Category Archives: energy efficiency

How is the city of Somerville working towards being carbon neutral by 2050 while also adapting to climate change?

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Hannah Payne (MCP ’16), the Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Somerville, joins the MIT ClimateX team to discuss these topics and more on Climate Conversations, available here.

Payne has considered the roles of public engagement and collaborative decision-making in crafting plans that will successfully navigate a city through the impacts of climate change. In her thesis, Engaging the public in climate adaptation planning: lessons from sixteen American cities, she identified how cities can collaboratively problem-solving for a climate resilient future by addressing the long-term risks and tradeoffs of adaptation policies. To read her full findings, check out her thesis, available via MIT Libraries on DSpace, here.

ClimateX is an online community focused on climate learning, discussion and action. The community originated from an award winning Climate CoLab proposal by two MIT alumni. To learn more about how the MIT community is attempting to share knowledge, ideas and discuss climate change, check out the ClimateX site, here.

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Shifting from litigation to innovation in energy policy

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David Musselman (SM’ 17) came to DUSP after a 30 year career as an attorney in the energy and environmental services industries, including two stints as a general counsel. In his words “I was ready to do something different, and MIT offered me the opportunity to explore a range of issues affecting communities including climate change, economic development and transportation issues.”

A month ago, Musselman started a new position as Director of the Municipal Energy Unit at the City of Boston. This new role which allows him to blend his years of experience with the new skills and ideas he learned at MIT.

Boston has committed to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. One key aspect of this goal is reducing energy use from the City’s buildings – it owns over 300 buildings of a wide range of sizes, ages and uses including schools, libraries, police and fire stations, community centers. One of Musselman’s key responsibilities is overseeing a multi-department effort to reduce energy use.

He is leading a pilot program designed to identify energy conservation measures (ECM) and the expected savings. The savings will be used to finance the implementation of the ECMs. Working with an energy services contractor to conduct full audits of 38 buildings, Musselman and team will be able to identify potential ECMs and projected savings.

Utilizing this list, the City will select the measures and a energy services company will install them at a guaranteed price and will guarantee the savings. Based upon the guaranteed savings, the City will finance the work and repay the loans with the energy savings. The expectation is that once the pilot program is complete, there will be additional phases to address more buildings for the City, which will help it achieve its carbon reduction footprint goal.

Image credit: MIT Sustainable Design Lab via Boston Planning and Development Agency

 

Can grass-roots innovation be scaled-up through the design and maintenance of social and policy networks?

Solar1*600The states are the “laboratories of democracy. ” They are often the source of new policy ideas, including new strategies for encouraging investment in renewable energy. Some of these ideas spread; others don’t. The process of diffusion is inherently a social process; implementation is achieved via a network of actors.  Ryan Cook’s thesis looks closely at the way in which Solarize, a community-based energy program has moved across the country.

Ryan Cook  (MCP ’14) examines the way policy actors adopt and adapt innovative ideas to their particular needs. Through a study of Solarize on both the west coast and the east coast, Ryan documents the way in which network structure can facilitate the spread of energy programs. He argues that policy innovations are rarely entirely original. Instead, they are often an amalgamation of ideas which have been implemented elsewhere. The pathways that new policy ideas follow lead to substantial differentiation. For example, the core elements of Solarize include competitive contractor selection, community-based outreach, public education, and limited sign-up campaigns. However, as Solarize moved around the country, there are some versions that involve multiple contractors as well as different technologies.

By analyzing the social networks underlying the process of policy adoption, Ryan has discovered that issue-specific relationships that cross multiple policy networks are important. He has also identified organizational creativity, programmatic flexibility, and a commitment to continuous learning (rather than just imitation) as important explanations for why and how policy innovations diffuse.  Read more about the ways in which grass roots innovation can be scaled-up through the design and maintenance of social and policy networks. Ryan’s thesis complete thesis can be accessed here.

The Power of Information: Unleashing Energy Consumption Data

community_mapEncouraging energy efficiency among residents and businesses is hard work, not least because of the absence of accessible and easily understandable information about energy consumption. Most people don’t understand everything on their energy bills, don’t know if they’re using more energy than they should, and have no way to compare their energy use to that of their neighbors. This information is often guarded closely by utilities, presenting energy efficiency advocates with a formidable barrier.

In her thesis, Alexis Howland (MCP ’13) sketches the possibilities afforded by better energy consumption data. She surveyed efforts across the country to share energy efficiency data. Alexis focuses on incorporating these data into mapping applications—which could lay bare the differences in energy consumption among homes and add valuable information to the housing market. These efforts could be combined to allow no-touch energy assessments that offer actionable suggestions for homeowners who want to improve their energy efficiency.

