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NEEA Strategic Energy Management (SEM) Infrastructure: Value Statement and Update

Created 4/22/2016 by Warren Fish
Updated 4/22/2016 by Warren Fish
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Strategic Energy Management (SEM) is a holistic system of energy management practices that is being successfully implemented by commercial and industrial customers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. SEM combines the effectiveness of energy efficiency technology with a human component – staff at all levels of an organization are engaged in energy efficiency activities.


The benefits of SEM include:

  • Providing a clear pathway to increased productivity, operational efficiency, profitability and competitive advantage.

  • Enabling energy-intensive businesses to significantly reduce energy consumption.

  • Helping build strong partnerships and relationships between customers and energy efficiency program providers, resulting in increased velocity of capital projects.

  • Improving efficiency via reliable savings for participants around the region

NEEA has previously worked with both industrial and commercial market actors to develop, test and build the business case for SEM, and there are now robust utility programs in place for a substantial portion of the region. NEEA’s role has shifted to a supporting role for these programs and for market actors in the SEM field. The SEM Infrastructure project is focused on continuing to enhance and build the tools needed to support the continuing improvement of SEM as it is being driven by these programs. This document provides a status report on the Infrastructure project.


NEEA’s SEM Infrastructure includes two primary focus areas: Developing an online resource called SEM Hub, and coordinating stakeholder engagement and peer-to-peer learning through the Northwest SEM Collaborative. The benefits of regional coordination via the SEM Infrastructure project include:


Economies of Scale: SEM tools and resources maintained in a centralized location available for use by utilities and others across the region to promote Strategic Energy Management (SEM) among end users in their service territories. Opportunity to leverage region’s earlier investments in tools and resources.

Regional Advantage: Facilitate regional and cross-sector collaboration on SEM innovation; upstream influence (e.g. regional trade associations); Explore the pros and cons to draft a market measurement framework for aggregate regional SEM data, and work with commercial and industrial stakeholders to determine if the framework is viable; consolidate regional leverage to influence promotion of extra-regional standards.

Risk Mitigation: Achieve consensus on common SEM standards via regional working group to facilitate a common set of standards for SEM program design and implementation; enhance cost-effectiveness of NW SEM offerings; avoided program costs.

The following information includes work-to-date on the SEMHub. 




Several utilities in the region offer SEM programs designed to meet the unique needs of their customers, yielding generous dollar and energy savings, and facilitating deeper customer relationships. Although their approaches to SEM may vary, the foundational components of these utility programs incorporate both the technology and human components to achieve success.


NEEA has recognized that among the first steps in helping the region take advantage of this proven opportunity are to 1) facilitate regional alignment on standard definitions of key SEM terms and concepts so that there can be a consistent way to talk about it region-wide, 2) gather and vet all available SEM best practices, tools and resources and offer them in a single, accessible location, and 3) create an active community of energy efficiency professionals interested in and or engaging in SEM practices to share real time successes and challenges. Through this realization, the idea for SEM Hub was born.


SEM Hub will be a web-based resource for regional energy efficiency stakeholders, where program administrators and organizations will learn, share ideas, and access key program design, marketing, implementation and evaluation tools. The SEM Hub will serve as a “go-to” place to access the region’s collective SEM knowledge—proven best practices and real-time successes and challenges that typically take a long time to be shared with the industry—by offering three primary features. These are:


  • An easily searchable resource library

  • An updated and customizable SEM learning platform

  • Communication tools to allow practitioners to easily share SEM best practices


    Whether utilities use the Hub to build a whole new SEM offering or fine-tune an existing one, the Hub is designed to reduce the risk associated with creating a new energy efficiency program and make the process more cost-effective.


    To comprehensively define the function and content of the SEM Hub, the project team has conducted stakeholder outreach via 16 in-depth interviews (see appendix for a summary of interviews), presentations to CAC and IAC meetings, direct presentations to funding utilities, and establishment of a new working group. The foundation of the Hub includes an Implementation Plan, SEM Resource Catalog, and Taxonomy and Metadata documents that will inform development of the website. The Hub will integrate existing SEM tools including Online-SEM and the NW Energy Management Assessment tool (NW EMA).  It will also host new tools that NEEA is developing, including the recently completed Commercial SEM Toolbox Talk Cards, which are a set of energy management questions, answers, and discussion topics that help program administrators communicate with customers, and help facility managers and company energy teams make energy a part of everyday activities.

