Utility bill processing can be a lot like competitive swimming. There's hard work and boring repetition and occasionally something exciting happens.
At one of my first meets as a competitive swimmer, my coach entered me in the backstroke event. The gun went off and I began paddling on my back toward the other end of the pool. But no pool goes on forever and soon came the wall.
The idea is to see the flags and begin counting your strokes and at the right time, turn over into a turn, push off the wall, and start another lap, all the while maintaining your speed. Usually it goes off without a hitch, but not this time.
I saw the flags, counted my strokes, turned, flipped, and came to the surface…in the other lane, which was occupied by another swimmer! Collision alert!
I swam under the lane line and managed to finish the race. But since this wasn’t the Goofy Olympics, I didn’t win because I hadn't mastered all the parts of the process.
Like swimming, utility bill processing can be difficult to master. Here are five tips to help you stay in your lane and finish on top:
Review Estimated Bills
Utility companies estimate bills for several reasons: convenience of the vendor, lack of access to the meter, or even a faulty meter. Although estimates are based on historical data, they are often too high. Make sure you have a process (ideally automated) for flagging bills that are estimated. When an expensive account is estimated multiple months in a row, find out why. You may be eligible for a sizable refund.
Check Units of Measure
Believe it or not, some utility bills don’t even indicate the energy unit of measure on the bill. If you’re tracking energy use, and if the unit of measure is incorrect, analytics and reporting will also be incorrect. Be careful when recording energy use, because your utility bill may include more than one unit of measure. Also, units of measure can vary for the same commodity.
Natural gas is a particularly tricky commodity since it can be measured in Therms, Dekatherms, MMBTU, CCF, or MCF. Electricity is almost always measured in KWH, but you may also see values for KVAH, KW, KVA, KVAR, or KVARH on your bill. Data entry problems with units of measure can skew energy analysis, and waste time and energy. Make sure you and your staff know what information is being tracked. If necessary, implement a verification process.
Don’t Double-Count Energy Use
A common bill entry error is to count the same energy use more than once. This is understandable because many bills display the same energy use in multiple sections of the bill: meter read, cost calculation, month-to-month summary, and delivery/generation. Double-counting errors can be quickly corrected with proper training. It’s like refining your backstroke technique. A little change can make a big difference.
Check Load Factors
Load Factor is a useful calculated value that can help spot issues and opportunities with your electric bills including data or meter problems, rate change options, and mechanical/electrical system control problems. Load Factor is calculated as a simple ratio (Actual KWH Use)/(Max Theoretical Use).
The Actual KWH Use is what you see on your bill. The Max Theoretical Use is how much KWH you could have used if you had operated at peak load (your highest rate of consumption) for the entire 720 hours in the billing period (assuming 30 days). Utility companies appreciate predictable consumers, so favorable rate opportunities exist for meters with consistently high (85+) load factors. And knowing what “typical” load factors are for different building types will enable you to spot energy problems that may be affecting the load factor. Changes in load factor for a building that are not seasonal can be a red flag, kind of like those flags at my swim meet signaling an approaching turn.
Understand Your Rates and Options
It's important for you to understand the rate schedule associated with each meter you're tracking, because rate changes can offer significant long-term savings on your utility bills. When was the last time you investigated alternative rates? You may have relocated your business, or made changes to the energy footprint of your building with a renovation. If so, you may qualify for a better rate, so make sure to check your utility vendor’s website to learn about your options.
Just Keep Swimming!
Hopefully these tips will help you keep your head above water with your utility bill processing challenges, and they may even help you score a big energy win!