Looking back to the PacificCrest Emerging Technology Summit last week in San Francisco, let me summarize the discussion of the Energy Efficiency panel I appeared on with William Rodgers, CEO of GoodCents, an energy services provider, and Gary Boyd, a VP at SAIC, a large engineering and consulting firm that works in the energy efficiency, renewables, and smart grid areas.
No surprise at a venture capital conference, but our moderator asked us all to reflect on the positive business atmosphere for the energy efficiency industry. I was able to point to the very large and ever increasing pool of utility program funding, citing statistics from CEE regarding the number of utilities offering programs and the growth in funding in the US over just the past three or four years.
But what we really wanted to talk about were the market barriers that prevent the vibrancy of energy efficiency implementation efforts.
William in particular was quite critical of utilities for having programs that are too difficult for customers to access, and far too confusing given a plethora of program offerings and designs. He also criticized the regulatory environment in the country, where most utilities are doing EE programs because they are told to by their commissions, often to the detriment of their shareholders (given the lack of decoupling).
I put up a reasonable if not impassioned defense, noting that decoupling is the regulatory framework in at least four states, and that utilities have the obligation to meet evaluation and measurement criteria that (negatively, in my mind) informs program design. I do agree, however, that the EM&V community is now doing utilities, their customers, and regulators something of a disservice by micro-managing and second-guessing programs.
We all discussed the split incentive barrier to project implementation, as well as the basic economic conditions we have in this country that make companies focus on very short time horizons to the detriment of long-term decision making.
I tried to slip in a last word at the end about the vital need we have as a society to more aggressively pursue energy efficiency as a resource and as a competitive advantage in the future, but I'm not sure we provided the "oomph" or excitement that was palpable in the other panel discussions.