff serving 400 people at a sitting has been remarkably graceful.  I notice these things, and it’s enjoyable to behold.

What differentiates those restaurants I prefer from the sustenance-only ones?  Passion of the staff for what they do.  There is no way on earth, heaven or hell, restaurant staff are going to be knowledgeable experts regarding everything that happens in their business from the chefs to the dishwashers, and provide outstanding service if it is simply the paycheck they need.  This is what you get at these other joints – college and high school students, people with bridge jobs or second jobs and so on.  I would say good for them.  They are truly valuable services and experiences for career building, but the experts live it.

And so it is with energy efficiency.  The service side of energy efficiency is a niche or boutique market where professionals, in many cases, spend their entire careers because we are passionate about it.  We’re not in it because we merely need the money, like the part time waiter serving the customers who merely need the calories.  Our industry, and services we provide, affect a complex web of stakeholders, and this is more than critical.  It is essential to understand this.

Consider a retrocommissining project as part of an EE program.  There is a complex array of boundaries and masters to serve: customer, account manager, program manager, ultimately regulators, program evaluators, and so on.  Projects need to be cost effective programmatically, and there are documentation and energy analysis standards to clear for QA/QC and evaluation.  The flare wearers from Applebee’s don’t get this, and who can blame them?  They don’t operate in our goofy world.  This is obvious as noted in the findings of the SCE evaluation report above.  The service providers doing the studies simply cross measures they don’t understand off their list; they don’t understand the need for decent energy calculations; they aren’t prepared for the review process.  They approach an attempt at a Van Gogh replica with their usual spray paint gun.  They get frustrated and trash talk the program.  Who wins?  No one.

It doesn’t work, dude.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Brian Uchtmann says:

    It seems that market transformation for services is hard to achieve because it is so easy to backslide. I don’t think that one-year ARRA weatherization funds changed the home-repair/improvement industry. However, I do think that LEED programs have moved A/E/P firms to change their service mix and quality.

    One difference between utility EE programs and LEED might be quality control. You are going to have to show your work to get a building LEED certified. Applying similar standards to auditors to qualify for utility EE programs might drive ‘almost there’ service providers up a notch? Some utilities already require that work be done by HERS certified professionals, but programs aimed at larger C&I segments might use a different standard. Utility support of ESCO performance contracts might also kick up the quality of RCx and other service based EE work. There are probably other ways to shift the market, if that is what utilities want to do. Accounting and incentivizing this is another problem.

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