Manager of Planning and Evaluation, PSEG-Long Island
Dan Zaweski, time traveler: The past, present and future of LI energy
As a Long Island lifer – somewhere in the middle of five generations born and raised around Jamesport, with a wall’s worth of degrees from Island-based universities – Dan Zaweski knows all about the region’s energy history.
As manager of planning and evaluation for PSEG-LI’s Energy Efficiency and Renewables Department, he gets a front-row view of its energy future.
And as an original member of the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program (CEBIP) Advisory Board, he’s enjoyed the occasional glimpse of innovations to come – all told, a full spectrum of energy-usage tools and technologies, spanning dozens of years.
Even more importantly, according to Zaweski, he’s witnessed decades of evolution in Long Island’s energy behaviors – how we use and even think about our energy resources.
At PSEG-LI, the manager’s “core function” is to develop long-term plans adhering to state efficiency guidelines and other distributed-energy rubrics. It’s forward-looking stuff, essentially “mapping out where our next efforts will be” – not only new infrastructure like offshore wind farms, Zaweski says, but programs and protocols meant specifically to alter customer behaviors.
“For 20 years, the plan was reducing usage,” he notes. “Now the group is also working on developing alternative solutions that are more about customer-sided behavioral aspects, potentially deferring or even eliminating the need for new capital-project construction.”
In a nutshell: How do you “influence the load,” Zaweski says, to mitigate peak-time usage at a crucial substation or along an overtaxed circuit? Lower that peak demand just enough, and you might defer an expensive capital-construction project to accommodate that higher load.
It’s a new approach that cries out for new solutions, according to the planning-and-evaluation leader, “and it really opens the door to a lot of innovative thinking and innovative business models.”
Of course, he gets plenty of that at CEBIP, where the Hofstra University (bachelor’s in business administration) and Dowling College (MBA) graduate has been a trusted advisor since the earliest days of CEBIP.
He’s seen a lot and learned a lot, Zaweski notes, mostly from his fellow CEBIP board members.
“I always feel somewhat privileged” to sit among them, he says. “They are a group of individuals that I would rarely have an opportunity to interact with day-to-day. They bring perspectives and insights that inform me as to where things are likely to go.”
His work at CEBIP, of course, also gives him a running start on a wealth of coming-soon technologies. The incubator is focused mostly on pre-commercialization enterprises, further behind the curve than the tools and techniques crossing Zaweski’s desk at PSEG-LI, where “we’re looking at stuff ready for active deployment … and some warranties and a level of experience are required.”
But in the energy-usage-and-deployment world, innovative thinking and new business models abound, all centered around safety, reliability and sustainability. And in the middle of it all is Zaweski, who remembers when the biggest ideas in Long Island energy usage were literally represented by giant lightbulbs.
He specifically recalls a circa-1967 LILCO advertisement, which included a free gift for customers: a 150-watt lightbulb (probably three times the wattage lighting your living room) intended specifically to increase demand, which LILCO assured customers would reduce prices and put Long Island on the “too-cheap-to-meter” path.
The utility wasn’t wrong: On today’s average electricity bill, the cost of lighting is negligible. But other energy-use behaviors have changed dramatically over the decades, and therein lies the heart of Zaweski’s quest.
“Most electricity companies were originally in the lighting business,” he says. “Now the lighting component of the bill is relatively de minimis. Cooling is now one of the more significant portions of the average household’s consumption – but in the 1960s, it was difficult to find someone who had central air and room air conditioners were just getting a toe hold in some of the bedrooms of the more affluent.”
Today, more than half of PSEG-LI’s customers have central air conditioning, and another 45 percent have air conditioning of some sort – completely changing distribution patterns and triggering Zaweski’s next-level work.
The planning-and-evaluation manager enjoys his glimpses at the future – including those stay-tuned CEBIP breakthroughs on the edge of greatness, and the incredible interactions with the Advisory Board members guiding them home.
“In some cases, it’s helpful to my work (at PSEG-LI) because their questions are similar to mine,” he says. “Sometimes they come from perspectives that are completely different from mine, and that’s also helpful.
“And I hope my perspectives are sometimes insightful to them as well.”