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Joseph Wadel of Consumers Energy: Profile of an Energy Central Innovation Champion

image credit: Energy Central

This item is part of the Special Issue - 03/2020 - Innovation in Power, click here for more

As Energy Central sought to recognize those utility professionals who were leading the way in innovative thinking, we collected nominations from the community about who was creating change in the power sector. What resulted was over 100 nominations, which we passed through the minds of a select committee of Energy Central experts to identify a list of five Champions in Innovation (more details on this process can be found here).

Among those five champions was Joseph Wadel, Commercial and Industrial Pilot Program Manager at Consumers Energy. Joseph was nominated by peers at Consumers Energy for his leadership in managing the company’s Commercial and Industrial Emerging Technologies Pilots Program for the past four years. His role as C&I Pilot Program Manager challenges him to constantly ask what innovative approaches, measures, or processes can be explored today that will meet tomorrow’s energy demands and waste reduction goals. And in the face of these challenges, Joseph has risen to the occasion to implement almost 20 energy efficiency pilot programs that have saved an abundance of power for the customers of Consumers Energy.

To learn more about Joseph’s efforts and the lessons learned he can pass on from them, keep reading this profile of an Energy Central Innovation Champion where he shares thoughts in his own words. And at the end, we’d love if you could join Energy Central in congratulation Joseph and leave him a question or note in the comments section.

 

Background in Utilities

"I kicked off my energy career in 2009 as an implementation contractor with Consumers Energy’s (CE) energy efficiency (EE) program (note: now call “Energy Waste Reduction” programs); the first year of program offerings. I began reviewing and inspecting customer energy efficiency applications and was soon thereafter (late 2009) tapped to begin expanding CE’s EWR offerings, where we built out our first pilot program offerings, Building Operator Certification and our New Construction program. Pilot programs within the CE portfolio haven’t been solely “emerging technologies,” but also targeting underserved markets, and mending broken supply chains, all of which we have learnings and result in improved support for our customers.

From 2009 to 2015 as an implementation contractor, we continued to grow the CE pilot program offerings, where we operated about four to six programs per year. In 2016, I was recognized by CE management and asked to come work directly for the company and oversee the pilot program operations, where I’ve continued through today.”

 

The Pilot Program Process

“First, I believe it’s important to note why we can offer a robust selection of pilot programs. The answer is Michigan’s regulatory environment. The current energy legislation allows utilities to spend up to 5% of their annual EWR budget on pilot programs, which therefore enables and encourages innovation.

Our pilot process is internally referred as the POD process, Pilot Origination and Design, and is made of five gates:

  1. Ideation – Multiple sources: Customer feedback, trade allies, internal staff (implementation contractors, CE staff, evaluation feedback), Trade Association memberships and research (CEE ETC, MEEA, ESource, and others)
  2. Concept Review – filtering of ideas to move towards a formal business case
  3. Program Development – Engaging stakeholders (subject matter experts, implementation staff, evaluation!, etc), selection of new pilot’s and buildout of program design
  4. Pilot Implementation – programs operate from one to three years, assessing each year for learnings/need for evolution/early retirement
  5. Retirement or Transition to full program – assessment of pilot program’s performance and next steps (cost effectiveness, verifiable savings, customer feedback/satisfaction, ability to scale up)

From that process, some of our most successful pilot programs include Networked Lighting Controls (deeper energy savings for LEDs), Online Business Marketplace (DIY customer products), and Energy Smart Grocer (underserved segment and technology focused).”

 

Embracing Innovation in as a Core Principle

“The regulatory environment has given us the foundation, but a close second is our Leadership support, which has been tremendous. Both have allowed us the opportunity to create an entire team of six to eight staff members focused on researching, implementing, and learning more than we could have imagined. Today, pilot programs and graduated pilot programs contribute about 30% of our business electric and natural gas energy waste reduction portfolio savings each year.

For other utilities looking to replicate this success, I recommend recognizing funding may be the first hurdle for many, and if so, consider partnerships. Regional associations or other utilities may be the place to start. Pooling funding and resources may be the ticket to your first pilot.”

 

Learning from Successes and Failures

“Our pilot team ensures we document lessons learned no matter success or retirement of all efforts. An example of a pilot that was retired early is where we tested a technology while it was in early R&D stages. Though we had learnings as a result of the technology tested in this pilot, the greatest learning was addressed in our Pilot Origination and Design process. By increasing the intel on any new pilot idea, we would improve our planning, and ultimately implementation efforts down the road. We formalized our ideation process through improved documentation, standardized scoring methods, and stakeholder review teams when selecting the next pilot program.”

 

Innovative Technology vs. Getting That Technology In Use

“The technology is only one piece of what a pilot is often solving for, for example Networked Lighting Controls. We began piloting in 2015 and sought to understand if networked controls would save more than traditional lighting controls, how much more, and at what cost? The second area of focus, especially with any new technology, is education to customers, contractors, and internal EWR staff. This is new to everyone!

So today, it’s 2020, and NLC is still talked about in a “new” technology, and not standard. Much of our year will be continued education to address market adoption from customers and contractors (with over 60 lighting contractors trained in the last two years).”

 

On the Future of Utility Innovation

“Inside the realm of energy efficiency, we continue to look at solutions around improved internal data analytics, or comprehensive energy management (i.e. plug load, with lighting, HVAC, etc.), or underserved segments in our service territory and more.

Outside of efficiency, but related, we are all seeing tremendous growth in energy storage, electric vehicles, renewables, demand response, and smart grids tying all the above together.

I’m personally excited for what’s to come on a work and personal front, as I attempt to bring much of my learnings into practice at the homestead…sometimes to the dismay of my spouse!”

 

Energy Central thanks Joseph Wadel for his valued contributions to the utility industry and for his leadership in the area of innovation. Please leave a note of thanks, ask a question, or just your two cents in the comments below. To see the other Energy Central Innovation Champions, see the rest of the Special Issue on Innovation in the Electric Power Industry.

Discussions

PJ Davis's picture
PJ Davis on Mar 30, 2020

Congrats Joseph! Thanks for sharing the lessons learned from the successes and failures. 

Joseph Wadel's picture
Joseph Wadel on Mar 31, 2020

Happy to! I'm appreciative of Energy Central and the volunteer review committee providing the opportunity to share!

Joseph Wadel's picture

Thank Joseph for the Post!

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