PEER: A new green rating program aims to get the waste out of energy systems | SEPA Skip to content

PEER: A new green rating program aims to get the waste out of energy systems

By K Kaufmann

The energy system of the future will not only be distributed, low-carbon, dynamic and resilient; it will be much more transparent and superfocused on eliminating every kilowatt hour of waste and inefficiency.

And, if John Kelly has anything to say about it, it will also come with a LEED-like green rating system — Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal or PEER — that, along with environmental cachet, could drive significant bottom-line savings and customer engagement.


An energy industry veteran who started work on PEER as part of initiative funded by former Motorola CEO Bob Galvin, Kelly is the driving force behind the new rating system, now rolling out under the aegis of Green Building Certification Inc. (GBCI).

GBCI is an offshoot of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), started to provide independent certification for LEED — short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — and other green certifications such as PEER. Galvin died in 2011, by which time Kelly was working with GBCI.

“PEER can  help projects find that waste, build the (economic) case and then get going on driving that waste out,” he said. “That’s the real value proposition; it’s actually a set of tools that can really help a campus or utility.”

For the Green Building Council, PEER was an obvious match as the organization looked for ways to extend its reach beyond green buildings, said Jamie Statter, Vice President of Strategic Relationships for the USGBC.

“It’s the only system that evaluates the performance of power systems in terms of sustainability,” she said.

How it works

PEER is targeted at improving cost efficiency and performance outcomes with ratings in four key areas — energy procurement and environment, system reliability and resiliency, operational efficiency and customer involvement. A project can earn up to 100 core points, plus 15 bonus points in each category. A total of 280 points — including at least 50 points in each category — is required for certification.

The system also has three project classifications: city, or utility scale; campus, for schools and other institutional-scale projects — essentially microgrids — and supply, which is for on-site generation projects with no transmission or distribution system.

Right now, PEER has only one certification level, but Kelly says, more LEED-like levels — silver, gold and platinum — may be added in subsequent versions of the system. Professional training, similar to the LEED Accredited Professional or AP certification, is also part of future plans, in about two years, Kelly said.

PEER has been specifically modeled on LEED certification, which the organization has built into a global standard for green building by combining its ratings system with professional training programs.

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Kelly has similar hopes for PEER, noting that municipal utilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Naperville, Illinois have been test cases for the system. The University of Texas in Austin is the first campus to earn certification, according to Statter.

“PEER can provide the (electric system) operators an independent system and methodology for building a new culture, really moving toward a culture of performance,” he said. “It’s really a system of bringing transparency to all the metrics.”

“I think there is a lot of value in having an objective third party look at your performance,” said David Wade, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of EPB, Chattanooga’s municipal utility, which has gone through the certification process but has yet to be officially certified.

Although the utility monitors certain performance metrics, the PEER process alerted it to other key measures it was not tracking, such as power quality for individual meters, he said.

“That’s not a typical measure utilities would look at; most utilities might not have access to that type of data,” he said. “But when you start looking at these kinds of things, it gives you more ideas. What does this do to our customers? What should I be measuring?”

Wade could not point to specific projects EPB has undertaken as a result of the PEER certification, noting that the decision to go for the rating came at a time when the utility was doing its own performance evaluation. Similarly, no solid figures are yet available on outcomes and savings, he said.

Calculating savings is another core part of the PEER system, part of its operational component. In hypothetical case studies based on actual figures from cities and campuses, Kelly said that going through a PEER certification can provide systemwide savings of 30-50 percent, with payback periods as short as five to six years.

Market development opportunities vs. industry buy-in challenges

Alex Hofmann, Director of Energy and Environmental Services at the American Public Power Association (APPA), sees PEER as primarily a useful benchmarking tool, but said it may not be a good fit for all utilities.

“We think it’s a good thing that utilities are engaged in benchmarking and performance comparison programs,” he said.

But, like LEED, PEER certification may require a significant commitment of staff time to learn the system and collect data; and depending on the size of project, costs can range from $15,000 to around $100,000 for an initial certification. Periodic recertifications, about once every three years, are also part of the program, again with costs determined by classification and project size.

The APPA has its own benchmarking program, called Reliable Public Power Provider or RP3, which Hofmann said may be more appropriate for smaller municipals. For example, one of the core requirements for PEER is deployment of advanced or smart meters, which some smaller munipals may not yet have.

EPB in Chattanooga is one of 25 largest municipals in the country, Hofmann said.

Kelly added that at this point, he has not been approaching large, investor owned utliities about the system, focusing more on municipal utilities and campuses to help build case studies and momentum.

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“It’s best at the local level — a city working on things,” he said. “So the utility can have the mayor and his entire staff working to build out a plan for the city. PEER gives them the tools to work and talk together. Everyone is elevated in their understanding and knowledge. I think that allows for innovation; it’s the enabler.”

Statter also recognizes that it will take time for PEER to establish the same kind of industry and public buy-in that LEED now has. An introductory workshop on PEER at GreenBuild, the USGBC’s annual conference that took place Nov. 18-20 in Washington, D.C., barely filled half of a meeting room.

“In terms of comparing (LEED) to PEER, a building is staraighforward,” she said. “The complexities associated with energy systems are vast. Improvements may take many, many years and be capital intensive.”

On the upside, Statter said, PEER offers savings and “a big role for industry. Electrical engineers really have an opportunity to bring PEER to their cusotmers. There’s a huge market to be developed; we’re looking for partners.”

K Kaufmann is Communications Manager for the Solar Electric Power Association. She can be reached at [email protected].