As part of the growing trend to mitigate the environmental effects of energy consumption and production, sustainable energy planning is increasingly being implemented to develop long-range policies that will help guide the future of a local, regional or the national energy system.


“Energy planning is a process for gathering stakeholders and identifying cleaner and more sustainable energy generation and consumption goals and for laying the foundation for achieving those goals,” said Eliza Hotchkiss, project lead at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, Colo.


According to NREL’s report, “Community Greening: How to Develop a Strategic Energy Plan,” stakeholders determine the goals of an energy plan, which can be part of a greenhouse gas emission plan, a greening plan or a community master plan. The initial desire to develop an energy plan usually occurs as a reaction to increasing prices, the potential for large investments in infrastructure development, or a political change, according to the report. Ideally, a community would have a plan in place before a natural disaster strikes, but because a strategic energy plan can help decision-making for infrastructure repair and replacement and can lead to the development of more efficient housing, preparing a plan, regardless of current conditions, can save communities money in both the near- and long-term.


According to Hotchkiss, “there are nine steps to developing a strategic energy plan, consisting of identifying and gathering the stakeholders; forming a leadership team and identifying those responsible for moving the process forward; identifying and developing a vision for energy generation and consumption goals; assessing the energy needs of users and the resources available to fulfill them; developing specific goals and ways to achieve this vision; prioritizing the projects that will need to be completed and determining what actions and choices are necessary to achieve those goals; identifying financing and funding available for those projects, including grants; working with energy service companies [ESCOs] and tax incentives; compiling the plan; and then measuring and verifying how the projects are reaching their stated goals.”


The NREL’s Community Greening report found the following: 


• The stakeholders involved in an energy plan include anyone who generates, controls the sale of, sells, or uses electricity and gas and a balanced representation of these stakeholders is critical to success.


• Members of the leadership team should have the ability and authorization to make decisions, direct funding and promote the entire process.


• The plan’s objectives can include increasing and ensuring energy reliability, optimizing infrastructure redevelopment costs, minimizing environmental impacts, diversifying supply, using local resources, or ensuring ratepayer energy affordability.


• Identifying and forming the plan’s vision includes establishing the community’s energy baseline. The level of detail can range from an overview to a detailed sector or subsector review, depending on the availability of information and the budget to collect that information.


• To develop the plan’s specific energy goals based on its vision, the stakeholders need to answer such questions as: how much of the community’s energy goals will be met with either energy efficiency or from renewable energy, how much energy will be derived from municipal sources, and how much will be promoted through the private sector?


• Prioritizing the various projects and programs that will meet the energy plan’s goals requires understanding the cost-effectiveness of each project and requires strong leadership.


• Measurement and verification through periodic stakeholder meetings and reviews will help the energy plan experience continued success.


“A strategic approach to energy generation improves efficiency and helps reduce user consumption and costs, and cleaner energy generation could also lower costs over the long-terms,” Hotchkiss said.


Strategic energy plans also enable greater energy independence and security and promote more efficient, sustainable communities with cleaner environments.


“Challenges of developing and de-ploying a strategic energy plan include finding the necessary financing, aligning the different goals and visions of multiple stakeholders, and motivating progress and maintaining momentum,” she said.


The contractor’s role


Energy plans come in all shapes and sizes and each one is an opportunity for electrical contractors to engage in the process and help the community. 


“It’s critical for the contractor to be involved at the early stages of the plan to help identify its challenges and solutions,” Hotchkiss said.


ECs need to stay current on events in the energy market and train field personnel to implement the latest technologies that drive efficiency and lower costs. 


As more strategic energy plans are developed, Hotchkiss said, “Contractors can leverage their expertise to ensure that a plan’s technical aspects can be implemented correctly.”