The role of new technologies and energy saving interventions in our clean energy future is increasingly important as markets transform, baselines shift, and consumer preferences evolve. Recent climate events, growing grid infrastructure and management needs, and critical environmental and economic justice and equity considerations have expanded the emphasis on research and development (R&D), as well as the ground it must cover – from demand response to electrification, to concepts like integrated energy efficiency, distributed energy resources (DER), and electrification. Impending Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding and increasing environmental justice goals may provide further opportunities and asks for emerging technology (ET) work and teams.
Wait, What Do We Even Mean by Emerging Technology?
Utilities and organizations tend to categorize ET into three groups: new energy efficient technologies; new technology enabled load management such as DR and distributed energy resources (DERs) deployment, and innovative rate design; and new grid technologies/innovations (ET for the distribution system). However, ET is broader than these categories suggest – it can be hardware, software, a new way to engage customers, new delivery approaches and mechanisms, enhanced contractor training, and the list goes on!
Ultimately by definition, ET needs to stay flexible and open. For example, 15 years ago, how could we have predicted the role of ubiquitous smart phones and their application in the energy industry, a quickly growing electric vehicle (EV) market, and the development of real-time pricing platforms?
How are Current ET Programs Organized and Run?
Pilot to Portfolio Transfer
As the common, and often primary, goal of R&D endeavors, the process of integrating promising measures and/or products into a program portfolio looms large for ET teams.
What are Metrics for ET Programs?
ET offerings use a variety of metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess performance. Some of these KPIs include:
- Energy and demand savings goals assess how emerging technology efforts are contributing to real (and, in some cases, persisting) savings in the demand side management (DSM) program portfolio
- Installation goals calculate the number of measures installed in a defined period
- Compliance and budget requirements may include spend requirements and demonstrated progress across specified time periods
It remains unclear, however, whether these metrics or the specified assessment periods are adequate in enabling meaningful progress to be created and evaluated.
Recommendations and Considerations
We need to keep our definition of ET expansive. Market transformation, changing baselines, customer preferences, and equity considerations require that ET efforts consider more than new widgets and appliances.
As opportunities and asks of ET initiatives expand and intersect, we need to establish performance metrics and periods that enable more than incremental innovation.
There is a bandwidth and skills gap in the common organizational structure of teams that inhibits successful portfolio transfer. Organizations should rethink how to make this work with earlier cross-team engagement and/or new positions.
IIJA and IRA legislation may create a near and big opportunity for ET teams and it is critical to be planning for how this federal funding could be used to integrate diverse stakeholder voices and deliver more equitable, clean energy future. As more states identify and define environmental disadvantaged community metrics, and goals, what opportunities on the horizon are the most promising to enable deeper participation and co-create benefits for those communities? ILLUME is working with utilities and program administrators across the country to support ET teams explore new opportunities, even some areas of exploration that were previously abandoned, to remove barriers for emerging technologies and enable ET pilots to be successfully integrated into portfolios.
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Recommended article: We invite you to read our 2022 Magazine article, Illuminating Opportunity in Uncertain Times: Developing a Pipeline for Success, on how ILLUME utilizes a design-thinking and staged approach to guide clients in moving new opportunities to market to achieve the innovation necessary to transform the energy industry.