Utility rebate and study programs can be difficult for trade allies to navigate. In many cases, they may not be experts in energy calculations, making it a challenge to produce consistent and accurate results. One potential solution to this is to provide standardized calculation tools for the trade allies to utilize. Standardizing a calculation tool can help to reduce the variability in results and remove barriers to trade ally participation.
But like computer scientists say, “Garbage in, garbage out”. If the end users of the tool are not trained properly, incorrect or flat-out weird results are almost a certainty. Here are some things to consider.
Right Tool for the Job
The level of complexity of the calculation tool is the first thing to consider. For instance, one can easily use a hammer or a saw, but unless they know what they’re doing, the results of using a computer controller multi access CNC machine are not going to look pretty. This same thought process can be applied to energy calculation tools.
A lighting calculation workbook can likely be used by a wider audience than a complex air handling system tool. The amount of inputs and interactions increase with the complexity of the calculation. And as the complexity of the tool increases, more training will be required to achieve acceptable results.
Instructions and Training
First and foremost, detailed instructions should be supplied with any workbook that is distributed to vendors and trade allies. These should be readily available within the calculation tool for ease of access.
In addition, it is recommended to hold a workshop for users of the calculation tool to ensure that they receive training on proper use. Not allowing vendors to use the tool until they successfully complete a training session is a best practice when utilizing calculation workbooks for energy efficiency programs.
Regardless of the process for distribution and usage, all calculation templates should be reviewed by program staff after trade allies have used them for a project. Through program evaluations, Michaels Energy has observed that even with the best training protocols, errors are bound to occur. One example of template use gone awry: a building air handling calculation tool was used by a trade ally, showing a plethora of natural gas savings. However, there was one large problem – the building uses electric heat.
There is no silver bullet to ensure accurate results, but by following best practices for calculation tools outlined above, errors associated with unfamiliar use can be minimized while providing a streamlined approach for vendors, leading to more program participation and better realization rates.
 In this case, trade allies include engineering and commissioning firms.