A major upgrade to NORA’s highly successful Fuel Savings Analysis Calculator
By Keith Reid
NORA’s Fuel Savings Analysis calculator has been a useful tool throughout the industry since 2008. A salesperson or technician can use the calculator to provide a homeowner with an estimate of the cost savings involved with upgrading to more efficient oil heat equipment. However, as time has moved on and technology progressed the old calculator had become a bit long in the tooth.
With NORA’s reauthorization, and PriMedia’s technology development, a major upgrade is expected to become available to the industry in August. Guiding the project were John Huber, NORA; Dr. Tom Butcher: NORA / BNL; Roger Marran, Energy Kinetics; Kevin Steele, H.B. Steele & Son; Bob O’Brien, Technical Heating; and Don Farrell, OMA Oilheat Manufacturers Association.
In some ways this is an evolutionary development, but with the potential for some revolutionary capabilities down the road.
“NORA wasn’t reauthorized during the time when we began looking at an updated FSA,” said John Bruno, PriMedia’s creative director. PriMedia is a multifaceted marketing and public relations firm well-established the industry. “As soon as it became reauthorized a lot of projects were revisited in the FSA was very high on the priority list. It’s a perfect storm in a positive way because oil prices are down. People are much less likely to switch fuels and if we can get them to realize even more efficiency through upgrades that’s one of NORA’s prime missions.”
He noted that the new reauthorization sets aside less money for marketing efforts, and this helps fill that gap along with the recently covered NORA rebate program (see the May, 2016, issue of FON).
“When the original platform was created the common technology was the Windows-based desktop PC,” said Bruno. “It was not set up to run on a Mac and mobile devices were not prevalent at the time. So much has changed since then. The Mac platform exploded, and if you’re a guy out in the field nine times out of 10 you are going to have a smart phone or a tablet that will be used for sales calls or even presentations. So it made a lot of sense that it should work on a mobile device.”
The old calculator is software-based, which runs on a host PC. The software is downloaded and installed and had to be upgraded regularly as new versions of Windows were released. FSA 2.0 is a web-based cloud application that is hosted on a server and accessed through a user’s web browser. The browser might be located on a laptop or desktop system, on a Mac or PC or on a tablet or smart phone. Instead of needing to be platform specific it just needs to be compatible with the various common browsers in the marketplace.
One advantage of the cloud-based system is that as upgrades occur they only need to be made on the server- hosted software and not rolled out to the field where everyone would have to upgrade their personal installations.
Even though FSA 2.0 designed to function easily on mobile devices it’s not an App, per se. It uses the existing web browser and configures its display format according to the device. This is fairly common today in web development, where websites are designed to restructure their display output to effectively show content the same content in a user-friendly manner on the range of devices that might be accessing it.
Bruno noted that as long as that worked successfully there was no real motivation to conduct App development for the initial launch, though iOS and Android Apps are currently in development that should streamline the calculator somewhat.
While converting from software to cloud-based might seem simple that was not the case.
“The biggest challenge was getting the calculations to work outside of the software environment,” said Bruno. “Software does calculations very well. You put in the numbers; the software does a calculation and produces a result. In a cloud platform they’re taking place on a Web server platform which is accessed remotely. That added some complications but we accomplished what needed to be done.”
What it provides the oil dealer, customer and NORA
What does this technology mean for the dealer? As with the previous calculator it can be used as a sales tool. It provides a visually effective method of showing the homeowner just how many gallons— and therefore dollars—can be saved through an upgrade compared to their older heating appliances.
“The other calculator was very successful at doing that but it was a bit clunky,” said Bruno. “With the new calculator as you login it offers a basic interface or a detailed interface. That allows the salesperson who might not have any prior knowledge of the equipment to present a scenario to the homeowner using the basic interface. With the advanced interface, a technician can go spec a job and then give that information to the salesperson. Before it was very tech oriented toward a person with a lot of knowledge about the equipment and the associated verbiage and vernacular of the technology.”
The previous FSA calculator offered three scenario presets to choose from, which is greatly expanded in the upgraded version. FSA 2.0 provides for existing equipment presets and six new equipment presets. In addition users can modify and save additional equipment presets. It also brings degree days into the picture as the dealer sets a base location linked to expanded weather data that then allows for a more nuanced fuel usage/fuel savings calculation for the customer.
Even more sophistication is available in the future. For example, while the generalized upgrade scenarios provide a notable degree of predictive accuracy, the future goal is to get the manufacturers on board so that specific models of equipment can be brought into the calculation.
For the customer, FSA 2.0 not only encourages an upgrade but shows the customer specifically the range of return on investment opportunities with various upgrade paths. It can provide calculations based on five, 10 and 20 year periods. In many cases, the homeowner will see that the significant savings opportunities that are realized in the short term. The long-term savings can be even more dramatic and it can be shown how making the decision to upgrade today pays off much like compounding interest does when undertaken at an earlier date.
Another advantage is that the new calculator allows the sales representative or technician to show the customer a more complete view of savings. AFUE only goes part of the way, and doesn’t necessarily encompass such complementary factors as modern controls and better insulation. As a result, many energy audits were overlooking what were in some cases significant additional savings opportunities with an upgrade.
For NORA, FSA 2.0, in conjunction with NORA’s new rebate program, helps the alliance serve its core mandate to encourage a more efficient installed base of oil heat equipment. The more effective this tool is for the salesperson in getting the homeowner to upgrade, the more money that homeowner will save and the more readily environmental goals will be achieved. And, of course, the easier that story can be presented to Congress.
For more information on FSA 2.0 launch, visit: www.NORAweb.org/FSA.