SEM for Multifamily

10/16/17

Strategic Energy Management (SEM) is apparently the new black.

Okay, so Strategic Energy Management (SEM) isn’t really all that new, but there has been a resurgence of interest in it across the commercial and industrial sectors. Part of this growing interest is due to pioneering groups, like the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance’s (NEEA) SEM Collaborative, which brings utilities and SEM practitioners together for peer learning and collaboration, and national events, like the North American SEM Summit at ACEEE Summer Study, which took place this past August in Denver, CO.

First, a quick primer on what SEM actually is – I prefer this definition from the SEM Hub, an online resource center chock full of case studies, papers and useful resources that anyone can utilize:

SEM is a system of organizational practices, policies, and processes that creates persistent energy savings by integrating energy management into business practices – just like you would with quality assurance, safety, or productivity. SEM focuses on changes in daily operations that engage staff at all levels of an organization in energy efficiency activities.

This sounds great! But wait, where else might SEM be employed? It’s working for commercial and industrial – what about multifamily? You know, that extremely hard-to-reach market that straddles the residential and commercial divide in the most difficult, split incentive way?

Milepost Consulting has partnered with building science experts O’Brien and Co., Cadmus and Bright Power Energy Scorecards to support innovative NW utility Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in a first of its kind discovery process to determine if the principles of SEM could effectively be applied to the multifamily sector. The intention was to apply CEE’s Minimum Elements of engagement, education, behavior change, planning and tracking (which are already working with their highly successful, SEM-like Resource Conservation Program for commercial customers) to PSE’s multifamily market. Participants of the first cohort are made up of market rate properties, low-income and senior housing. The mix also includes mid-rise and garden style properties that range from 2–32 buildings per property, with a range of 60–470 units.

Core goals for PSE’s Multifamily SEM initiative include:

  1. Strategies, activities and tools to help multifamily customers better manage energy use
  2. Customer engagement for a hard-to-reach market
  3. 5–10% energy savings over a period of one year

While the results of the first cohort will not be realized until 2018, there have already been some key discoveries:

Opportunity knocks

There are energy savings opportunities on every property, even new construction, and across building types, owners and locations. Combining education, action plans and direct install measures can provide a consistent yet managable platform for customer engagement and energy savings opportunities.

Money still matters

Participants are very interested in saving on energy costs, even when energy costs are relatively low or a small piece of the pie. Labor and replacement costs contribute to overhead, and SEM can provide an organized path to building in efficiencies with longer lifespans that reduce both.

Energy management is not at the top of their to-do list

While participants care about energy costs, there are many other priorities. Staff turnover, resident issues and building emergencies are just a few of the things that can put energy management on the back burner. Consistent communication, education and coaching and recognition for staff and residents are essential to keeping them engaged and focused.

Data, data, data

Historically, this has been the most difficult part of implementing SEM in any market. Getting the customer to provide access to the data, getting timely transfer of the data into a tracking tool, even finding a tracking tool that works well – these are real issues. The sooner participant data is accessed and entered, the more time you will have to visualize and use this data as an effective tool to motivate both participants and program administrators. Data visualization for PSE’s program is currently providing participants and the team with an avenue for engagement and continuous improvement. Results will be available in spring 2018.

Utility is seen as trusted energy advisor

Overall, property managers and residents have shared an appreciation that PSE is providing them a path to greater awareness of low- and no-cost energy savings opportunities, and expert advice on how to take advantage of these opportunities. Energy fairs for residents and technical workshops for operations and maintenance staff and Energy Savings Challenges have provided effective avenues for education and engagement.

To learn more about SEM for Multifamily, contact Julie Hayes at julie@milepostconsulting.com.

Julie Hayes
Julie Hayes

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