Welcome Jim Giordano: New Expert in the Load Management Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Jan 21, 2021 12:33 pm GMT
New technologies, operational strategies, and customer engagement programs are constantly being added to the toolbox of utilities and their load management partners. Rather than looking at the grid as pure and simple building of generation so it will match supply, the nuanced field of load management is increasingly looking for intelligent ways to keep the grid in alignment and reliable.
As these innovations continue to be added to grid operators and stakeholders, it’s going to be more and more critical for professionals across the utility sphere to keep an eye on what the experts are saying. Innovators are going to carve out the path forward, a path that we may not even recognize at this stage. In order to assist in this process, Energy Central is constantly on the lookout for new expert voices to add to our Energy Central Network of Experts in the Load Management Group.
Today I have the great joy of introducing the latest member of this expert, Jim Giordano, Principal at Nexant, Inc. Jim and his team at Nexant are constantly at the cutting edge of the grid-tied technologies, load management solutions, and digital innovations that will continue to forge a path forwards. And as a member of our Expert Network, Jim will be around the Energy Central Community more and more to share his insights and wisdom—start with this entry in our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’
Matt Chester: Let's start off with the basics, Jim. What's your background in the energy space and how did that lead you on your pathway to where you are today as Principal at Nexant?
Jim Giordano: My entire career -- more than 30 years -- has been in the energy space. The first 20 years were spent at Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy and automation solutions. For most of that time, I worked in the division that developed energy management systems for commercial and industrial customers, mainly working in product development and product marketing.
After my tenure at Schneider Electric, I joined Nexant and have been working with utilities on demand-side management (DSM) program design and delivery ever since. It was definitely a change moving from a massive company like Schneider Electric to a smaller (but still global) and more focused company like Nexant. But I absolutely love the world of consulting, mainly for the opportunity that it gives me to work directly with utility customers as a trusted advisor. The thread throughout my entire career, though, has been a continued focus on energy efficiency. I am passionate about that, particularly given the important role it can play in helping to slow the impacts of climate change.
MC: Looking at your bio, it appears that you've worked on DSM in many different areas-- electricity and gas, residential and commercial, different utilities. How much of designing a DSM program stays constant regardless of these variables and how much needs to be customized and tailored to the specific customer base?
JG: Well, there are certainly program models and best practices that can be applied to different utilities. That said, I feel pretty confident in saying that no two utility DSM programs are exactly alike. For example, we run quite a few small business programs across the country, and although they certainly all share common characteristics -- for example, they are trade ally driven, offer instant rebates, etc. -- they have all been tailored to some extent.
I have worked with utilities who are subject to commission regulation, and other utilities that are self-regulated, and I can tell you that those are very different situations. A utility’s geographic landscape and their customer demographics can also really affect the kinds of design decisions that we make. For example, there will most definitely be a difference in how you drive participation for a large municipal utility, versus a utility that is more rural.
Our approach when working with a new utility customer is to focus first on getting a deep understanding of their goals and objectives, their regulatory environment, and their customer demographics. Then we can design or modify a solution that is the best fit for them.
I will say though, that one of the reasons that utilities hire Nexant is because of our breadth of experience and expertise. They expect that we are going to bring that experience and best practice, learned from tackling similar problems elsewhere, to them. And so, we have internal teams and working groups that are designed to do just that. One of my roles as a senior business leader is to marshal the resources from across our company -- whether from the program implementation team, the software team, the strategy and planning team, or the grid consulting team -- to ensure that we have the right Nexant experts working to achieve a customer’s goals.
MC: When it comes to residential DSM, how do you ensure that programs aren't simply passing on the burden of energy planning to the customer but are really about benefitting the customer in their daily life without becoming too much of a hassle?
JG: It’s a good question, but I would expand it beyond residential because I think it is just as applicable to commercial DSM, particularly small to medium businesses. Homeowners and small business owners don’t often have the motivation, time, or knowledge to proactively think about energy efficiency, let alone research rebate options and figure out how to apply.
There really are a number of ways to address this, but they all strive to remove barriers to customer participation by simplifying the participation process. One way to accomplish this is by shifting the work to the trade ally. For example, our typical small business program model involves a closed network of trade allies. These trade allies are highly-trained and they often have sales staff that are focused specifically on the program. They perform the assessments and handle the entire program application process on behalf of the customer.
For customers who do want to ‘self-serve,’ it’s critical that the application process is both clear and easy to accomplish. This starts with good program design, ensuring that you have not unnecessarily overcomplicated the program. For example, have you required pre-approval when a post-purchase application process could suffice? I also think it’s very important to support the application process via a well-designed, application portal that has the look, feel, and ease-of-use of a modern web-based shopping experience.
And that last thing I’ll say is that midstream/upstream program offerings really have a role to play in this, whether via retail programs to benefit residential customers or via distributor/manufacturer based programs that benefit businesses. If nothing else, these programs are designed to get the benefits of EE to the customer with minimal involvement on their part.
MC: We're at long last at the beginning of a new year, which has everyone looking ahead and making predictions. Do you have any forecasts for big developments coming in this space in 2021? What about over the next 5-10 years?
