Utility2Utility: East Kentucky Power Cooperative
- November 29, 2014
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More than 520,000 homes and businesses and one million people in 87 Kentucky counties depend on East Kentucky Power Cooperative and its 16 owner-member cooperatives. For this installment of our Utility2Utility series, we asked Scott Drake, manager of corporate technical solutions, about some recent software investments in energy auditing.
What was the impetus for investing in energy audit software for your 16 owner-member cooperatives?
Drake: We wanted to help our cooperative owner-members offer more in-depth energy efficiency analyses and recommendations to their members. We also wanted to offer our cooperatives the option of providing this energy information through multiple channels: on the cooperative's website, in the member's home with an energy advisor and on the phone with a member service representative.
This particular energy audit software package from Apogee provides the comprehensive home energy analysis on all three platforms: self-service on the web, a mobile version for use by field energy advisors and a version for member service representatives to use. Each cooperative can decide the best combination of tools for their staff and members.
What benefits do you expect for your cooperative owner-members?
Drake: We expect this combination of home energy analysis tools to help position our cooperative owner-members as trusted energy advisors---advisors who can be counted on to provide consistently accurate and actionable energy-saving information that helps their members save on energy costs.
The energy audit software enables the cooperatives to expand their value-added service to members. It gives them the opportunity to reach back out to the audit participants with other program offers or energy-saving reminders---in an automated, yet personalized, format that increases member communication without necessarily increasing employee workload.
What benefits do you expect for the end-use members?
Drake: When a member can go the cooperative's website and gain insight into how they are using energy and find ways to improve their efficiency, it puts more control in the members’ hands. People generally like to have control. It makes them feel better. So when they can get solid answers that help them manage their energy use and costs, they'll feel better financially and more comfortable in their home.
Also, when a member requests a home energy audit and watches the energy advisor use a mobile app to analyze their home and offer recommendations on the spot, it's impressive. It lets them know the employee is efficient at their job and they receive accurate, customized information they can use immediately.
How important was the mobile application for auditors in the selection process?
Drake: Very important. Like so many other industries, we're finding you need the mobile component for audits. It saves time, makes everything more convenient and lets the energy advisor focus more on the member. Which makes for a better member experience. The technology does the work and the advisor can tailor their interactions to better suit that member's needs, questions and available time.
How will auditors utilize that particular application?
Drake: The advisor can walk through the home with an iPad or tablet and quickly enter key data points---rather than having to crunch numbers at a table or waiting to do the analysis when they return to their office.
They get the answers instantly. If the member wants to, they can accompany the advisor and see how each factor plays into their home's energy efficiency and use---in colorful graphics on the mobile device. Factors like their home's specific heating and cooling equipment, appliances, thermostat settings, insulation, house size and structure, and of course the weather. This energy audit software automatically factors in the weather for that area.
The energy advisors can also do a pre-audit of the home and be better prepared when they get on site. The software automatically pulls up the customer's billing history and the local weather to do the pre-analysis and it gets amazingly close to what the auditor will see in the home.
How does this all fold into East Kentucky's energy efficiency planning?
Drake: We brought electricity to rural areas of Kentucky some 60 years ago and those areas have experienced steady growth over time. It's our responsibility as an energy company to not only produce power in the most efficient manner but also to support and assist our cooperatives in helping their end-use members use energy wisely.
The automated energy audit software package will naturally help build participation in two other key energy efficiency programs we offer to our cooperatives. These include our Button Up weatherization program and our Heat Pump Rebate program. All three programs work together well: The audits find the energy efficiency opportunities and educate members on how they can adjust their energy behavior. The weatherization program addresses the home's envelope. And the rebate program addresses the home's heating and cooling system--behavior, envelope and equipment. Plus, the audit "dollarizes" the impact of the weather so members can see that very important component of their energy use and cost too.
What advice would you give other utilities looking to invest in energy audits--whether in software or manpower?
Drake: In terms of software, look for accuracy and automation of the process. Look for user-friendliness. Look for the ability to integrate with your existing systems. This requires solid software technology and responsive account service.
Today's technology allows our cooperatives to expand their reach yet still create and deliver personalized member experiences in the process. It's a good solution all the way around.