"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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San Francisco: Nation’s Energy Leaders Discuss Energy-Efficient Future

By Ellen Hayes

SAN FRANCISCO — Energy leaders from across the nation recently gathered in San Francisco to share a national perspective on the future of energy efficiency.

The April 16 event, called “Building a More Energy Efficient Future: A National Perspective,” was hosted by PG&E, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Company, and San Diego Gas & Electric. And it brought together industry regulators and utilities from all over the United States as well as government entities to share best practices both at the national and local level.

Discussions focused on the opportunities in energy efficiency, driving increased customer engagement, and technology trends taking place that will shape the future.

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PG&E’s Steve Malnight was among those who spoke at the event. (Photos by Ellen Hayes.)

National and local perspective

“It’s great to hear from thought-leaders across the country, all here with the same goals; how we can all work together to better serve and engage with our customers on energy efficiency,” said Sara Nordin, senior manager, San Diego Gas & Electric.

Now in its second year, the event was held at the Delancey Street Foundation, the country’s leading residential self-help organization that serves thousands of residents in five locations.  Residents at Delancey Street, San Francisco, range from teenagers to senior citizens, and include men and women from all backgrounds.  With its national reach in changing people’s lives, Delancey Street served as a fitting backdrop for holding a national conversation on energy efficiency — and its impact on the environment and everyone’s future.

“Here in California, we are extremely proud of the leadership we’ve demonstrated in energy efficiency for decades,” said Steve Malnight, PG&E’s vice president of customer energy solutions. “But like all of us involved in this industry recognize, we are better when we are all working together than as individuals.  By working together and collaborating on what’s in the best interest of our customers, we’ll be in a better position to meet their needs.”

Added Malnight: “The industry has a lot of great energy-efficiency offerings for customers, and our responsibility is to make sure they understand them and know how they can use them.   We need to really put ourselves in our customers’ shoes in order to be able to engage them on these programs.  This is what the event is all about.”

Some of the most successful energy-efficiency programs in the country were featured at the event.  Leaders from utilities as far away as Massachusetts talked about lessons learned from statewide programs and success in driving long-term customer engagement in energy efficiency.  Matt Rogers, director at McKinsey & Company, delivered the keynote speech focusing on how organizations and managers need to change the way they think about resources to survive and prosper in the future.

Michael Colvin, senior analyst with the California Public Utilities Commission, talked about the future of energy efficiency and driving long term engagement. “On the backdrop of what’s being discussed here, one thing that is really interesting to me is if California can evolve into a rolling portfolio cycle model.  The idea is managing energy efficiency as long term resource and managing programs like a stock portfolio.  You would have certain things you’d treat like a long term investment and things you’d treat like a short term investment,” he said.

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Industry leaders Margaret Downey, Penni McLean-Conner and Susan Kaplan, were among the presenters at the event.

Colvin added: “The idea of trying to move away from a start-stop model and move into long-term, ongoing investment.  And then seeing how that translates into the regulatory space and the market space.  Everything I’m hearing today I am looking at through the customer’s lens.  If the customer can get a signal and knows there is commitment, it can shift their views. ”

Technology and innovation shaping customer expectations

Fitting for California, attendees also shared their views on the role of technology and innovation along with the impact this has on customer expectations and how customers want to engage with providers.  While there is a lot of work to do, the possibilities are endless.  The combination of energy efficiency and information technology is a powerful one.

Technology will allow customers to re-think how they leverage energy resources and how they engage.  They will also change some of the expectations that customers have with these new technologies.

“How does technology and customers combine with each other, and what will be the next Nest Thermostat equivalent in all the different spaces of energy efficiency?” asked Colvin.  “I think we are really trying to put a focus on the idea of technology and customer engagement.  It’s a new role.  Regulators and the industry will really need to think about how to bring the customer into the centerfold of this new space.”

Get more information on PG&E’s commitment to energy efficiency.