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Being Persistent About Energy Savings Persistence

April 24, 2023

At Cascade Energy we believe that a holistic system to manage energy savings persistence is one of the most important elements in our clients’ decarbonization roadmaps.

Meet Ed. Ed works in the maintenance department of ACME, Inc. Ed just got back from an energy efficiency training and is motivated to put those concepts to use. Based upon what he learned, he discovered some real energy saving gems in his system – and in April 2023 he makes a setpoint change that saves 10 kW. Ed has put some points on the energy savings scoreboard!

Let’s see what happens to those 10 kW. Here our story diverges into two alternate realities.

Reality A: Ed and his team at ACME put the systems, processes, measurements, and training in place to hold onto those savings. Ed’s saving gem persists permanently through to when ACME hits their net zero decarbonization goal in 2050. (Ed transferred to another plant and ultimately retired in 2031, but the savings lived on). The impact from that one simple change through 2050 are impressive: $236,000 cost savings and 1,700 fewer metric tons of CO2 emitted.

Reality B: Ed gets promoted and transferred a few months after finding and implementing this efficiency improvement. After his departure, someone (nobody knows who or why), sets that setpoint back. The savings are lost after six months. The setpoint change saved $4,400 and 30 tons of CO2.

So why are we talking about Ed and the fate of his 10 kW savings? Because his story shows the sheer cost and carbon impact of persistent energy savings. When you zoom out from Ed’s project and look across the whole ACME organization, you see that there are hundreds or more likely thousands of similar projects.  What are some key tools to assure that they all live in Reality A as opposed to Reality B? How does ACME get persistent about energy savings persistence?

Here is a key tool: Ongoing IPMVP Option C measurement.


International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol

Why is IPMVP Option C a valuable M&V protocol even when a decarbonization target references an absolute CO2e reduction? Because measuring the impact of decarbonization solutions requires different methods than measuring year-over-year progress towards decarbonization targets.

Let’s unpack that statement. Many corporate decarbonization targets are based on absolute reduction, not intensity reduction. A net-zero target is inherently an absolute target. Progress towards these goals will be measured over decades and typically reported annually by documenting the consumption of all scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. No normalization is required here – the eventual target is for emissions to reach zero.

Meanwhile, the journey to net zero is composed of hundreds or thousands of solutions that reduce emissions across the organization and their supply chain. Some of these solutions at the low end of the abatement cost curve – dominated by efficiency and conservation measures – have a negative cost of carbon abatement. This means by using these solutions it is cheaper to reduce carbon emissions than to continue emitting. The cumulative cost reduction impact over an entire net-zero journey amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars for large organizations.

Two outcomes occur when these decarbonization solutions do not persist:

  • Operating costs rise
  • Progress towards net zero slows

Going back to Ed’s example at ACME, Inc, the difference can be stark: 1700 tons CO2 removed from persistent change vs 30 tons CO2 removed without persistence. $236,000 savings vs $4,400.

Given the impact of energy savings persistence, it is imperative that organizations get serious about the permanence of their decarbonization solutions. These solutions must persist through inevitable disruptions such as staff turnover and production changes. To achieve permanence, the abatement from each decarbonization solution must be regularly measured and verified. Time-tested M&V principles give us a blueprint of how to do this cost-effectively, starting with IMPVP Option C.


Why Option C?

Measurement and verification (M&V) protocols rarely take the spotlight yet are a critical component of the clean energy transition. M&V enables financing for efficiency projects and feedback to facility owners and managers that savings are persisting. Additionally, M& V supports evaluation of utility-funded demand side management (DSM) programs that offer financial and technical support. One type of M&V in particular – IPMVP Option C – offers a tantalizingly simple yet powerful approach to measure the persistent decarbonization impact of industrial-sector efficiency projects at the utility meter. Option C is not a panacea; like all other M&V options, it has many challenges. But it is one of the first tools to grab in the permanent decarbonization toolkit because it is easy to deploy and provides rapid feedback when performance changes.

In the past decade, innovations related to IPMVP Option C – otherwise known as whole-building verification or regression modeling – have blossomed thanks to the prevalence of smart meter data and policies (especially in California) promoting Option C M&V protocols. Just a few years ago, the concept of “M&V 2.0” encouraged the transition from bill-based monthly granularity to smart-meter enabled daily granularity. Today, hourly granularity is increasingly common.


