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Posted on January 2, 2015

Berkeley: Cal Students, PG&E Partner to Help Businesses with Energy Efficiency

By Tracy Correa

Students from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business are helping PG&E with some fresh ideas in working with small- and medium-size businesses on energy efficiency.

In a recently ended 16-week project, the students gained real-world experience in finding out the needs and wants of local businesses. And, PG&E came away with some ideas on how it might better meet these needs.

PG&E’s Vincent Davis, senior director, energy efficiency, said the project was a win-win for the utility and the students.

UC Berkeley student David Benaiges delivers his team's presentation at PG&E offices. (Photos by Eric Sutphin.)

“One of the core values within the energy efficiency organization is embracing the art of the possible, which means we are looking at innovative and creative thinking to really drive deeper engagement with our customers and understand our customers’ needs and how to meet them. Bringing Haas in fits under that core value,” said Davis.

And he said the work of the students — all part of a master’s program at Haas – is resulting in more than just classroom credit: “There are key elements of their recommendation that we will be taking a very close look at… It isn’t something that we are going to put on a shelf.”

By way of background, PG&E’s service territory covers almost 100,000 small and medium business customers. The largest sectors, in terms of both energy use and number of customers, include offices, retail, agriculture, and hospitality.

The challenge for the Haas team: To identify novel, meaningful and measurable programs to reduce energy use and increase energy efficiency among the target business segments.

Students originally had 10 ideas that were whittled down to the two best. The first, launching dedicated field team that is easily identifiable (such as Best Buy’s Geek Squad tech support). And the second, an equipment of the month program where a single product is the source of focus for an entire month.

The students delivered their final presentation earlier this month at PG&E in San Francisco. In the end, the equipment of the month idea came out ahead, said PG&E’s Bryce Gilleland, manager energy efficiency business performance, who worked closely with the students throughout the project.

With the equipment of the month idea, a product, such as a restaurant fryer or refrigeration in a grocery store would be the energy efficiency focus of that month. “I think it’s a really good idea, we just need to connect all the dots,” said Gilleland, who said it’s something that PG&E wants to try out.

Students from UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business pose after their presentation at PG&E.

Haas student Matt Allgeier said the program was a great learning experience.

“It was certainly great to work with PG&E and I learned a lot about energy efficiency,” said Allgeier. “I was impressed at how open-minded PG&E was with new ideas and wanting us to think outside of the box.”

Students found out the needs of small- and medium-size business, by going out to speak directly with PG&E customers.

One of the things students found was that business owners, particularly small business owners, are so inundated with day-to-day operations that simplifying things is helpful and appreciated. “It’s overwhelming for PG&E customers to figure out things related to energy efficiency,” said Allgeier, adding that some need a lot of hand holding.

The project partnership was initiated by Haas officials; PG&E provided a $50,000 grant to support it.

“This was a great opportunity for both organizations,” said Gilleland. “Berkeley students had a great learning and development opportunity while PG&E received consulting services valued well beyond the grant.”

Allgeier said he is grateful that PG&E trusted the students and really listened to their ideas. “Getting to work with a utility, one that I perceive as one of the most progressive in the country, was a great experience for me and really eye opening.”

Click here for more information on how PG&E is working with customers on energy efficiency.

Email Tracy Correa at tracy.correa@pge.com.

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