TRM Best Practices: New Developments

By Afroz Khan
Best practices on TRM development were recently reviewed and defined in the 2016 ACEEE Summer Study paper titled “Technical Reference Manuals Best Practices from Across the Nation to Inform the Creation of the California Electronic Technical Reference Manual (eTRM).” Interestingly, California was one of the first states to create a “deemed” approach for quantifying energy savings through the Database of Energy Efficiency Resources (DEER) in 1994.This paper points out that DEER currently has over 600,000 measure combinations and lacks transparency on source documentation. So what was once a reliable and dependable resource has now become outdated and cumbersome to follow. The paper reviewed currentefforts aimed at evolving DEER into a more comprehensive, transparent and consistent format.

The research conducted by the authors includes a literature review of previous papers and reports on this topic, as well as primary research gathered by interviewing entities involved inthe process of TRM development for 20 jurisdictions.While specific details can be gleaned from the paper itself, an overarching point is that in order to create a successful framework, the process, structure, and content should “support a common set of mutually understood assumptions and estimates.”

Here are some key takeaways from this paper that I have also found to be critical in the TRM work in which we have been involved:

1. Collaboration is a key to success in creating a process which prioritizes consensus building, transparency, and buy-in.Different organizationsshould engage so that peer review is robustand approached from a variety of perspectives and experiences.By defining membership in a formal manner, commitment to rigor and quality can be assured.

2. The schedule and timeline should be clearly defined and agreed upon by all parties so updates and revisions can be anticipated and developed prior to effective date.

3. TRM teams should document all technical discussions and areas of contention during peer review. This point is described in the paper as a “Comparison Exhibit” that clearly memorializes each position, rationale, and associated data.

4. All measure values should be reproducible. Secondary research is only as good as the citation made to reference it. An inactive or incorrect link that only results in a deadend defeats the intention of transparency.

In addition to the points above, the paper includes a comprehensive “Before you Start” check list.  This list identifies the technical issues to consider prior to starting any TRM development. This list is relevant for teams tasked with new TRM development or significant updates to existing TRMs.  Starting with this list will serve as a useful kick-off for increasing the power of your TRM.



A Tale of Two Trends in US Energy

Over the past month, several reports highlight an amazing dichotomy in US energy production. A strong divergence exists between production trends in the oil and gas sector and the utility power generation sector. Each of these sectors has evolved in different directions, particularly when we consider the impact of these sectors on the economy and CO2 emissions.  

The first trend is that the US has become the world’s leading producer of petroleum and natural gas.   The US surpassed Russia’s production in 2012 and Saudi Arabia’s the following year. Since 2011, US petroleum production has grown by approximately 1 million barrels per day each year. By 2015, this US dominance in oil production has expanded to the point where the US produces 20% more oil than Saudi Arabia and 35% more than Russia. Even in the face of falling prices in 2015, the US market position continued to expand.



A very divergent trend is seen in the utility power generation sector. Utilities are rapidly moving away from coal to lower or no emission CO2 sources. While that isn’t necessarily news, the magnitude of this trend and its recent impact on CO2 emissions may be surprising to many. CO2 emissions from the power plant sector have fallen to their lowest levels in 22 years. While we can argue about the strength of economic activity since the Great Recession, there is no doubt that a roughly 2% GDP growth rate should lead to higher CO2 emissions. Instead, in the face of this GDP growth, utility CO2 emissions declined by approximately 20% since 2008.



Natural gas, as a low cost fuel, has supplanted coal-based electricity across the country. But,renewable energy sources have also surged.  In the first quarter of 2016, more renewable energy capacity was brought online than any other type of electricity generation. While renewables and natural gas are leading utility generation investments, coal-based plants continue to close across the country.  

Perhaps oil and natural gas production will start to level out in 2016.  Low prices, large declines in drilling rates, and slowly increasing electrification of the transportation sector haven’t fully run their course yet. In 2016, analysts expect an even stronger decline in utility-based CO2emissions as coal production continues to weaken as noted recently in this article:

These large-scale trends show that, as a country, we can change our energy and emissions trajectory. We can bend the curve. The only question is when will we bend the curves in the same direction with a consistent, comprehensive energy policy?



