What Do Swimsuits and Demand-Side Management Have in Common?

By Melanie Wemple - Senior Research Associate

The days are getting progressively (and noticeably) longer and warmer; the snow is melting and the first signs of spring are budding and blooming here in Colorado. For me, all these signs are indicative of two things: Swimsuit season will soon be upon us and utilities will be releasing the results of their 2012 demand-side management (DSM) programs. Now, how in the world could I possibly link such disparate occasions like bathing-suit season and the release of DSM results? Actually, they have some surprisingly similar attributes. Let’s examine.

  • The conspicuous: Swimsuit season and releasing annual DSM program results generally fall within a similar time frame—March to October.
  • The behind-the-scenes: Much like analyzing the performance of efficiency programs, swimsuit season is usually only stressful for those intimately involved.
  • The undeniable: Both occasions require an unbiased examination of last year’s performance. There’s usually a moment when we must “true-up.” Sometimes truing-up happens later in the summer, when we realize that last year wasn’t really as good as we thought (or maybe it was better). No matter, we use what we learned last year to help us improve future performance, or in the case of bikinis, perception.
  • The absolute: It will happen again next year.

As I brace myself for both of these happenings, I’m only consciously preparing for one right now: The efficiency program results. To stake out my niche, I’ve been collecting, compiling, and very slowly building up a substantial record on the performance of utility efficiency programs. Last year, E Source published an analysis of the 2011 energy and demand projections, achievements, budgets, and expenditures for 40 program administrators—the second installment of such research. And this year, we’re lining up to produce a similar tome. It’s still too early to tell where the 2012 data will take us, but there are some areas that we’re keeping a keen eye on such as:

  • The ebb and flow of new construction programs. The year 2011 was one of continued depressed construction markets, and the proof is in the program results. Commercial and residential new construction programs struggled to meet participation, energy, and demand-savings goals in 2011. Many program administrators reported that 2012 would be the turnaround year, and now it’s time to see if new construction programs are realizing improved results.
  • The rise of moderate-income residential programs. “The Great Recession” definitely put a hurting on the piggy banks of many residential utility customers. In response, we’ve noticed an increase in programs for moderate-income customers (those customers who make too much to apply for low-income weatherization services, but don’t make quite enough to outlay the cash or take on additional debt for energy-efficiency improvements). Utilities and municipalities have noticed this, too, and as a result we’ve seen more programs that offer increased incentives for moderate-income customers.
  • Ever-increasing utility goals. The fact that utilities are trying to meet skyrocketing DSM goals is no secret. In 2011, the utilities we evaluated saved an average of nearly 1.0 percent of retail electric sales and about 0.65 percent of retail gas sales. It’ll be interesting to see how 2012 stacks up. (The same might be said for swimsuit season!)

If you’re interested to see how your DSM program results compare to those of other program administrators, check out our report 2011 DSM Achievements and Expenditures and its corresponding web conference The DSM Barometer: Helping to Gauge Your 2011 DSM Results (both for members of the E Source Efficiency & Demand-Response Programs Service). And if you’d like to see your utility included in this year’s report, let me know!


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