Category Archives: energy efficiency
Can grass-roots innovation be scaled-up through the design and maintenance of social and policy networks?
The 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.
Encouraging 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.
Multifamily 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.
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.
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.
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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Around 65 million homes in the USA could benefit from comprehensive upgrades to save energy. Serving these homes can decrease emissions, create jobs, stimulate local economies, and improve the health of indoor environments. However, marketing upgrades has proven difficult; households typically do not understand energy saving opportunities, are hesitant to take on financing to realize small net energy savings, and distrust programs and contractors.
Faced with these challenges, many upgrade program administrators have experimented with marketing upgrades via different community networks, such as neighborhood associations, churches, civil society organizations, common employers, or informal acquaintances. In his Masters thesis, Brendan McEwen (MCP 2012) explores the community based outreach strategies that can realize greater participation in upgrade programs. Brendan’s research suggests that hosting meetings that bring together a group of recruits, past participants, upgrade contractors, and program personnel, is an effective marketing mechanism, capable of providing a rich introduction to the concept of upgrades and fostering a sort of “peer pressure” to sign on for a home energy assessment. Brendan suggests program administrators should tap many different community networks, to recruit households into such meetings. More strategies and lessons from the field can be found in Brendan’s thesis.