Saving Energy, Building Skills: The Industrial Assessment Center Program

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Saving Energy, Building Skills: The Industrial Assessment Center Program

The Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) program from the Department of Energy provides energy efficiency assessments to small and medium‐sized manufacturers across the U.S. These assessments are in-depth evaluations of an industrial facility’s major energy-consuming systems, led by engineering faculty from 24 participating universities with the extensive involvement of graduate and undergraduate students. Since 1981 more than 16,000 small and medium sized manufacturers have been served by the program, with the participation of more than 2,000 students.

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In 2014, the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) at the Department of Energy engaged SRI’s Center for Innovation Strategy and Policy (CISP) to assess the program’s impact, both on energy saved and on the careers of engineers working in the area of energy efficiency. The outputs of the assessment were to inform the 2016 program competition, which will be for another 5-year funding cycle. 

Our CISP team has a particular strength in the kind of mixed-methods approach required for a complex project like this. We used data analysis, interviews, surveys, and text analytics to answer a set of questions related to the program’s goals. We analyzed quantitative data collected by the Centers as part of their assessments (including data on implementation), qualitative data from interviews with stakeholders and firms, a survey of participating firms and IAC alumni, exit survey from IAC students, and SRI’s novel text analytics-based approach that compares IAC alumni resumes with two comparison groups.

Overall, our analysis found that the program had a measurable and significant impact on energy saved by businesses and energy efficiency skills developed by students. In the area of energy efficiency, the analysis found:

  • Over 33,000 IAC recommendations were implemented by participating firms between FY 1997 – FY 2013
  • For every $1 invested by the government in the IAC program between FY 1997 – FY 2013, $5 were invested in energy efficiency improvements by participating firms to achieve 481 MBtu in gross energy savings.

In the area of student impact, the analysis found:

  • IAC students graduate and take jobs in energy efficiency fields, expanding the pipeline of energy efficiency engineers
  • IAC students graduate with skills that are more highly valued in the energy efficiency job market than students with comparable degrees.

On April 6 the AMO, DOE announced another $35 million round of competitive funding for the program. As the co-PI for SRI’s impact assessment, I will continue to support the program by serving as an external member of the merit review committee for this funding round.

There is now strong interest on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill in supporting manufacturers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, as demonstrated by a recent Congressional resolution designating the week of April 25, 2016 as ‘‘National Industrial Assessment Center Week’’ in celebration of the program’s 40th anniversary. My colleagues and I at SRI’s Center for Innovation Strategy and Policy are proud to contribute to the success of such a valuable and long-standing program.