Blog Archives

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

 

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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.

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.

Share your opinions on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group!

Using Community Meetings to Recruit Households into Home Energy Upgrades

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.

Photo credit: PorterSIP (cgulyas2002)

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.

How to Convert Brownfields to Green Energy Projects, and Do It Right

Bjorn Jensen (MCP ’10) came to some important conclusions when he looked at four brownfied-to-renewable energy projects. Three of these projects were successful, he says, despite the fact that they had significant (and typical) challenges, such as cleanup costs, liability risks, uncertainty, technical and legal complexity, and the need to coordinate multiple stakeholders. He found that these barriers were overcome through strong partnerships characterized by full cooperation among developers, property owners, regulators,
and local officials. Most importantly, these partnerships were driven by political and public support, which came from an expectation that brownfield-to-renewable energy projects would improve the city’s image and stimulate development of the local clean energy industry locally.

Photo credit: Josh Mogerman

Jensen suggests that locating renewable energy facilities on contaminated lands is a possible solution to the siting controversies faced by new renewable energy facilities, and by wind farms especially. Jensen concludes with recommendations for local, state, and federal actions to encourage and facilitate brownfields-to-renewable energy projects, specifically emphasizing a “carve-out” strategy to use the cleanest parts of brownfields for new energy projects.

For more information, read Jensen’s thesis, “Brownfields to green energy: redeveloping contaminated lands with large-scale renewable energy facilities.