JG: In the short term, I am optimistic about the changes that the Biden administration is going to implement. I think this is going to be the strongest administration we’ve had in terms of taking actions to address climate change, and this can only help to reinforce the important role that energy efficiency plays.
Over the longer term, we are going to see a continued move away from coal and toward a more decentralized power generation model that incorporates utility scale renewables. I also expect that we’ll see continued growth in residential rooftop solar, and in increasing solar + storage. And as that increases, it introduces new challenges for the utilities, adding variability to their load profiles and shifting their peak times, for example. As a result, we are going to see a change in how utilities programmatically deal with demand management. Traditional demand response programs that asked customers a few large customers to shed load during system peaks, are going to be replaced by programs in which the utility has more direct control over many (often smaller) customer loads and can use them as flexible resources to manage the system load profile while improving system reliability. Over time, we are going to see more focus by utilities on when energy is used, rather than just how much is used. And, of course, companies like mine will be working with our utility customers to adjust program designs to meet this need.
I also think that we are going to see an increased focus by utilities on electrification-related initiatives, particularly on transportation electrification, but also on building, agricultural, and industrial process electrification. This is going to be driven both by greenhouse gas reduction goals, but also as a means to offset some of the revenue losses that will occur as customer-owned renewables grow. At this point, though, the interest in this area still outpaces the reality because many utilities are struggling with how to fund these efforts, and whether to make the case to reallocate rate-payer funds that would have been targeted at EE initiatives to instead support broader carbon reduction initiatives.
I should mention that I recently interviewed Steve Nadel, who is the Executive Director of the ACEEE. And although the focus of the discussion was on energy efficiency victories in 2020, we also had some good forward looking discussion. So I would encourage folks who want Steve’s perspective to check out that interview on the Nexant.com blog.
MC: The advent of more digital technologies across the grid and on the customer side are no doubt going to open new doors in the load management space. If you had to pick, is there one part about these new technologies that has you most excited? What about most concerned?
JG: At the start of my career, I was involved in the development of early multi-function digital energy meters that replaced the analog meters of old. But so much has changed since we released the first smart, digital energy meters. It used to be about gathering data at specific points in a power system, and then getting it back to the customer’s internal servers, where hopefully the customer had a facility person on staff who knew how to use the information to improve operating efficiency and save energy.
Today, almost every major energy- consuming piece of equipment is ‘smart’ and IoT enabled, and can serve that info up to the cloud. So now the challenge has become how to make use of a virtual sea of data so that it does more than just consume cloud storage space. It’s an interesting challenge! This is why there’s so much buzz about the role of data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI).
But I think what excites me most about these new digital technologies is the way many of them are able to gather info at the point of use, combine that with outside sources of info such as weather data, or data on a customer’s operational habits, and then automatically adjust how the energy consuming load operates. If you really want to maximize operational efficiency, then you have to take it out of the hands of humans.
Smart thermostats with self-learning modes and smart irrigation controllers are good examples of this. I recently replaced a ten-year-old irrigation controller in my home with a smart irrigation controller, which I love. With my older controller, if I wanted to avoid watering my lawn in the midst of a rainstorm, I had to go outside to the controller and either turn it off (which often resulted in forgetting to turn it back on again) or go through a complicated sequence of button pushes to temporarily edit the operational schedule. My new, smart controller monitors the weather data and knows when the rain is coming, and then automatically adjusts the watering schedule accordingly.
There is only so much you can do to improve the base energy consumption requirements of a piece of equipment itself. Take commercial lighting for example. There are linear LED lamps that are 16 watts that have equivalent -- or better -- light output to an older 40-watt fluorescent lamp. I mean at 16 watts, there’s only so much more juice you can squeeze out of that lemon. That’s why I think that “intelligent efficiency” -- meaning efficiency that results from automated operational improvements -- is really a key to the future of energy efficiency.
With regard to the second part of your question -- do I have concerns about this new proliferation of digital technologies? I tend to be an optimist, so I really am more excited about the potential than I am worried about the challenges. That said, I recognize that there are challenges that will need to be overcome. One challenge is ensuring that open protocols and communication standards continue to develop to ensure interoperability amongst the vast range of smart devices.
From the utility perspective, one of the biggest challenges, that I alluded to in one of your earlier questions, is figuring out how all of these smart devices, particularly DERs that are behind the customer meter, will play into their demand management strategies and programs. It’s one thing to have a bunch of customers with smart and controllable devices, it’s another thing altogether to incorporate them into a program that will allow the utility to proactively leverage those DERs as a flexible resource to help them balance the grid or to achieve a desired load shape. These latter challenges are things that we are working with our utility customers to solve. I often like to say that we work in that space where energy efficiency meets the grid.
MC: I'll give you the final word here-- what else do you want to say to the Energy Central Community?
JG: I’ll just end by saying that it’s an interesting time in the utility world. There are definitely some disruptive changes happening that will require new ideas and new approaches that blur the lines between things like energy efficiency, demand management, and grid optimization. I’d be happy to speak with any of your readers about how Nexant can help navigate this changing landscape. Thanks for giving me the chance to do this interview!
Thanks to Jim Giordano for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Jim will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.
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