By Jonathan Marshall
PG&E’s several hundred thousand small- and medium-sized business customers now have a powerful new online tool to help them manage energy use and save money. Called the Business Energy Checkup, it offers a richly detailed, self-guided assessment of potential energy-saving opportunities, the next best thing to an on-premise expert audit.
“It helps customers understand their energy usage and get recommendations for ways to help manage it,” says Aaron Berndt, PG&E’s product manager. “It offers many levels of analysis, so it offers recommendations that are truly customized for each facility, based on factors such as industry, square footage, building age, and what equipment you already have installed.
‘Let’s you track the impact’
“You can tell the tool what you’ve done and when, and it lets you track the impact of the recommendations you adopt. For example, you can see your gas usage decline after you upgrade your HVAC system.”
Berndt says the site has a suite of four to five dozen potential recommendations. For example, a restaurant owner might use it to get advice on refrigerators, boilers, and fryers, along with more generic suggestions for reducing lighting loads with occupancy sensors.
Accessed through the My Energy customer portal, the tool offers business customers one more reason to make regular use of PG&E’s suite of online services. Through that portal customers can pay bills, sign up for paperless bills, start or stop service, view their energy use by the hour, compare rate plans, and sign up for a new rate plan.
The Business Energy Checkup has been available since September, but PG&E has phased in customer outreach by direct mail, email, local events, and other communications. The tool’s launch was timed to help small and medium business customers adapt more easily to state-mandated time-of-use pricing, which began November 1 in PG&E’s service area.
To increase awareness of the tool, the company promised to enroll every customer who logged onto the Business Energy Checkup site in a sweepstakes for one of five espresso machines with the apt theme: “An energy boost for you, energy savings for your company.”
Import Tile Co. in Berkeley was one of the lucky winners. Michael Crawford, Import Tile’s facilities manager, said that many small businesses should find Business Energy Checkup a helpful way to begin their journey toward saving energy. “This is a great portal to find all the information in one place. For someone who is starting out, who hasn’t done anything to affect their energy usage, this tool is a good start,” he said.
Store makes energy efficiency upgrades
Crawford, who has spent several years investigating and implementing energy efficient upgrades at Import Tile, said he walked through the assessment and found — like a good medical checkup — that the company’s energy management was healthy.
“We’ve done everything that the tool was recommending,” Crawford said. “We’ve switched to LED lighting in our showroom, low-energy fluorescent fixtures in our warehouse, and a solar system on our roof.”
Crawford said Import Tile took advantage of PG&E lighting rebates to save about 25 percent on the cost of its more efficient fixtures and 45 percent on its solar panels. The company’s long-term goal is to achieve zero-net energy—to produce as much clean energy as it consumes. Besides saving energy, these retrofits encourage customers to think about energy usage. “They see our company as being environmentally conscious, so I believe it helps our sales,” Crawford said.
Before Business Energy Checkup was available, “I had to find out all this stuff on my own,” Crawford added. “I had to call all sorts of departments at PG&E to find the right projects when I started several years ago. This portal summarizes everything so you don’t have to talk to eight different people to get the answer.”
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