In a survey of five previous attempts at energy mapping, Alexis notes a common theme: the developer’s inability to access or make public energy consumption data at the household level. This, Alexis explains, is due to privacy concerns that have so far prevented such data from being used to its full potential.

Alexis explores ways of unleashing these data. Several cities—including Boston—have recently passed ordinances that require the disclosure of energy consumption data, and the federal government has offered a framework for voluntary energy data disclosure through the Green Button Initiative. While these efforts must overcome serious privacy concerns, they have the potential to make public vital information about the way people and buildings nationwide use energy. Read more about Alexis’ survey of the opportunities for and barriers to energy mapping projects in her thesis.

Planning Beyond Coal

Our nation’s energy infrastructure is at the beginning stages of a massive transition as we come to terms with and address the implications of our reliance on fossil fuels. The first stage of this transition will be the retirement of AdiNochurmuch of America’s fleet of coal plants, due both to more stringent environmental regulations and the increased competitiveness of natural gas. Beyond environmental and climactic benefits, the shutdown of these plants creates an interesting planning opportunity to consider how lands previously used for energy generation from coal can be redeveloped and put to new uses.
Adi Nochur (MCP ’13) confronts these questions in his thesis. He considers the cases of three Massachusetts coal communities—Salem, Somerset, and Holyoke—that must make decisions about plant shutdown and reuse, with a primary focus on the ways in which the planning process has or hasn’t opened up opportunities for concerned stakeholders and the public to get involved.
There has been little consistently in the ways that Massachusetts towns plan for the transition from coal, Adi finds. Salem has been a leader among the three, as town officials have aggressively considered options for reuse and have given environmental advocates and the public seats at the table. Adi also notes differences in state leadership and the level of funding granted for reuse planning efforts amont the three towns. He presents Chicago as a model for Massachusetts coal communities to follow. Officials there have emphasized stakeholder engagement and strong government leadership in coal plant transition planning.
In general, Adi’s thesis raises questions about the appropriate uses of former coal sites. Often, as will likely be the case in Salem, shuttered coal plants get a second life as natural gas facilities, though this outcome may not be in the best interest of communities that have long dealt with the local health and environmental consequences of fossil fuel energy production. Adi is hopeful that Massachusetts and other states will consider a broader range of ideas and stakeholder views as they make plans for a post-coal energy sector. Read more about Adi’s findings and conclusions in his thesis.

Bringing Power to the People: Community-Scale Energy Efficiency Improvements

5641953722_9267e3147d_bMultifamily building residents—renters in particular—often fall through the cracks of traditional energy efficiency offerings. Building residents rarely have the ability or long-term incentive to pay for energy upgrades in their homes, and building owners have little motivation to reduce energy costs borne by residents. Standard utility energy efficiency programs—which rely mainly on financial incentives to encourage participation—have had little impact in encouraging efficiency.

 

Last spring, a group of DUSP graduate students devised a new model for multifamily energy efficiency in a practicum course led by Professors Harvey Michaels and Larry Susskind. The students proposed a solution that was based in equal parts on the use of non-financial incentives to encourage participation through a engaged city-scale implementer and community-based social marketing techniques, and the better use of building and energy consumption data to identify and target areas for potential efficiency improvements. By orienting program offerings around the social networks of communities and leveraging the energy data sources available to implementers, this model could unlock energy efficiency savings that have previously been off-limits to program administrators.

 

As a result of this effort, NSTAR and the City of Cambridge are working with MIT to scope out a pilot energy efficiency program in Cambridge that takes into account the added complexity of the multifamily sector. Read the group’s report here.

Adopting a Low Carbon Energy System: How Four Nations Have Made the Switch

5032602590_d77d4f3c43_oClean energy has been a major topic of interest of late, but the pace at which major change has occurred has been frustratingly slow and it is often hard to see how a shift to low-carbon technologies could actually happen in practice. Fortunately, we are able to look abroad to a number of success stories that can demonstrate how major transformation in the energy sector might occur.
 
In her dissertation, Kathy Araújo (PhD 2013) offers a comparative case study analysis of four countries that have dramatically altered their energy industries to incorporate a new technology. Kathy studies biofuels in Brazil, wind in Denmark, nuclear power in France, and geothermal energy in Iceland and shows how—in less than 15 years—all four of these countries have more than doubled the use of these resources and reduced their use of fossil fuels by at least 15%.
 
