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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Driving Continual Energy Savings and an Evolving Market, an Interview with Jenna Bentley of Enbridge

image credit: Jenna Bentley

While customers have an inherent motivation to minimize wasted energy and optimize their efficiency for the sake of their monthly bills, gaining widespread efficiency from their customer base is also in incredibly important goal to a utility. Similarly, efficiency is often thought of in terms of electric utilities first, but gas utilities have just as much motivation to educate and encourage customers on efficient use of energy.

The technologies, strategies, and roadmaps used to achieve efficiency are constantly changing, meaning a utility organization that’s not reevaluating and pushing forward with its efficiency program is going to quickly fall behind. This need to be forward looking is integral to the work that Jenna Bentley, Residential demand-side management (DSM) Program Design Specialist at Enbridge, is doing. She’s getting ready to share her insights with her presentation “Evolving Whole Home Programs – Driving Continual Savings in a Changing Market” at the upcoming AESP 30th Annual Conference & Expo next week. Luckily for the eager among us in the Energy Central Community, Jenna gave a peek behind the curtain by participating in our Power Perspectives™ interview series:

Matt Chester: Let’s start with a little background about you. How did you end up working on whole home programs with Enbridge? What brought you to the utility sector to start with?

Jenna Bentley: I’ve been at Enbridge for three and a half years after previously working at an energy efficiency implementer for close to nine years. The decision to move to the utility was based on wanting to better understand the “other side” of DSM programs and a desire to influence program design to increase program reach and impact. Joining the utility/energy efficiency sector was a bit of kismet. After university, I worked for an advertising agency but I knew long term I wanted the work I do to have a social and environmental impact. So, I looked for opportunities to do this type of work on the side and came across Summerhill. I started working as a program representative on weekends. An opportunity then came up to work in the call center and I made the jump to full-time. As they say, the rest is history. 

 

MC: What is the importance of utilities offering their customers home efficiency rebate systems? What is the benefit not only to the customer but to you as a utility?

JB: I think the utility is one of the information sources a customer turns to when they think about their energy consumption, and they expect us to be able to provide them with information on how to efficiently use natural gas. We also have a business model that allows us to operate DSM programs that encourage customers to use less of our product. Under our DSM framework, we have the ability to earn a shareholder incentive for reaching agreed upon targets with our regulator, in addition to a loss revenue adjustment mechanism. This model allows the utility and the customer to benefit from the programs and incentives we offer, which encourage efficient use of our product.

 

MC: How do these programs differ from similar ones from electric utilities? Are there unique challenges or opportunities coming from the gas utility specifically?

JB: Our biggest challenge is offering cost-effective programs due to the low price of natural gas, and the increasing baseline of the energy efficient equipment available in the marketplace. Due to recent policy changes in the province, we currently don’t have similar programs as the electric utilities, however with the increasing focus our government has on climate change, we anticipate there may be some offers aimed at residential customers, but we’re optimistic that programs can be complementary.

 

MC: What’s holding these programs back from reaching their full potential? Are there technologies or strategies still being developed that are going to capture more customers and savings? Or do we have all the capabilities and it’s all about effectively reaching the customer? 

JB: I think it’s a little of both. We are constantly looking to update our programs to account for market factors. In our current residential offerings, a key focus is how we can use data and technology to give us better insights to the type of programs customers need and reduce the barriers to participation that customers face. We’re also optimistic that this type of data will allow us to customize offerings to homes based on what we know about the home and occupants, which is something I think customers expect.   

 

MC: Events like the AESP Conference are always great opportunities to share the work you’ve been doing, but also to learn from progress made by colleagues. Are there any presentations other than your own that you’re particularly looking forward to at the AESP annual conference? What do you expect to be the hottest topics this year?

JB: Professionally, I’m really looking forward to the session on iDSM as well as the connected home evaluation panel, as they are both topics I’m keen to dive a little deeper on. Personally, I’m looking forward to four days of networking and sharing ideas with colleagues from across North America. These connections and conversations always leave me feeling refreshed and ready to tackle any problem I come across in my day to day.   


 

If you’re interested in hearing more about the work Jenna and Enbridge are doing with regards to whole home efficiency programs, 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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