Energy Exchange a place for government and industry to train, network, ‘stay connected’

Collaboration and conservation are at the heart of this year’s Energy Exchange, hosted by the Energy Department’s Federal Energy Management Program.

FEMP acting Director Leslie Nicholls said the workforce training and networking event, which runs Aug. 15-17 in Tampa, Florida, builds on three years of lessons learned from previous exchanges, and incorporates valuable feedback from public and private sector stakeholders.

“The Energy Exchange is for the entire portfolio that comes together for these energy and water projects; so there’s the private sector, the energy service companies and other service companies, utilities are there, associations are there, federal staff, energy managers, facility managers, architects, decision makers, from the energy manager all the way up to the assistant secretary for environment and energy, ” Nicholls told Federal News Radio in an interview. “So getting all these different perspectives in one place, but then you have to keep the conversation going. It’s really a conversation and when you have a conversation, you have to be willing to listen.”

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FEMP is driven by that willingness to listen as it’s planned the past few exchanges, and this year is no different, Nicholls said.

The 2017 exchange boasts 135 training sessions across 15 training tracks, all held alongside a co-located trade show.

“The Energy Exchange is not just about training, it also represents the fact you can network and you learn a lot from your colleagues,” Nicholls said. “It allows the ability for newer government leaders to talk about their goals for the future.”

Priorities and opportunities

Nicholls said the earlier exchanges were conservatively planned, but this year’s took into account attendee feedback.

“Resiliency and security portfolio planning is taking a bigger portion of the program this year,” Nicholls said. “Looking at things like cyber and buildings, metering and control systems and cyber. So it’s performance contracting, we’ve been doing that for a long time, but also looking at building optimization, which can mean different things to different people. So an optimized building is one that’s efficient and resilient for its circumstances, or its installations … or campus that’s really focused on its mission critical. So resiliency, security, maybe health and welfare of occupants. We’ve really taken that to heart and over time you’ll see some things that might have been emphasized three years ago are not emphasized as much, but we’ll continue this dialogue to have a rolling curriculum in the future and also really listening to what the administration’s priorities are around things like energy security … energy dominance; we take all that into account.”

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The roots of the exchange extend back to the late 1990s, when there was a long-running training event known as GovEnergy. The first Energy Exchange was held in 2015, after then FEMP Director Tim Unruh heard from federal energy workers asking for another national conference and training opportunity.

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“Three years ago, there was really nothing like it on the market,” Nicholls said. “Once the former conference had gone away, there was nothing really happening, so FEMP took on the challenge to bring this back. It’s been slowly growing. The first year I think we had 1,600 people, last year 2,400. We’re expecting that 2,400 or 2,500 mark. You never really know until you get there because there’s a lot of onsite registration.”

Two of those attendees will be from Bethesda, Maryland-based Green Generation Solutions, a 3 1/2- year participant in the Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) ENABLE program. The program targets small and medium-sized energy projects for small agencies.

CEO Brad Dockser said his company considered going in the past, but this will be their first year at the exchange.

“From our point of view, there’s two things that are really valuable that come out of it,” Dockser said. “One is the interaction between the public and private sector. In order to give us an opportunity to speak about what we’re doing and where we can help them achieve their goals and objectives. I think the second thing and perhaps the most important one from my point of view, is I think it’s an exciting opportunity for contracting officers across the federal spectrum to speak with each other. Because most of them haven’t done many, if any, energy efficiency projects.”

Dockser said in the years his company has worked on the ENABLE program, they’ve heard a variety of answers to questions ranging from financing terms to rebates and incentives from utilities.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to sort of hear some of the challenges that various contracting officers have had,” Docksen said. “The other thing is we often are doing the projects but we never actually even get to meet the [contracting officer,] because it may all be done by phone.  Our head of government contracting doesn’t necessarily ever meet the people he’s contracting with, his counterpart. He may ultimately meet the people whose project it is, the engineer whose building it is, but the CO might not even be sitting in that location. So it’s an opportunity to get in front of all these people that we’ve often negotiated these projects with and put some faces to it for them to learn what else we’re doing, and for us to learn what other projects or initiatives they’re trying to undertake.”

Connect, collaborate, conserve

Among the tracks at this year’s exchange, attendees can learn about vehicle cyber security, data center strategies for energy reduction, advanced building operation, and renewable generation and storage.

“Federal staff would benefit from attending,” Nicholls said. “You have 2 1/2 days, there’s 15 different technical tracks that are in one of five core focus areas: technologies and equipment; facilities and fleets; campuses, installations and regions; performance contracting and partnerships; and federal agency and leadership. Also understanding best practices, learning from your fellow agencies and the private sector. So we learn from which agencies are doing what and FEMP’s always at the center sifting through what’s out there, condensing it into best practices and guidance.”

The speakers for this year’s exchange include:

  • Rick  Marrs, NASA deputy assistant administrator;
  • Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment;
  • Carla Coulson, acting deputy for the Army’s Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management; and
  • Maria Vargas, director of DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge.

At the exchange, it’s easy to get a question answered by someone from another agency, simply by walking over to talk with them. The expanded trade show also allows for spending more time looking at services and products, and have deeper conversations, Nicholls said.

“While our conference has the theme connect, collaborate, conserve, it’s really the basis of what we do at FEMP. We work with the federal agencies to collaborate on the top priorities’ barriers,” Nicholls said. “We work to connect both public and private sector to resources and solutions, and at the end of the day it’s about conserving natural resources and costs. We wanted to take this and make sure that it is in all parts of the Energy Exchange, from our federal spotlight award to our opening plenaries to our sessions to our networking to the trade show. And so I think that would be really a good reason for a federal staff member to attend is training, networking, being connected, and being able to stay connected after you leave.”