De-risking energy efficient technology improvements to drive market adoption

Focus on what you can influence. This is a golden rule most often applied to individuals seeking to improve their day-to-day lives or senior leaders at big companies aiming to affect change and deliver the best results.

It’s a rule that also applies to our energy systems. American electric and gas utilities are expected to play a role in helping state governments achieve bold climate goals while still supplying reliable and affordable electricity to their customers. How can we help them succeed at this seemingly insurmountable task?

One of the most powerful tools utilities have in their toolkit is increasing energy efficiency through demand side management and driving adoption of high-impact technologies by verifying that impact. A fundamental truth of our energy system is that often one of the few things we can directly control is which technology to install, and how much energy that product uses.

It was this realization that moved me to focus my career on energy solutions, and within that vast frame of potential influence, energy efficient technologies.

Lessons on the lifecycle

I began my career at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) modeling potential ways to make fossil fuels cleaner using new technologies like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage (CCS).  My focus was on understanding the full life cycle impacts of these technologies on our planet, energy system, and people.

Spoiler alert, I didn’t get a definitive answer. This work is still underway and, candidly, is even more complicated now given how fast society is trying to deploy these technologies on a scale.

The important point, though, is that my first job showed me that an energy transformation will only happen when we fully understand how we use our electrons.

Fast forward to today, and my job is all about helping American utilities implement and evaluate energy efficiency programs that could transform the market. The icing on the cake is knowing that the work I’m doing is also giving Americans the confidence they need to swap out inefficient or carbon-intensive products with better options. De-risking those newer technologies so that they can be adopted without fear, and more importantly, without unintended negative consequences.

Data is the new oil, and demand is the new supply

I will hazard a guess - right now, most Americans aren't thinking about the grid or, if they are, believe the grid is ok because lights are on, homes are being warmed or cooled, and food stays fresh in refrigerators.... most of the time, in most places.

But the expected load growth from the development of more data centers, accelerated EV adoption, industrial operations, and other rapidly changing and increasing loads is a looming threat. The reality is that in America demand for electricity is expected to outpace supply.

That is why achieving greater energy efficiency through robust demand side management programs that include critical technologies is so important.

Getting this right starts with collecting and analyzing the right data. For instance, we must be able to understand the difference between a detailed model of a system’s operation that's based on either conservative or best estimates.

Sounds simple, but it's still amazing how often little hiccups can emerge. That’s why utilities need to find a partner with the right processes and tools to ensure the integrity of data, then use it appropriately to estimate energy savings and other benefits. This is something DNV does exceptionally well.

Recently, I pinpointed the root cause of discrepancies in an energy efficiency program DNV was evaluating for a customer. I found the problem because DNV builds in rigorous cross checking to ensure the accuracy and integrity of data.

Tools like AI have the potential to help. Energy efficiency programs generate large data sets that can be fed into AI systems. The potential here is that AI could enable us to electrify our whole energy system and solve the greenhouse gas emissions problem. This would put me out of a job, but I honestly wouldn’t mind! Let's get started.

The most exciting project is always the next one.

I’ve worked on a wide range of projects at DNV, so it’s hard to look back and pick one that is my favorite.

The most exciting project is the one I'm currently working on. Right now, I’m involved in a project to help manufacturers and utilities measure and verify the results of technology demonstrations that address aggressive state and federal decarbonization goals.

The results of this work can contribute to code or standard setting and, most importantly, help de-mystify why American’s may be slow to adopt certain energy efficiency solutions. It’s all about building up our collective understanding of the technologies and products to enable faster uptake when they hit the market. It's also about understanding the ultimate benefits of R&D programs so that they can learn from past investments to better benefit the public and meet their goals.

This work is incredibly stimulating because I get to talk to manufacturers and program administrators to learn about their product development partnerships, the results they meant to achieve, and seek to quantify the energy and non-energy benefits realized through things like next generation lighting, advanced heat pumps, automatic grid management technology, and even smart traffic cones.

The impact of smart traffic cones was mind-blowing. During demonstrations, traffic cones collected real time data that was pushed to an app alerting drivers to upcoming hazards and showing site managers the traffic patterns around work sites. This helped create a safer work environment because drivers knew about the work and could slow down, avoiding a huge number of potential accidents.

7/10/2024 7:00:00 AM

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Maura Nippert

Maura Nippert

Head of Technology Section

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