In 2019, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (CoPA) selected EnergyCAP and the complementary Bill CAPtureSM utility bill processing service as the foundation of the Commonwealth’s efforts to reduce energy consumption across state-owned and -managed facilities, per Executive Order 2019-01. Governor Tom Wolf announced in 2020 that CoPA had achieved “a three percent reduction in state government electricity, natural gas, and steam use” in just the first year of its program to reduce carbon pollution.
CoPA’s pursuit of the energy conservation and sustainability objectives outlined in the 2019 executive order has continued in subsequent years, with statewide energy consumption reduced by 6.2% in FY 2020. The team leading the charge—including CoPA staff and experts from the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute (PSFEI)—are quick to point out, however, that their efforts to measure and manage CoPA’s energy use began many years prior to the governor’s mandate. Through some trial and error and on-going research, they determined that they needed an enterprise-level utility bill management system, and that conclusion led them to EnergyCAP.
Gathering Utility Bill Data
Energy data is the foundation of a successful energy management sustainability program, and utility bills are the most readily available source of weather data. The challenge for a large, decentralized organization, like the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is corralling that utility bill data into a centralized energy database. Recognizing this need in 2011, CoPA and PSFEI tested a system that would scan paper bills and, using optical character recognition (OCR) functionality, import the data into a database, where it could be analyzed and managed. Kurt Homan, Assistant Director at PSFEI, shared that the testing confirmed that the scanning system was not economically feasible.
Informal energy management efforts continued as is until, in 2016, the State Transportation Innovation Council launched an initiative to obtain energy analytics. According to Homan, this was the commonwealth’s first formal effort to obtain energy analytics. The plan was to determine the current energy consumption across the state’s agencies and then compare that baseline usage to industry standards, including the EPA’s CBECS database and others. While the initiative provided some value, the conclusion was that the commonwealth needed to develop its own energy management system.
Under the State Transportation Innovation Council’s initiative, PSFEI and CoPA representatives of the state’s agencies held an Energy Summit in 2017. Summit objectives were to gather feedback from each agency and, most importantly, to get all of the agencies on board with the energy data gathering and conservation effort. The summit was a success, with all agencies agreeing to dedicate time and resources to the establishment of a centralized program managed through the Department of General Services (DGS) and funded through the state’s utilities budget. PSFEI and CoPA personnel set about documenting requirements for an effective, centralized energy management solution.
When the evaluation process began, each state agency received and processed the utility bills for its facilities. Bill auditing and approval steps varied widely among the agencies, with most focusing primarily on cost numbers and giving little attention to consumption and other bill line items. CoPA’s utility bills were paid through an SAP-based system, which also only tracked cost data, no energy consumption numbers. PSFEI, through past projects, had energy use and cost data for a small number of agencies but only a small fraction of the state. No carbon footprint data was being tracked, and Homan pointed out that “This was a huge miss.”
The team determined that, given the scope of the statewide energy management effort, an enterprise-level utility bill management system was required. Homan noted that outsourced services were considered, but CoPA passed on them because “They wanted to control their own destiny.” They concluded that “EnergyCAP was the obvious choice” to be the foundation of the state’s energy conservation and sustainability program.
You cannot manage what you don’t measure, and because of the complexities of the commonwealth, we really decided that an enterprise utility bill management system was needed that required feature-rich software, and there really are very few systems out there that offer the extensive capabilities of EnergyCAP." -Kurt Homan
EnergyCAP, LLC’s (ENC) Bill CAPture service would be purchased along with the EnergyCAP software license to help the commonwealth establish and maintain a streamlined utility bill processing workflow. All state agency utility bills would be received and processed by the Bill CAPture team and then entered into EnergyCAP, where they would be automatically audited, and potential issues flagged.
