In today’s blog we share highlights from a new case study by EnergyCAP.
Municipal and regional government readers will take particular interest in this implementation-focused story about a major city that jump-started its energy program with utility bill management software.
As the title of this blog (and the case study) suggests, Tucson, Arizona’s software implementation was not without challenges. In some ways, it really was a dance, going two steps forward and one step back as stakeholders grappled with legacy processes, organizational issues, information silos, and even personnel changes.
But in the end, the opportunities outweighed the issues as the City’s new energy manager successfully negotiated multiple management challenges, discovering immediate and long-term payoffs.
One immediate challenge was the software acquisition process itself. Since the City was acquiring energy management software for the first time, it was necessary to build a knowledge base just to define the City’s immediate needs. And the energy management program was in transition, with Jason Laros stepping into the post of City Energy Manager just one month after the software implementation had begun.
Another implementation challenge was simply setting the scope of the implementation project. A “meter” in EnergyCAP is any point of service for a utility, whether or not a physical meter is present. Since water and solar were vital resources to manage in sunny, dry Tucson, the project scope had to be adjusted to ensure that these key resources could be adequately tracked. A chargebacks module was also added to accommodate necessary accounting processes.
The number and complexity of Tucson’s energy and resource tracking processes posed a significant energy management problem in the absence of a comprehensive tracking tool. These processes also posed significant challenges for EnergyCAP software implementation.
The City’s primary electric bills from Tucson Electric Power (TEP) were available electronically, but only through print-format files. They needed to be run through a reformatter to extract the useful billing information. It also took a long time to get tweaks done to electric bills from TRICO (another vendor). There were so many electric accounts and various situations within the primary electric provider that it took much time and effort to develop their reformatter. Additional changes were and are still required to deal comprehensively with solar accounts.
Energy data from the City’s natural gas vendor, Southwest Gas, will soon be processed electronically in a manner similar to TEP. But in the interim, EnergyCAP has assisted Tucson in cobbling together an EDI import process.
Tucson Water is a City-owned utility, but the cost and use data for City-owned water accounts had to be retrieved from an internal billing system called Navaline. For tracking purposes, Tucson will take the data that is already produced by the internal system and create an upload template to put the data into EnergyCAP.
Thanks to EnergyCAP, Tucson has already implemented a new bill audit process, including reformatters to import and export the bills between EnergyCAP and the City’s accounting system. EnergyCAP’s reporting capabilities are now used to help inform building occupants of their consumption levels. Baselining and target setting are important features too. Since EnergyCAP is now managing payment of almost all of the utility bills, it has become the primary utility accounting tool across the City.
One area where the City was able to make significant process improvements was in the area of bill splits and internal chargebacks. The process for internal billing prior to EnergyCAP implementation was that vendor bills would be forwarded to Accounts Payable for full payment. Then “host” departments would calculate splits and charge other City departments their share of the bill. This required manual labor and data entry, which added up to time and money, as well as introducing the potential for errors. Even though the EnergyCAP implementation is still ongoing, Tucson should realize time savings of 20 hours each month in Accounts Payable.
The City had a process in place to internally pay for their solar utilities, which included 15 sites equipped with bond-purchased solar installations. But for complete energy accounting, all data streams from solar and electricity vendors needed to be integrated to produce a virtual utility bill that would add the net amount consumed from the utility plus the total amount of solar produced and then subtract the amount of solar pushed back onto the grid. It has proven to be a challenge to define a clear-cut procedure for handling the solar scenario in every situation.
One perk of the new implementation was the increased visibility of the energy management program across the city. Read the case study and discover the details!