I am finally returning after a long hiatus from blogging, and from two weeks in Europe after speaking at the International Energy Program Evaluation Conference (IEPEC). My talk was on EMI’s work evaluating data center efficiency programs for US utilities. EMI was also a silver sponsor for the event, which was IEPEC’s first conference outside the U.S.. The conference included numerous interesting sessions on methods and challenges in evaluating energy efficiency programs in the U.S., Europe, Australia and China, making it a truly international conference.
The U.S. vs. the Rest of the World
There was an interesting undercurrent at the conference stemming from differences in the way energy efficiency programs are run internationally. In the U.S. evaluation programs tend to focus on utility run programs, which are typically accountable to the goals put on them from state utility commissions. At the federal level, energy efficiency programs in the U.S. do not have the same level of accountability – there are efforts to accurately determine savings but there is not the same focus on independent evaluation to confirm savings.
In the rest of the world, especially in Europe, it seems that programs and evaluation are mostly on the national government level and do not have the same level of accountability that U.S. utilities are subject to by regulators. One of the most interesting sessions at IEPEC was a panel discussion with Paolo Bertoldi of the European Commission and Dian Grueneich, the Lead Commissioner for Energy Efficiency of the California Public Utilities Commission. The debate revolved around the need for energy savings goals and accountability through evaluation. Paolo of the EC contended that program goals were unnecessary, that you can create programs that can help people save energy, and then drive them to save energy through other efforts like carbon taxation. With this approach, and with no goals to meet, there is less need for independent evaluation to determine the impacts of a program. Commissioner Grueneich, on the other hand, was arguing more for goals and accountability for the money spent on energy efficiency.
I can see Paolo’s argument, but the scientist and engineer in me wants to see real results. You set up a program on the theory that it’s going to provide energy savings, but until you study it closely you do not know what the savings are actually achieved. Furthermore, if you do not have good metrics to measure the impacts of the program, how do you know when a program needs improvement or how much it has improved when you make changes? In practice, there is often a large gap between program theory, implementation and results; evaluators help define and reduce these differences for program designers. Furthermore, solid process evaluation helps programs find ways to improve its processes, which in turn improve the program impacts.
I have a feeling this debate will continue, but IEPEC deserves credit for bringing this conversation to a truly international stage. There seemed to be a lot of interest from European participants on learning more about the established evaluation techniques used for U.S. utilities and the development of international evaluation standards, and the success of energy efficiency programs can not but help to improve by the sharing of this information.
So, What Does This Have to Do with the World Cup?
The week after the conference I spent traveling in North East France with a short jump into Germany. As an avid soccer fan, I spent much of this time sitting in cafes and restaurants watching the World Cup. During the France v. Uruguay game the streets of Strasbourg were virtually barren and most everything was closed on a Friday night at 7:30 pm. It seemed as if the French were busy watching quietly at home. Across the border, in Freiburg Germany, every restaurant had what looked like a brand new TV outside the door so you could sit outside and watch the game, or casual passer-byers could watch the game (sales of flat screens must be through the roof in Germany). They also had huge screens in some of the public parks for viewing. After Germany beat Australia 4-0 in their first game, the bars and streets were absolutely mobbed with celebration. Back in the U.S., things are less intense, but interest in the Cup, and the U.S. National Team seems to be at an all-time high after the U.S.’s great run through the group stage and emotional win on Wednesday.
So What’s the Point?
Theses experiences transposed on each other has driven home the fact that the world is increasingly becoming an international community. There are large differences in mentalities, traditions and practices around the world, and engagement in the international community, whether through friendly competition or collaboration, helps us understand and learn from our international peers and see things from alternate viewpoints. I like to feel that international engagement and sharing of information helps everyone involved, so thanks to IEPEC for a great conference, and to FIFA and ESPN for such a great event.
As a side note, IT technology and data centers are two of the tools helping the world participate in these global experiences. The New York Times reports that ESPN.com’s traffic is up 70% over its traditional annual peak during the final four – another reminder of the explosive growth of internet usage and data center power consumption. Ok, enough on that. Spain / Portugal kicks off in an hour – should be a scorcher! Check it out on ESPN3.com.