Energy efficiency is a growing resource, increasingly recognized as an inexpensive yet effective source of capacity. But even as more states set efficiency targets and incorporate it into planning, a dearth of data on projects, standards and savings, has slowed widespread adoption.
Now, a diverse group of states and clean energy stakeholders has released a set of principles and operating rules that will underpin the United States' first web-based registry of energy efficiency project data. The idea is to create a system capable of tracking energy projects and savings, while helping to quantify what results might be expected from new projects.
The National Energy Efficiency Registry (NEER) will collect standardized and transparent data on the savings associated with energy efficiency, with an eye towards broadening its use, standardizing more projects, improving measurement and verification of savings, and ultimately boosting investments in demand reduction. And while NEER is not a trading platform, the information entered into the registry will help facilitate trading of clean energy instruments.
A wide range of entities will be ale to access and utilize the registry, including utilities, state or municipal officials, energy efficiency providers and program managers, corporations and clean energy stakeholders.
"Energy efficiency is a large resource and opportunity," Rodney Sobin, senior program director at the National Association of State Energy Officials, told Utility Dive. "Some of it is validated and tracked, but much of it is not. Being able to better discern what energy efficiency is providing, and what its contributions are to reliability and energy security, as well as abating pollution, can be quite useful."
While utility-based energy efficiency programs have a lot of measurement and oversight, non-utility programs comprise the majority of such initiatives and they're less well quantified, increasing the value of a tool like NEER.
Clean Power Plan and other drivers
The project kicked off in 2015, when the group of partners was awarded competitive funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the concept. Since then, the project team has consulted with other states, local governments, academic institutions and other stakeholders to ensure the tool being developed was capable of supporting a wide range of energy efficiency policies and programs.
Initially, the registry was aimed at least in part at providing assistance with the Clean Power Plan — the Obama Administration's signature climate change initiative to reduce carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. While the initial version of the plan included energy efficiency as a "building block" of state emissions targets, the tool was axed from the final rule. The final rule still provided credit for states to invest in renewables or energy efficiency before the compliance period went into effect, but the Trump Administration has pulled back the Clean Power Plan, making that aspect of the NEER largely irrelevant.
According to Sobin, however, CPP was just one reason for developing the registry.
"When the project started, there was a wider recognition among partners that it wasn't just for CPP, but a need and desire to better understand energy efficiency and what its impacts are, whether for emissions, or reliability and grid planning," he said. None of that has changed.
"The registry itself is still at the very early stage," Sobin explained. An initial two-year development period funded by the DOE was completed as the framework was released Oct. 31. Now, in addition to more development work being done on the registry, the NEER project participants are searching for a pilot program to kick off operational aspects.
Principles and operating rules
Software for the web-based platform is being developed by APX, which tracks and manages environmental assets, including more than 2 billion renewable energy certificates and 1,300 global firms as account holders. APX developed a software platform that supports a variety of renewable energy registries used by REC markets and is adapting that platform for energy efficiency in the context of NEER
The registry will document achievement of state energy and environmental goals and disclose regulated entities’ compliance activities. It will also drive voluntary investment in energy efficiency and energy and water conservation initiatives by supporting registration and tracking of efficiency projects, and issuing tradable instruments based on the savings, according to the NEER roadmap.
"The NEER is flexible and can be tailored to suit evolving public policy goals and to track a range of benefits of EE Projects," according to the operating rules the project group released. The registry can be customized by each "client jurisdiction," and may be used for both compliance and non-compliance purposes.
While energy efficiency projects in the utility sector will be a major part of the registry, Sobin explained that may not be the most utilized aspect. Voluntary initiatives, building codes and self-directed goals may compromise a more useful chunk of the registry, as there is typically less measurement and verification done on these projects which do not involve compliance metrics.
"Among the project states, the general understanding is that utility programs generally have an existing quantification and tracking function, and in those cases NEER may not have as great a use, except perhaps as an adjunct," Sobin said. A number of states have self-directed efficiency goals for utilities, and the registry could be helpful in those instances, or "states using it to quantify energy savings that occur due to non-utility policies," he said.
NEER "is designed to be transparent and in full compliance with identified evaluation measurement and verification plans and quality assurance/quality control protocols," the registry's supporting documents explain. Efficiency projects — or "assets" in NEER parlance — will be tracked from creation through retirement, with energy savings calculated in a transparent manner.
States involved in the development of NEER include: Tennessee, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Pennsylvania. The Climate Registry, NASEO and E4TheFuture are also involved, along with APX.
That's a diverse mix of states, particularly with regard to energy efficiency. The American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, for example, pegs Oregon as the fifth most energy efficient state, in part due to its strong building efficiency codes and utility programs. Georgia, on the other hand, is ranked 38th based on the relative weakness of its appliance efficiency standards and building codes.
"When you have Georgia and Oregon in the same group that's kind of interesting," Sobin said. But the NEER project is being headed up by the states, with all of them looking to improve, he noted. "The half dozen states partnered are diverse," he said. "Some have a good reputation for energy efficiency and some are not as robust, and yet they particpated."
Next step: pilots
There is much work still to be done on the registry. The next step, Sobin said, is to find companies, utilities or localities that are interested in running a pilot program engaging with the NEER.
"We are looking for opportunities," Sobin told Utility Dive, noting that there is a company operating in the electric transmission space that has expressed an interest in potentially piloting the NEER to vet the savings accrued from more efficient transmission. That could be a strong starting point for the group, as most utility work on the subject is with respect to end-use efficiency. "In the T&D space, my understanding is it's harder to get recognition from the utility," he said.
Once projects are registered, they must go through an "eligibility evaluation" before the provider can begin to report on the project’s impacts. If a project reports to a standard that supports the issuance of tradable certificates,
the project’s impacts would form the basis of those certificates.
"Any trading of certificates will be managed outside of the NEER and then be tracked within it," the project group wrote in an FAQ. "Certificate transfers to and from other platforms will also be possible."
The registry will also support permanent retirement of certificates in order to substantiate voluntary or compliance claims.
Sobin said several stakeholders not a part of the original project team have also expressed an interest in piloting the NEER, including a state that does not have well-established utility efficient standards. He declined to name the state.
"The states really were the lead on this project, and the states that were involved all saw a need or desire for NEER or something like it to better quantify and recognize energy efficiency, whether for some formalized crediting or more general discerning of what is going on, to help with energy planning and to help with related environmental planning."
Sobin said utility programs are important and large, but "the majority of investment and delivery occurs outside of the utility space," including areas like building codes, new clean energy financing products and low-income weatherization, he noted.
"A lot of the utility programs have a lot of measurement and verification and oversight," he said, "but many non-utility programs are not so well quantified." And while the NEER was originally conceived for electricity, he said it could also be used to accommodate natural gas or other fuels, or even to track water savings. "But that's farther down the line," he said.
"It's fair to say that while this part of the NEER project is coming towards a close ... the roadmap is not meant to be an end but sort of a beginning," Sobin said.