ACEEE Summer Study on Industry: It’s all about the people

Aug 6, 2015

This week, I was lucky enough to attend ACEEE’s Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry in Buffalo, NY. Aside from trying the buffalo wings, my main goal at the conference was to learn more about Strategic Energy Management (SEM)—but I found much, much more.

For those of you who haven’t heard about SEM before, it’s an energy efficiency program for industrial customers (although commercial SEM exists too). The goal of SEM is to teach customers to view and manage their energy consumption in a much more holistic way and take a continuous improvement approach to their energy management. Rather than relegating discussions of energy efficiency to that painful day when the monthly energy bill arrives, industrial customers in SEM programs learn how to constantly track their energy usage, set their own energy and efficiency goals, and incorporate efficiency considerations into everyday decisions. They’re empowered to understand their options and complete meaningful projects that help them save energy and achieve their goals. The holy grail of SEM is culture change—literally changing the way every person in the company thinks and acts, whether it’s as small as turning off an air compressor at night or as large as hiring an executive-level energy manager dedicated to achieving the company’s energy savings goals nationwide.

At ACEEE, I learned how organizations are trying new ways to offer SEM to smaller industrial customers than previously reached. I saw a presentation on the market transformation curves that model the very real way SEM programs are changing industry today. I heard comparisons between offering SEM as a one-year “drink from the fire hose” experience for customers and providing it as a five (or more) year process treating SEM as a marathon rather than a sprint. All of the presentations were great, and I now have many papers to enjoy as a little “light reading” before bedtime.

But what I didn’t expect was something else I found at the conference—the people. Just like SEM, ACEEE created a space where everyone was dedicated to and excited about industrial energy efficiency. I met representatives from manufacturing associations, analysts from Switzerland and Belgium, super-friendly evaluators (gasp! at least for implementers), and the president of NYSERDA (which was very cool). Without exception, everyone I met had something to teach me, and I came away from every conversation with something valuable to take home with me. ACEEE even conducted its own continuous improvement exercise by offering a networking café that had previously been proven as a valuable tool in SEM. I’m so thankful for the experience that I had this week, and I’m coming home feeling more ready to tackle industrial energy efficiency than ever.