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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Breaking Boundaries for Small Business Customers, an Interview with Amy Glapinski of Consumers Energy

image credit: Amy Glapinski

Traditionally, utilities can have the most difficult time in reaching their small business customers with energy savings opportunities. Large businesses have immense financial incentive to pay for energy upgrades and may even have dedicated energy managers, residential customers are simpler to capture and have highly engaged energy-conscious homeowners, but small businesses have fewer resources. However, the sector of small businesses across the country is huge and the opportunity for them to save energy is too important to miss.

As a means of capturing potential efficiencies in this area, Consumers Energy has harnessed the opportunities presented by advanced lighting controls. Ahead of the upcoming AESP 30th Annual Conference & Expo next week, Amy Glapinski, a Senior Program Manager at Consumers Energy, is going to be sharing some lessons she’s learned in these efforts so peers across the industry can take heed. Ahead of her presentation, “Breaking Boundaries: Advanced Lighting Controls for Small Business Customers,” was kind enough to answer some questions I had to give a sneak preview of her presentation as a part of the continuing Power Perspectives™ interview series:

Matt Chester: To kick this off, can you give us an idea about your background in the utility space and how you got involved with efforts for advanced lighting controls?

Amy Glapinski: I have been working in the energy efficiency space for a little over 10 years now.  The majority of that time has been implementing programs for Consumers Energy.  As part of my prior I was responsible for pilot programs, which is where Network Lighting Controls was born.  This offering began as a pilot in 2015, test the technology on a small scale with a few number of customers, in order to test delivery mechanisms, incentive structures, education and training in the market.

 

MC: You note in your presentation that the challenges facing small business customers when it comes to efficiency programs tend to be greater. Can you expand on why that is the case and how a utility efficiency program should take those challenges into account when designing interventions?

AG: Typically, we find small business customers just simply don’t have the time, resources, or capital to make large energy efficiency improvements.  Network Lighting Control systems have a much higher initial cost than other lighting considerations, so this is a major barrier for a lot of customers.  However once installed and commissioned properly, customers can achieve deep energy savings.  That being said, this technology is still not a one size fits all and every customer is different, requiring a custom solution.  There are also particular segments that can ultimately achieve deeper savings just based on operating hours, schedule and the ability to completely turn off lights altogether.

 

MC: What about challenges in getting buy-in from potential small business customers. Do you find they are more or less receptive to adopting efficiency solutions? And are there approaches beyond just the dollars and cents of it that appeal to small businesses more than large businesses?

AG: I would say they are equally receptive as larger customers, and when they do adopt the notion of installing energy efficiency equipment that can actually be more nimble than larger customers, that have a lengthy decision making and/or approval process for upgrades.  Anytime you can sell a customer on other non-energy benefits as well only helps convince the customer to pursue a more efficient option.

 

MC: When it comes to instituting new technology like advanced lighting controls, half the battle is just getting the tech installed, but then there’s also the issue of ensuring the customer then uses it correctly and diligently. How do you best ensure that the customers will embrace and utilize the tools you give them?

AG: Because this program still has a relatively low participation (roughly 20-30 customers annually) the program staff is able to post inspect and do continuous follow up individually with each customer to ensure they are utilizing the system and are happy with the commissioning.  As the program grows and the technology is commercialized and scaled this could be a challenge for program implementers.

 

MC: Beyond the specific topic you’re presenting on, what other subjects are you eager to hear and learn about at the AESP 30th Annual Conference? What do you think will be the defining topic on everyone’s mind?

AG: I am interested to hear about anything related to Multifamily and Indoor Agriculture (Cannabis).  I think anything related to cannabis will peak everyone’s interest and in general anything related to new technology.


If you’re interested in hearing more about the work Amy and Consumers Energy are doing with regards to advanced lighting controls, be sure to catch her presentation at the 2020 AESP Annual Conference & Expo from February 17 to 20 in Anaheim, California. You can check out the agenda and register for the conference here.

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