Technical Reference Manuals On the Rise

One of the more important trends in the energy efficiency business is the evolution of deemed savings and how deemed savings have been presented. Some of the earliest efforts to standardize prescriptive program offerings were the emergence of the California Deemed Energy Efficiency Resource (DEER) database in the 90’s.  Now, there is a strong movement to develop more detailed guidance documents often referred to as Technical Reference Manuals (TRM). The evolution of TRMs has happened rapidly over the past five years.  With less than 10 state specific deemed savings efforts in 2010, there are now over 20 jurisdictions that have adopted some form of a deemed savings guidance document.

The purpose behind a state-specific TRM, or similar tool, is sensible: to achieve consistency across utilities on what values should be used to identify energy or demand savings for prescriptive efficiency measures on a “per unit” basis.  The methodology used to quantify that value is where careful deliberation and thought is required.

The approach used to stipulate savings for measures typically falls into three different methods:

      Fully Deemed Value – All occurrences of a specific measure receive the same energy and demand savings credit

      Partially Deemed Value – A few input parameters are needed for each occurrence for input to a savings algorithm

      Fully Calculated Algorithm – Parameter values based on specific measure installation information are needed as input to savings algorithm. 

The method used is based on several factors, including how well energy savings for that particular measure are understood, the consistency of application, the depth of any field studies, and the complexity involved in the application of the measure.

Regardless of the approach used, the methodology used to identify a fully deemed, partially deemed or fully calculated algorithm must be transparent on the approaches used to identify critical parameters. For building envelope related measures such as wall and roof insulation, sophisticated modeling results will be used to determine those parameters with modeling inputs identified in an appendix as supporting documentation. Some examples of this approach can be seen in the New York and the Arkansas TRMs.

For emerging technologies, such as Smart Thermostats, Kitchen Ventilation Controls, and Door Gaskets, field-study data will typically be used as the basis for determining appropriate inputs. This data will either be used directly or modified for regional effects.

As TRM efforts spread across the United States, the industry has used a practical approach in developing TRMs by borrowing savings calculations from other states. Eventually, this may lead to some energy savings being more consistently applied across the country.  What we have found, though, is that what works in one region may not necessarily work in another region. Caution needs to be applied when incorporating methodologies used from different TRMs. This phenomena was well-researched and documented in the 2011 SEE Action report “Scoping Study to Evaluate Feasibility of National Databases for EM&V Documents and Measure Savings.” Commonly addressed measures were compared in different jurisdictions including the methodologies and parameters for calculating prescriptive measures.  The report concludes that differences in construction methods, variations in climate, history of prior energy efficiency efforts, and other factors are important to consider when considering the use of TRM content from one state to another.

With this rapid evolution of TRMs, practitioners have found that TRM documents should be periodically reviewed and updated to not only ensure relevance but to also maintain compliance. In some jurisdictions, such as Arkansas, Texas, and Illinois, the TRM is reviewed on an annual basis to account for changing markets and other conditions. New York has established an annual cycle for revising existing measures, while allowing new measures to be included on a quarterly basis. 

Stay tuned as we continue to review trends and best practices in the development and interpretation of TRMs. See below for a current status of TRMs or for ongoing updates by state, go to:

TFC TRM Map 20151213.png

Afroz Khan



The Forward Curve Welcomes Bill Wainberg

We are happy to introduce you to Bill Wainberg, who has recently joined our team at The Forward Curve LLC.   Bill’s deep experience as a business analyst will be very helpful to our clients during the business requirements phase of projects.   Bill’s more recent background includes a variety of projects in energy, financial services and government including utility bill design, biometrics, and mortgage refinancing.     Bill will be focused on development of business requirements on our projects with key utility clients.     



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Minnesota's 'Best of the Above' Energy Strategy on Display at ACEEE

Congratulations to our friends and clients from Minnesota on your representation of MN at the recent ACEEE 'Energy Efficiency as a Resource' conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was great to see speakers and moderators from the Center for Energy and Environment, Xcel Energy, and Fresh Energy placing the spotlight on MN's policy, innovation, and implementation leadership in energy and energy efficiency. Also, it was terrific to see the engagement of the MN Senate leadership in learning from practitioners and innovators across the country. Thanks to Senators Rosen, Marty, Osmek, and Dibble. There were numerous attendees at the conference from other utilities and organizations in MN, as well. Nice to see such an involved contingent! For more on MN's energy strategy see:’s-Best-of-the-Above”-Energy-Strategies-a/