Energy conservation market intelligence helps BPA and our utilities maximize the many benefits that conservation has to offer – saving energy, money and protecting the environment to name a few.

Energy conservation market intelligence helps BPA and our utilities maximize the many benefits that conservation has to offer – saving energy, money and protecting the environment to name a few.

Bonnie Watson, Energy Efficiency Market Research team lead
How would you explain your job to your neighbor, so they not only understand what you do but what the Bonneville Power Administration does and its role in our region?
I lead a team that collects market data and builds quantitative models that tell us how large the energy efficiency resource is in the market overall, looking beyond what gets directly reported to BPA from utility rebate programs. It turns out, there’s a lot of people making energy efficient decisions out there, and we want to capture the significant impact that has on electric load over time. For instance, when a homeowner decides to install a high-efficiency heat pump with a new smart thermostat instead of keeping their old gas or electric furnace.

There’s an array of market influences that push people toward choosing the more efficient option, often as an indirect result of past energy efficiency programs influencing markets, technology advancements, or mandatory state codes and federal efficiency standards. All of these influences have the potential to save energy. We call this type of electricity conservation, which takes place outside of utility programs, Momentum Savings.

How does your work support BPA’s mission and strategy?
Research offers several advantages to the agency and its customers: 

Leveraging market data collected through Momentum Savings helps BPA develop and refine programs by creating awareness of shifts in market dynamics such changes in price, market actors or the supply chain. In the past, this research has been used to identify new opportunities for energy efficiency programs to produce more of this power resource, as well as show the types of products no longer needing utility incentive dollars because the market has transformed to being mostly energy efficient. 

Our research illuminates where energy savings are happening without utility funding, so BPA and the greater region can better target investments in energy efficiency incentives. By measuring the total efficiency resource in the market, BPA can direct its programmatic efforts to achieve the greatest energy savings impact. That may mean directing dollars to invest more in energy-saving products like heat pumps and heat pump water heaters with higher market adoption barriers. While barriers may be high, these types of products are critical to decarbonization and can provide the BPA system with significant value during key times of high demand such as winter mornings. The research can also help look at how to help our utility customers equitably provide energy efficiency products to ratepayers in their territory that are lower income. 

By measuring the total efficiency happening in a market, whether it is achieved through an efficiency program or not, this research helps the agency meet its resource obligations in the most cost effective way. The reason why a kilowatt-hour is saved—and who saved it—is secondary to the fact that it was indeed saved. 

Lastly, our research and data are used to establish more accurate potential assessments, load forecasts and measure baselines, which encourage more informed, data-driven decision-making by BPA’s power planners and analysts.

How does your work help the agency prepare for, respond to or build resiliency to climate change?
Anything we can do to increase BPA’s energy efficiency efforts helps mitigate climate change. BPA’s energy efficiency department has reduced CO2 emissions by 10 million tons since 1982. According to the EPA’s calculator, that is equivalent to taking more than 2.1 million cars of the road.

It is definitely part of my vision for this team to help the agency respond to climate change. We do this by providing market intelligence that ultimately aims to boost energy efficiency efforts to be more significant and more impactful. But I want to do more. We are going to be building in CO2 reduction into our market models and talking more about this metric.

A new or technical aspect of my job that I enjoy is:
I spend a lot of time thinking about how BPA can help the Northwest move the needle on important topics such as decarbonization and electrification. I also enjoy doing strategy work for how to position our department in navigating key stakeholder relationships. I like to think ahead to ensure our team offers value relevant to the challenges that the agency and our stakeholders face. Basically anything related to strategy development, count me in!

The coolest or most surprising thing about my job is: 
I find that this job requires a lot of comfort with the unknown. At first, this was terrifying but after nearly eight years at BPA, I am now comfortable regularly leaning in to my ability to navigate uncertainty. I have a tenacious drive to get things done and like to embrace a “yes, we can” attitude, which helps a lot.

I like working at BPA because:
I get to work with smart and nice people, and I enjoy having the autonomy to develop innovative projects and practice creative problem solving. I like that I can influence regional strategy, and I feel like my work has an impact. At the end of the day, I sleep better knowing that I get to work on a topic that has a positive impact on the world.

Having all of those long-term projects completed at the same time feels really good. I think that was not only my best week at BPA, but probably the best week of my career.

Tell us about your notable accomplishments, past jobs, awards, published work, etc.
Prior to BPA, I worked at an energy consulting firm for seven years. I performed independent, third-party evaluations of utility demand-side management programs. The consulting firm was a great place to start my career in energy—I learned a ton, got exposed to a variety of utilities across the U.S. and made many deep friendships within my peer group. I even got married to a fellow energy consulting firm alum.

Since starting my career at BPA, I have served on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Regional Technical Forum, received my change management certification and served on the board of a Portland-based nonprofit that provides free home improvement services focused on safety, health and energy efficiency.

What leadership behaviors are most important to you, as a leader and as a worker?
I think it’s really important to lead with a vision and follow a strategy working toward that vision. I see this as being part of the “connect to the mission” leadership behavior. I strive to lead my team with this ethos and always look for that in leaders above me. I also believe in leading with authenticity, which is part of the “pass it on” leadership behavior. I like to keep it real, communicate frequently and be transparent. If you work with me, you’ll hear me say “let’s real talk” regularly.
Two things I can’t live without are:

The first is my puppy, Birdie. She’s been the light of my life this past year. How did I go for nearly 20 years without a dog? Getting her was a total game-changer. She loves everyone: dogs, people, cats. She’s a pitbull rescue, so sometimes people assume that she’s scary or aggressive, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I take pride in her being the best-behaved dog at the dog park.

The second is visiting Hawai’i. My husband and I go to Hawai’i every year during the humpback whale season in February and it’s a magical and soulful time for me. I need that warm tropical salt water and those gigantic singing giants to be my truest, best self. In fact, co-worker Frank Brown recently inspired me with his lifelong birdwatching mission to see half of the world’s bird species. I think I am going to take a page from Frank’s book and start my own lifelong mission to visit all the breeding grounds of the world’s humpback whale populations. They are pretty great places: Hawaii, Mexico, Tonga, Dominican Republic, etc.

I am inspired by (people or places):
Beyoncé. I actually have a plaque on my desk that says “What Would Beyoncé Do?” Oh and Italy—I love the Amalfi Coast and Tuscany. My husband and I took Italian language classes and were able to order an entire meal in Italian by the end of our most recent trip. I also enjoy watching Italian TV shows, but I still need subtitles.

Where did you go to school? What did you study? What attracted you to that/those subject(s)?
I went to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, which is a small public liberal arts school in my hometown. I studied business and was an undergraduate research scholar. I was not the greatest student for the first several years, but I had a lot of fun. However, my classmate and now lifelong friend, Mitesh, was in the undergraduate research program and encouraged me to apply. I did, and that got me focused on academics. I ended up graduating with distinction as a research scholar, and this is what got me the job at my previous consulting firm. My research paper was published in a legitimate peer-reviewed journal so I’m proud of getting my act together and ending college on a high note. Thank you, Mitesh! 

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