The diversity of these case studies show that transformative change can happen in diverse contexts. Further, Kathy demonstrates that technological complexity does not need to be a barrier to the adoption of new technologies and that nations do not necessarily need to wait for these technologies to become economically competitive before working to bring them to scale. Read more about the possibility for large-scale transition to low carbon technologies in Kathy’s dissertation.

Balancing Benefits: What should be prioritized in energy efficiency policy?

?????????????????Energy efficiency offers many benefits: lower energy bills for residents, a more manageable electric grid for utilities, and fewer carbon emissions for us all. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) added another policy goal when it asked that energy efficiency also serve as an engine for job growth and economic recovery. Designing a large-scale energy efficiency initiative that satisfies multiple objectives is challenging, and it raises important questions about what the ultimate goal of such policies are and what kinds of performance metrics should be used to gauge success.

In his thesis, Josh Sklarsky (MCP ’10) looked at the various lenses through which ARRA’s efficiency programs have been viewed. He noted that, while the primary goal of ARRA funding was to rebuild the economy in a more sustainable way by creating “green jobs”, its two main mechanisms for accomplishing this built on existing programs with separate established goals. The first was the Weatherization Assistance Program, which began in the 1970s and is intended to reduce energy bills for low-income residents. The second was the Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant program, established in 2007 to enable community-level efficiency improvements. Josh describes how, by offering increased funding for both programs along with an additional objective, ARRA created an amount of uncertainty for program managers who had to decide how to proceed.
 
Josh also discusses the varying metrics proposed for measuring the success of ARRA, although he found a problem with their overwhelming reliance on quantitative means. To understand both whether ARRA efficiency programs succeeding and what level of success they had, he suggests that DOE grant monitors conduct a qualitative review of community-level efficiency plans and use the results to create a standard evaluation methodology for determining what’s working.  Read more about Josh’s thoughts on providing Federal guidance for local efficiency programs in his thesis here.

Unlocking Energy Efficiency in Office Buildings

Energy consumption can vary widely among similar office buildings, and most could save 10-20% from low and no cost measures alone. Through her applied research with the Smart Energy Now® pilot program, Elena Alschuler (MCP ’12) analyzed stakeholder dynamics and tested solutions to encourage operational efficiency in office buildings.

Duke Energy’s Smart Energy Now® pilot in Charlotte NC is the first advanced metering and community engagement program to focus exclusively on operational efficiency in office buildings across an entire downtown. During the program design phase in 2011, Elena identified the ways in which building owners, facility staff, occupant organizations and office workers shape energy consumption. She recommended program activities to deliver information feedback, process assistance, and social
endorsement tailored to each stakeholder group.

In 2012, Elena conducted a preliminary evaluation and found that the pilot has been successful in many of its activities, gaining almost 100% owner participating and training over 500 Energy Champions. She also identified important lessons for implementing operational efficiency programs. For example, pledge-and-tracking frameworks establish a clear goal and process, but allow stakeholders to select the energy-saving activities that make sense for them. In addition, support from organizational leaders is essential for efficiency to become part of office worker culture and facility staff activities. Finally, local non-profit and professional organizations can help provide credibility, conduct outreach and deliver program activities.

Check out a recent report Elena wrote for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which builds on the work she did for her thesis as a DUSP student. Share your thoughts on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group.

Go Local! Energy Costs and Environmental Benefits of Microgrids

As our infrastructure ages, demand for power increases and climate disasters loom. Cities are facing rising costs and security risks around their energy supply, all while seeking ways to decrease their carbon impact. Unfortunately, the existing regime for supplying and distributing energy in the United States is a regional enterprise, with the majority of energy produced far from the main areas of demand. In order to take control of their energy consumption, many cities are attempting to establish localized energy infrastructure. By producing energy at the location of its consumption, cities can significantly lower the cost of energy, increase the use of low-carbon energy technologies, and improve energy reliability and security.

Photo credit: National Grid

In 2012, Genevieve Sherman (MCP ’12) evaluated two U.S. cities’ attempts to create a microgrid and a district energy system in the heart of their downtown commercial districts. Since these areas are comprised of multiple stakeholders, she assessed the organizational structure they developed in order to delegate core roles in implementing new infrastructure: ownership, management, operations, rate setting and financing. Genevieve argues that in order to successfully implement these technologies, commercial district organizations must pursue a carefully crafted engagement, educational, and fact-finding process that will prepare all stakeholders to interconnect into a shared energy system. Read more in her thesis.

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