Benefits of Option C

Option C works best when measuring the impact of many efficiency projects affecting multiple systems, making a meaningful and growing impact that rises above the noise. Many projects, multiple systems, and meaningful impact: that’s the exact recipe for low-cost carbon abatement. A normalized meter-level analysis using Option C allows facility managers to understand the persistence of their behind-the-meter decarbonization initiatives such as energy efficiency, even as conditions change at the facility.

For example, over the last few years, a site implemented three dozen efficiency projects that reduced scope 1 and 2 emissions. Electricity and natural gas performance is measured daily using an Option C linear regression model. Any single data point has minimal value, but added up over time the trends show with increasing statistical confidence whether the hard-earned savings are persisting. A downwards inflection indicates that facility energy performance has worsened, operating costs are rising, and progress towards net zero has slowed.

Why not just look at utility bills to determine whether energy use is going up or down? Six months later in our example, business is booming so production increases from 5 to 6 days per week causing an increase in electric and gas emissions. Since daily production volume was an input variable to the Option C linear regression model, the site can continue to monitor the impact of the three dozen efficiency projects to ensure they persist. In other words, overall emissions increased due to a business expansion but the facility can still prove that the previously acquired efficiency gains are performing as expected.


Challenges with Option C

Regression modeling is not an exact science and it is a mistake to view this problem from a purely mathematical lens. Sound engineering judgement is required, just as with other M&V protocols. In practice, Option C is messy and sometimes facility production is simply too dynamic to normalize to available production data.

  • Adjustments to account for non-routine events are often added through a mixture of statistical solutions and engineering calculations. Even then, adjustments are often tricky to calculate when non-routine events have a small impact on the meter, are inconsistent, or when the root cause can’t be identified.
  • Measuring persistence requires a lot of data: utility meter data, weather, production, equipment parameters, efficient operating strategies, action plans when key parameters drift, and more. These data streams typically come from diverse sources and team members. A dedicated software platform is critical to manage these diverse data streams, especially across many sites.

At Cascade, we frequently run into scenarios where Option C simply doesn’t work. This is because the level of savings has not yet risen above the typical fluctuations of energy use (or “noise”) at the facility. The best answer is to save more energy! But when that is not feasible, we turn to the other three IPMVP options.

The challenges of M&V for decarbonization, and specifically Option C, are greater than many commercial and industrial organizations can address internally. Implementation firms and consultants from the energy efficiency world have the ideal M&V expertise to aid these organizations. The business case is clear: contracting with M&V experts for annual persistence services, tools and expertise results in low-cost carbon abatement.


The rest of the energy savings persistence toolkit

Option C M&V calculates top-down normalized carbon abatement performance of behind-the-meter optimization solutions. Additional strategies must be deployed to verify the persistence of each specific solutions, especially when the top-down view shows decaying performance. A common solution is utilizing automated or manual energy standard operating condition (ESOC) auditing to ensure all efficiency gains persist.

Here are three good, better, best examples of ESOC auditing for a project that resulted in an air compressor setpoint reduction:

1.       Manual ESOC audit: 1x/week verify that the air compressor setpoint is set to 90 psig.

2.       Automated SOC audit: surface the air compressor setpoint on a plant dashboard with capabilities to notify an operator when a value drifts from the efficient range.

3.       Hybrid approach: deploy the automated approach described in option #2, then perform regular (but usually infrequent) audits to ensure the automated controls are operating as intended. This approach is akin to systematic or continuous retro commissioning.


Today’s solutions

The challenge of measuring energy savings persistence feels daunting. Is it really that important to measure persistence for every individual behind-the-meter carbon abatement improvement? The simple answer is yes, yes, yes. This abatement must last until you and your electrical grid have eliminated all fossil fuels. Even after that, the ongoing cost of abatement is minor in proportion to the energy cost reduction.

Luckily, solutions are available today to track the persistence and impact of behind-the-meter decarbonization projects across a portfolio of facilities. Energy Sensei, our energy management software that connects decarbonization actions to results, is built to serve this purpose. Energy Sensei provides energy, sustainability, facilities and operations teams with the ability to:

  • Generate and manage customized Option C regression models using no-code interfaces
  • Manage and inspect data for the myriad data inputs into Option C models
  • Automatically ingest data from diverse sources
  • View and report across a site, portfolio of sites, or an entire organization
  • Show savings calculations in a transparent ledger
  • Connect actions to results by comparing completed decarbonization projects to measured results
  • Documenting persistence strategies for individual decarbonization projects
  • Exporting data to spreadsheets, reports, or business intelligence software

Want to learn more about how Energy Sensei can help your clients get serious about energy savings persistence in their decarbonization planning? Reach out to us today!

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