  • Additionally, the team has developed a marketing plan for the Hub that includes three strategies:

  • Create and Nurture Peer Advocates

  • Engage and Excite a Wider Utility Audience

  • Motivate Continuous Communications Activity


NEEA has selected a contractor via competitive procurement to build the Hub website and the first phase of the Hub will be reviewed internally during Q4 2016.


SEM Collaboration

The second primary component of the SEM Infrastructure project is coordination of regional SEM Collaboratives – communities of practice that provide peer-to-peer learning and support opportunities across programs and among all stakeholders. The Northwest Industrial SEM Collaborative was established in 2011 and is comprised of almost 80 program administrators, service providers, and other SEM professionals. NEEA is supporting Commercial SEM collaboration as well, building on the successful organizing model and structure, while providing a forum to address the unique market conditions utilities offering SEM to their commercial customers.


The success of the NW Industrial SEM Collaborative is promising. National leadership from programs in the Northwest has been a significant factor in SEM program growth, and members of the Northwest Industrial SEM Collaborative featured prominently in the 2015 ACEEE Summer Study on Industrial Energy Efficiency.


At the same time that Northwest practitioners are helping build SEM capabilities nationally, we are driving program development and innovation regionally. The 2015 Industrial SEM Collaborative Fall Workshop was an overwhelming success in bringing national best practices to the regional audience, and providing a forum for discussion of urgent priorities for practitioners. Emerging from the Fall Workshop, 9 SEM Topic Teams formed to address these priorities, supported by the Collaborative Leadership Team and NEEA staff.


Simultaneously, collaboration on Commercial SEM is taking shape throughout 2016, bringing together interested stakeholders who are focusing on shared challenges with Commercial SEM program development and delivery.


Moving forward in 2016-17, the goals for both Industrial and Commercial SEM Collaboration are as follows:


Provide long-term direction for the NW SEM community

  • Creation and maintenance of the Northwest SEM roadmap

  • Mapping and understanding the market

Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of NW SEM offerings

  • Development of best practices and “definitions”

  • Development of program-level tools

  • Enhancement of program methodologies (design, implementation, MT&R, evaluation)

Increase the reach of NW SEM programs
  • Provide support to practitioners in increasing uptake or starting programs

  • Development of innovative methodologies (design, implementation/marketing, evaluation)

Broaden and deepen the extended SEM community’s capabilities and skillsets

  • Information sharing (reports, studies, research, presentations, etc.)

  • Peer reviews (design, implementation, evaluation methodologies)

  • Training and education (information, ideas)

  • Development of concepts, ideas

  • Regular communication




The following is a summary of feedback from regional stakeholders specific to development of the new SEM Hub online resource.


Regarding SEM program implementation, key challenges and concerns we heard from many stakeholders include:

  • Achieving persistence of SEM savings

  • Building a culture not just a process  

  • Identifying and supporting a champion within a customer’s staff

  • Enabling collaboration (utility, customer, 3rd-party provider)

  • Targeting unique customers’ needs (program segmentation).


    Regarding the proposed Knowledge Center, stakeholders most often commented that they would like the online resource to be:    

  • Responsive (to user requests, to identified goals, to the full range of users, to all likely devices)

  • Collaborative (support exchanges of information, perhaps some kind of user forum)

  • Simple (easy to use and effective)

  • Searchable

  • Flexible (designed to enable branding or bundling of tools to control what customers see)

  • Effective for dissemination of tools and information (that is, placing little to no management burden on utility or program administrator staff)

  • Segmented by industry, building type, or other dimensions

  • Sustainable: several stakeholders expressed a concern that projects like this may start well, achieve a certain amount of usefulness, and then stagnate due to lack of updates and loss of attention by the builders or the users

  • Populated with an organized and comprehensive set of high quality resources that are ready to be used in programs, not simply assembling every tool ever made.


    Additional requests for SEM Hub:

  • A list of common concepts and possible synonyms (because definitions and processes vary)

  • Posts on the most up-to-date topics, resources for customer engagement and outreach

  • Testimonials, case studies, how-to videos, tutorials

  • Modeling guidelines

  • Guidelines on a variety of SEM topics, such as relationship building, program design, evaluation, measuring savings, and achieving persistence beyond the pilot.  


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