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Welcome Kelly Curtis: New Expert in the Energy Efficiency Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Energy Efficiency Group
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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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  • Feb 18, 2021 11:30 am GMT
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Finding ways to reduce energy bills is such a critical area of focus for businesses across the country, during normal times and especially during strained economic times. Finding the best opportunities for efficiency can also be an important pillar of investment for utilities, as reducing peak load demand helps minimize investment needed in generation and transmission alike.

Our latest expert in the Energy Efficiency community is looking to do help businesses and utilities find these mutually agreeable solutions that qualify as true win-wins. Kelly Curtis is the Managing Partner at Discovery Energy, where he provides consulting and energy bill reviews for all sorts of commercial and industrial customers. His insights on the world of energy efficiency can be invaluable, so we’re thrilled to welcome him to our Energy Central Network of Experts.

To introduce himself to the community, Kelly was kind enough to answer some of my prying questions as a part of the Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.

Matt Chester: Welcome to Energy Central and to this role of being a part of our Network of Experts! I want to make sure our community members understand your background and recognize the expertise that you do in fact bring to the table, so let’s just start broadly there—what is your history in the utility industry and what experience brought you to your current role today?

Kelly Curtis: Thank you, it’s great to be a part of the Energy Central community.  My introduction to the energy industry came when we purchased a company that did utility audit consulting.  At that point in my career, my background was finance, and did not know the first thing about energy.  But utility bill auditing was a great introduction to the energy industry because it really taught me how to look at rate design and regulation on both the electricity and natural gas side.  Every client we had was a new experience that introduced us to new states, new utilities, and the different way things were done across the country. 

That experience lead us to develop a reverse auction platform that grew into an energy procurement company.  That was exciting because it brought in focus specific deregulated markets and entirely different problem-solving scenarios than utility bill auditing.  Knowing rates in both regulated and deregulated areas helped us understand an opportunity in renewable energy in 2015.  Solar was just at the tipping point where it was becoming cheaper than utility power in most areas under fledgling net metering policies. We started and grew a commercial and residential solar company with an Intermountain Region footprint. 

That experience gave me a completely different side of energy exposure, and while I didn’t particularly like the construction aspect to that business, I loved the disruptive, progressive, and cutting-edge nature of solar.  When our solar company was acquired in 2019, we stayed with the acquiring company until we made our way back to utility auditing and energy management in 2020.  Now we have improved our consulting offering and I really love helping manufacturing and industrial companies get the most out of their energy portfolio.  With solar, my role was more on the executive side of the table, and I’m glad now I get to be back with clients – problem solving, making their lives easier, and helping to take their energy portfolio - something that most companies ignore, and turn it into something they are proud of.

 

MC: When it comes to energy efficiency, there are two main goals for customers—being more ‘green’ in reducing energy use and saving more ‘green’ by achieving savings on their bill!  What do you find is the best approach to tackling these desires with efficiency programs?  How do you capture in one program the opportunities that can appeal to customers who prioritize these goals in different ways?

KC: In my experience, I haven’t seen one program that can really deal with all the goals a company may have with regards to energy.  But, if I had to pick one program, it would be a utility bill audit.  I believe that is the foundational program that kicks off everything else.  For one, it will uncover savings that is regulatory and administrative in nature, no operational changes necessary.  This savings can be invested back into the portfolio via energy efficiency projects, renewables, and all the projects that require capital expense. 

The other reason I believe it is foundational, is because it may change certain aspects to your rate design, which could impact any ROI math that is done on an efficiency project.  For instance, if we find that a demand-based rate schedule is more advantageous, and saves the warehouse meter 15%, and it drops your kwh cost from 10 cents/kwh to 8.5 cents/kwh, well that would affect the breakeven period of an LED light project, for example.  If we can reduce your demand charge by 50%, and that is the mechanism your utility uses to penalize bad power factors, then it would double the breakeven period of purchasing harmonic filters.  So, it’s good to have a utility bill audit done in a formal manner that can lead into both saving energy and money.

MC: For utility efficiency programs, what are some of the most common areas that are overlooked or missed opportunities, in your experience?

KC: As far as utility programs go, I think that demand response is one that is frequently underutilized.  Another missed opportunity, although not a utility program, is the practice of measuring, tracking, and monitoring usage patterns – either automatically or manually.  We find that the old saying is true that says, “whatever is measured, improves.  That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” When companies have their energy data available, so many possibilities are also available.

 

MC: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the field of energy efficiency—is it getting more technological solutions out there, or is it in the behavioral side of things in getting customers to use those technologies?  Where will the biggest leaps in savings come in the next few years on technical vs. operational?

KC: I think there is a vast improvement in tech that can be made, and I feel like tech will drive behavior faster than anything else.  Just look at electric vehicles as an example.  From a broad sense, Tesla made zero emissions a possibility because their tech made people gush over their car.  There have been other electric vehicles in the last 8 years.  But really only Tesla has been effective at getting the masses—who might care about the environment, or they might not—to invest in an EV.  If we can make the technology and solutions easy, attractive, and beneficial beyond just efficiency, then behavior and adoption will follow.

 

MC: Can you share what is it about Energy Central that compelled you to get involved and integrated with the community?  And what should community members look forward to you bringing to the table as our newest expert?

KC: I saw the value of LinkedIn for being able to educate, distribute content, and connect with companies and professionals in the energy industry.  But LinkedIn is very broad.  I think Energy Central can get specific in topics and content in a way that LinkedIn cannot, especially with the groups.  LinkedIn felt too promotional, I like the way that Energy Central focuses on the content, and the value of education in all forms.  As a new expert, I hope to bring valuable content.  I think that utility bill auditing is underutilized in energy strategy, and I hope to bring valuable solutions to other consultants and companies who are on the platform.

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Thanks again to Kelly Curtis for joining our Expert Network and sharing his time and experience with the community. As you see Kelly engaging across Energy Central, be sure to share any comments or questions with him to tap into his wealth of knowledge!

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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