All Aboard the Steam Trap Express: Exclusive Interview with Joe Bickham of Franklin Energy - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Energy Efficiency Group
image credit: Joe Bickham
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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Aug 6, 2019

When it comes to providing energy efficiency programs to customers, utilities have countless opportunities and strategies they can target. Because of the addage that a kilowatthour saved is cheaper than a kilowatthour generated, these programs are attractive to utility and customer alike, and harnessing the lessons learned across the industry is critical.

With that in mind, the upcoming AESP Summer Conference in Toronto, Canada, provides a great chance for industry professionals to meet, connect, and learn from each other. One such learning opportunity those in attendance should be sure not to miss is Joe Bickham's presentation "Faster than a locomotive - Steam Trap Express."

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Joe Bickham is a Manager of C&I Specialty Programs at Franklin Energy, who has worked with Consumers Energy to run their utility rebate programs and desigin their energy efficiency design program implementation. Through this role, Joe has had the opportunity really develop the steam trap efficiency program for Consumers Energy, and he plans to share what he's learned with the attendees at the AESP Summer Conference. He was kind enough to spend some time answering my questions on this program and his upcoming presentation to share with the Energy Central audience.

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Matt Chester: To start off, can you explain what steam trap programs are and how utilities are implementing them?

Joe BickhamUtility programs have many ways to implement offerings for their customers. On the Commercial and Industrial side, most programs offer some sort of prescriptive and custom rebates for energy efficient improvements. These are programs that give a dollar amount per item installed or pay a rate based on savings. A steam trap program was developed for Consumers Energy to target an underserved opportunity and market. We had limited participation through the prescriptive program but knew there was more potential to capture higher gas savings and thus developed different offerings. The steam trap program created focuses on a specific measure and targets all industries to help customers overcome barriers. Different approaches to participate were developed to suit the customers preferred method. The midstream approach makes it simple for any customer or contractor that buys a trap from a distributor you receive a point of sale discount. The Steam Trap Express program aids trade allies and customers to convert projects quickly by providing a solution for small businesses without capital and quick turn around for implementation. The third solution is a custom program for larger systems, where a company can receive higher incentives and the program can claim more gas savings.


MC: What do the figues in energy and cost savings look like when properly implementing these steam trap programs, both for customer and utility?

JBFor the customer, the program covers between 50 and 100 percent of the cost of replacing a trap. Depending on the orifice size and type, the return on investment for the customer typically less than one year.

For the utility, this program has been operating with two dedicated staff members and the incentives rates offered are between $3 and $8 per thousand cubic foot (MCF). The goal is to get 100,000 MCF annually from these programs and to date it is on track to achieve 60,000 MCF this year, double the 2018 results.


MC: When utilities look to increase customer engagement in steam trap programs, what have you found to be successful strategies?

JB: At Consumers Energy, we found that to be successful we must learn what the barriers of participation are, make it as easy for customers and trade allies to participate, and identify key accounts that have traps and get them participating. We found that by going to the customer directly it helps encourage the trade allies and distributors to participate or they may be at risk of losing business. We also can offer free Ultrasonic monitoring testing, which has helped create the awareness for customers who don’t have the capability to check trap operation with their own resources.

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MC: You've noted the unique variance in markets you've tapped for this program, including universities, manufacturing, dry cleaning, and industrial. How do th eneeds of these sectors vary and how does the utility have to adjust their strategy in order to properly address the needs of different markets?

JB: For many years the Consumers Energy program offered only prescriptive incentives for steam traps. The program claimed 29.3 MCF per failed open trap and averaged around 20 projects per year and saved the program 20,000 to 30,000 MCF. To encourage easier participation, the Midstream program was developed and with a focused effort to sign up distributors. 20,000 MCF was captured.

By realizing we weren’t addressing all the market needs, the Steam Trap Express program was created to target the dry cleaner industry. This was an underserved market and from research we identified over 400 locations throughout the state we could potentially reach out to for further savings and conversion to energy efficiency. The potential was large if 3 to 4 traps were failed at each of these facilities’ then replacement could bring 30,000 to 50,000 MCF to the program, in addition to the midstream offering.

Early this year we expanded to offer the Steam Trap Express offering to all industry types, as well as developed a Korean application. To capture more savings, we created a custom calculator for larger traps. This custom calculator has delivered and presented an opportunity to capture an additional 30,000 to 40,000 MCF for the program. Each program offering is targeted at different market sectors.The Midstream approach targets a customer segment such as universities that replace all of their traps per building, or wing, on five-year rotating schedule. This is a lot easier of a practice then testing hundreds or thousands of traps but instead replace them all. The Steam Trap Express offering works well for dry cleaner or small business customers with limited funding and resources to replace their traps. It encourages trade allies to offer a trap replacement service at little to no cost to the customers.

And lastly, custom traps expand opportunities for larger facilities to participate and install new traps that save themselves and the utility more energy while receiving higher incentives. By understanding what the market is asking for we’ve developed three solutions to maximize the industry potential. The program has doubled the output of the past program performance and identified opportunities to capture up to 100,000 MCF annually.


MC: One of the aspects of this program that seems the most important is the inclusion of training and equipment for customers to monitor the steam trap systems on their own. What did this training look like and what are the specific benefits expected to come from it?

JB: Consumers Energy implemented a steam trap tresting program to help customers identify their savings potential. By bringing in Ultrasonic Leak detection companies, we trained contractors and customers on the benefits of testing their steam equipment. We then followed up the training by offering free Ultrasonic leak detectors to select participating contractors and customers to continuously monitor their traps in the future. The training for these traps showed the difference in the offerings, the simplicity of filling out the applications for participation, the benefits from a cost/energy savings by replacing their traps, as well as training the contractors on how to boost their sales and participation by utilizing the program offerings.

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MC: Lastly, I like to ask about any particular topics or speakers you're eager to listen in on as an attendee of the AESP Summer Conference, outside of your participation as a speaker. What do you see as the most exciting topics you want to learn about?

JB: As an engineer, I'm always looking forward to the new technologies and ways to overcome challenges in the industry. We also are looking for ways to grow our municipal participation so the "On Common Ground: Where nunicipalities & utilities can make things happen" is very relevant to our current focus. I'd also be doing Katie Mueller a disservice if I didn't recommend her "Be You. Own You. Brand You." discussion, as this is an excellent session on how to reflect on yourself and your personal brand.

If you're interested in learning more about the Steam Trap Express program, be sure to check out Joe Bickham's presentation this topic at AESP’s Summer Conference (in Toronto from August 27 to 29). You can learn more about the agenda and register for the conference here.


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