Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BECC 2009: Day 3

The last day of the 2009 BECC Conference is just a half day, so I attended a session on energy competitions and a keynote regarding energy efficiency in the US economy.

The energy competition session kicked off with a presentation on Oregon's Home Energy Makeover competition.  Last year, 4 homes were picked out of 6,000 entries.    The presenters talked not just about the winners, but also how important it is to provide ongoing support to the losers, many of whom become motivated to go ahead and do energy improvements on their own dime.   For example, the sponsoring organization (Energy Trust) has created a site to evaluate the energy performance of their home.  I was reminded quite happily of the Blue Planet Foundation's Hawaii Energy Home Makeover.

The second presentation took it up a notch with the Cool School Challenge. This program is designed for high school students: they perform an energy audit of their school (involving electricity, solid waste, transportation, and heating/cooling), set goals for CO2 emission decreases, track progress, and report results.  The challenge website has curriculum materials, spreadsheets that do the carbon calculations, and reports on the various schools participating in the program.  It's won national and international awards (they showed a picture of high school students at the White House) and has been used in many states.  The program is designed to achieve four goals: (1) reduce carbon emissions; (2) encourage student leadership and empowerment; (3) foster a community of teachers and students; and (4) educate young people and their families.  What's more, they've provided a pathway for students to take the knowledge they gained in the classroom and put it into use in the community via a related program called EcoOffice, in which students do a similar energy audit of local businesses and help them determine changes.  Wow!

But wait: there's more.  The third presentation was on the Energy Smackdown.  The founder of this program began by asking the question: what if we could get people as excited about energy savings as they are about football and soccer?  Or American Idol?  The smackdown began as an energy competition between three households, and has more recently scaled up to a competition between three communities (I recall Medford, MA vs. Cambridge, MA; I forget the other one).  He showed some great previews of a reality television show based upon the competition to be released in early 2010.  In one scene, folks from Cambridge sneak into a hardware store and buy all the CFL bulbs, then leave chortling about how Medford is going to totally go down.  Kailua vs. Manoa?  Kaimuki vs. Aiea?  This could be so fun in Hawaii.

The day (and the conference) ended with a keynote by Hannah Choi Granade on a report by her organization (McKinsey and Associates) called "Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the US Economy".  The report indicates that we as a nation waste an unbelievable amount of energy, so much that even implementation of relatively conservative efficiency measures could reduce energy consumption by 9.1 quadrillion BTUs by 2020, roughly 23% of demand, abating approximately 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gases. Indeed, we as a nation could actually decrease our aggregate energy use. 

That's the good news: the bad news is that there are "staggering" barriers to implementation. What's weird is that these barriers aren't typically "rationale": a straightforward economic analysis would lead most people and businesses to implement the measures.   The rather dense report goes into detail on the barriers and ways to approach them.  One thing I found interesting is that the authors could not apply the "80/20" rule to energy efficiency: in other words, there were not a small number of actions that would produce a disproportionate amount of benefit. Instead, we need to take a large number of small actions, and these actions cut across residential and industrial settings and all segments of society.

At the conclusion of the conference, one of the organizers took the microphone and asked us to take off our lanyards and leave them on the tables in front of us.  They collected them after we left and will reuse them at next year's BECC conference in Sacramento.  I'm going to do my best to be there.

Back to Day 2 or Day 1.

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