Energy efficiency program implementation is becoming more and more sophisticated as the goals for the EE Department and the budgets are increased. An efficient-tracking system is essential for the proper management of the entire portfolio of programs that need to be run by a limited resource pool. The days of managing programs using Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access are over; more complex tools are needed to run these programs and properly report on them. To understand whether an Energy Efficiency Tracking System is worth its name, you need to ask 10 essential questions about the system:
- Can it handle my entire portfolio of programs?
- Can it be used to specifically manage programs?
- Can it validate end-user and support business rules implementation?
- Can payments be initiated from the system?
- Can it produce the needed reports easily?
- Can the user easily configure it?
- Can it support EM&V activities?
- Can it be scaled?
- Can it archive my data and maintain the history of my programs?
- Can it be implemented quickly?
Let us briefly discuss each of the above ten questions:
Handling the Energy Efficiency Portfolio
A Program Administrator (PA) runs several programs offering a large number of energy conservation measures packaged into various programs to be offered to various customer segments. Each program has a different audience and is different from the other programs on offer. The PA has to be constantly watching the entire portfolio to ensure that the overall targets are met and budgets are not exceeded. Tracking programs separately will pose additional burdens to aggregate the results for management purposes. Moreover, tracking programs separately will not reveal the inter-relationships between the programs. A flexible tracking system will be able to provide an aggregated view into all programs while allowing a drill down into individual programs to check on their performance.
Managing Individual Programs
A portfolio is composed of many individual programs – from as little as fie programs to as many as two dozens – addressing different market segments. For accurate tracking and results at the portfolio level, it is imperative that the information gathered at the program level be as accurate and as granular as possible. Program Managers need to input their program design, along with all its nuances, into the tracking system so that projects and measures follow the exact workflow, one that the managers have designed to ensure that the program meets its goals and works within the budget. An effective tracking system should be able to micromanage multiple programs and drill down to the specifics a program manager may want to know.
Validate customers and implement business rules
When a program is implemented, sponsors enter information about the premise and the measures. The first validation has to occur when the customer site information is entered to ensure that the customer is eligible. The tracking system must interface with the customer database to verify each customer account. As the project details are entered, various business rules need to be applied to ensure compliance with the program rules. A well-designed tracking system will apply these rules as and when required rather than relying on manual checks and verification. When an element of the project falls outside the bounds, automatic notifications to concerned individuals need to be sent out by the tracking system.
Payment Processing through the Tracking System
A major task for the Program Administrator is to ensure that payment is made on the energy conservation measures in a timely manner. Hundreds of invoices are typically paid out by the PA and it is their responsibility to ensure that the invoices are properly vetted and approved before payments are made. A tracking system that auto-sends invoices from the tracking system to the financial system will be a time-saver for both the energy efficiency department and the financial department. Acknowledging and tracking of payments should be automated in the reverse direction as well, thereby allowing the tracking system to show exact budget status. As the project details are entered, various business rules need to be applied to ensure compliance with the program rules. A well-designed tracking system will apply these rules as and when required rather than relying on manual checks and verification. When an element of the project falls outside the bounds, automatic notifications to concerned individuals need to be sent out by the tracking system.
Extracting information and data out of the tracking system is an important objective. Reports are required for operational purposes for the management of the programs and for verifying the integrity of the tracking system itself. Most importantly, reports are also required for submission to the regulatory agencies at the summary and detailed levels. Data extracts need to be provided to those performing EM&V activities. The effectiveness of a tracking system can be measured through its ability to provide customized reports on demand and through periodic notifications. Dashboards that allow drill downs to review program and contractor performance will increase the usefulness of the tracking system.
Programs and measures keep changing and need constant upkeep. Measure libraries keep changing as new measures are added and existing measures are modified. All through the life of a program, program designs may change, promotions may be instituted, sponsors supplemented, workflows modified, rules amended, notifications changed, and documents mandated. These changes need to be made quickly and communicated just as quickly to all the sponsors. A hallmark of a tracking system is its degree of configurability that will allow the program manager and other stakeholders to change the business course without throwing the tracking system off its track.
Support for EM&V Activities
Evaluation, Measurement, and Verification of programs and portfolios are being mandated across the country. M&V consultants need specific information on participants and non-participants to conduct their studies, and each time they may ask for more or different information at varying levels of detail. It is essential that the Program Administrator respond swiftly with the requested data so that the portfolio of programs is approved for rate recovery. A good tracking system is one that can be modified on the fly for additional information; can quickly extract data samples for the evaluators, and can collate comprehensive data (including file attachments) for specific projects on request.
Energy efficiency data need to be kept together for long periods of time because measures once installed should be available for review until the end of their measure life. As new programs are launched each year, additional sponsors get enrolled and new measures are added. Some load management programs require interval data to be gathered for analysis. The system requirement keeps growing and the tracking system must be able to keep up with the ever-increasing requirements.
Archiving and Historical Data
Data and tracking requirements for a program subside within one to two years after the closure of the program. It may take up to three months after the program year ends for all payments to be made and reports to be completed and filed. Thereafter, an evaluation process will begin with data requests being made at any time. For regulatory purposes, it is essential that the program is archived when all transactional activity is completed. This archived program information must remain available on demand. Historical data is also used to check if measures are being reinstalled and to restrict duplicate claims in the same measure or piece of equipment. The tracking system must support the archiving and duplicate-checking processes.
The implementation of the tracking system should be a matter of weeks to a few months and should not extend to several months to years. Custom tracking systems will take close to a year to be built. The ideal tracking system will be one that has a robust framework and will allow the user to configure the system fairly quickly to enable programs to be launched. The amount of customization should be limited so that development requirements are reduced and long timelines are not needed. Tracking systems have matured in the last few years and more options are becoming available to program administrators. It will be prudent to stop and review the features available in the systems against core requirements and desired features to ensure that the best system is implemented.
This article is written by S. Balakrishnan, Energy Efficiency Consultant and CEO of ANB Systems, Inc. Feel free to write to our experts: firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about energy efficiency tracking