The formal program was launched when Governor Tom Wolf’s 2019 Executive Order established the state’s GreenGov Council and set the CoPA’s first ever climate goals, which were based on the Paris Climate Agreement:
- 26% reduction of net GHG emissions by 2025
- 80% reduction of net GHG emissions by 2050; based on a 2005 baseline
- 3% annual energy consumption reduction; 21% reduction by 2025, based on 2017 baseline
Progress is documented through EnergyCAP’s analytics and used to produce an annual report. Mark Hand, Director of the GreenGov Council, noted that the state’s program was envisioned as a “lead by example program,” wherein the conservation efforts of CoPA agencies served as an example for other Pennsylvania organizations. Hand added that, “The annual report shows the state’s progress and holds agencies accountable.”
At the conclusion of FY 2020, the program’s second year, CoPA’s annual report documented a reduction of statewide energy consumption of 6.2%.
The energy efficiency and sustainability gains are enhanced with substantial cost savings, many of which were identified through PSFEI’s use of EnergyCAP. Gwendy Bilger, Data Analyst at PSFEI, highlighted some of their early “wins:”
- Inaccurate billing from a deregulated natural gas supplier was recognized by PSFEI and resulted in a refund of more than $200,000.
- EnergyCAP’s Report-13, a regression-based analysis designed to spot outlier bills, alerted PSFEI to a meter multiplier error and a refund of up to $40,000.
- Input from an engaged state agency recognized that the commonwealth had been paying the electric bill for a facility that had been sold in 2015, producing a $15,000 refund from the utility vendor.
- Electric and natural gas accounts eligible for solicitation—identified through EnergyCAP—has led to over $630,000 in cost reductions.
- Efficiencies gained through electronic billing and the Bill CAPture service ensure that bills are received and processed in a timely fashion, eliminating late fees, and bills are reviewed for accuracy before they are paid.
Bilger leads regular training seminars for state agency representatives to ensure continued involvement and program success. She noted that, “through the process of looking at actual bills during the training, we discover a lot of anomalies, including missing bills and bills that have never reached our bill list. The training is a win-win for the agencies and the state.”
Gregory Knerr, Energy Commodity Manager with GSA’s Bureau of Procurement, outlined some of the lessons he and the team have learned throughout the process of implementing CoPA’s energy conservation program:
- Centralized support for program implementation increases the odds of success.
- Agree on the data structure and hierarchy.
- Standardize meter and account naming.
- Enlist internal energy management personnel who have knowledge of your enterprise.
- Designate a data analyst to identify issues and assist internal customers on the use of EnergyCAP.
- Expect the unknown.
Knerr shared that the team’s original high-end estimate for the number of utility meters to be tracked was 10,900. They are currently tracking 16,000 meters across 18 agencies, and the number continues to grow. More than 2,300 unknown and unmanaged meters were “discovered” during the EnergyCAP implementation process, primarily the result of agencies paying small utility bills with agency credit cards, rather than via the standard A/P process.
Today, CoPA’s GreenGov Council keeps agencies engaged by providing executive-level reports to each agency on a quarterly basis. PSFEI supports the effort through continued system management and data analysis, while also training the state’s EnergyCAP users. Bilger trains the agency representatives to use EnergyCAP, specifically the energy dashboards and reports, so that the agencies will be more self-sufficient moving forward and less reliant on PSFEI and GreenGov Council staff to manage agency data and identify savings opportunities.
Looking forward, CoPA hopes to track additional commodities, adding oil, propane, water, and sewer to their current list of electric, natural gas, and steam. Taking advantage of EnergyCAP’s interface to ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager application is also on the “To Do List,” as the commonwealth would like to obtain ENERGY STAR scores for each of their facilities.
The search for solutions to meet CoPA’s complex energy management needs included the evaluation of approximately 20 options, including the EPA’s free Portfolio Manager application. Per Kurt Homan, “Portfolio Manager could not come close to meeting the complex needs of the state.” The evaluation focused on data security, logistics, submetering and energy use allocation, in addition to utility bill processing. Homan commented that EnergyCAP met the commonwealth’s functional needs, and “The Bill CAPture service was really the slam dunk.”
We thank the representatives from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—Greg Knerr and Mark Hand—and the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute—Kurt Homan, Gwendy Bilger, and Devin Pennebaker—for their assistance in the development of this case study.