The multi-year national competition taps into the imagination, creativity and hometown spirit of small- and medium-sized communities across the country to develop sustainable programs to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. It is set up to encourage innovation in energy-saving programs and education offered by local governments to residential, municipal and public school utility customers. The city with the greatest energy savings from January 2015 to December 2016 could win a $5 million dollar prize to use in continuing energy-efficiency programs.
To win the competition, the City of Palo Alto is encouraging residents to reduce electric and natural gas use. Each participating community will be rated not just on energy savings, which Palo Alto has actively pursued for more than 30 years, but also on program innovation, potential for replication, future performance, equitable access, education and overall quality of services. The city’s municipal utility (CPAU) is introducing new programs, tools and incentives to personalize saving energy.
Educating tomorrow’s consumers
Another strategy Palo Alto is using to increase its success is partnering with PAUSD to identify and prioritize energy-efficiency and sustainability projects that involve students. The city hopes PAUSD can tie the competition into class curriculum, allowing students to come up with ideas for saving energy to win the “Million Dollar Challenge” for the schools. The school district may be able to use the $1 million prize money for incorporating new or additional educational programs for energy-efficiency, putting solar on schools, or upgrading lighting and HVAC systems.
“This is a tremendous leadership opportunity for students, which teaches practical, real-world applications for understanding and managing energy use,” said City Manager James Keene. “These students are the future generation that will be faced with the impacts of climate change if we don’t act with urgency. We all benefit by engaging students through education and providing an avenue for potential funding of programs to help sustain and grow this knowledge.”
The city is engaging a team of high school students by sponsoring an internship program, “Get Involved Palo Alto.” Interns will generate ideas to help other students, staff and family members examine their home energy use more closely and try to reduce consumption. One idea they have already discussed is developing a mobile app for residents to input their electric kilowatt-hour and gas therm usage after reading their meters on a daily or weekly basis. Students could track energy consumption over time and measure savings after making changes at home, such as insulating doors and windows, or reducing phantom load energy drawn by electronic devices. Real-time tracking has been shown to help consumers understand fluctuations in energy use.
Tools to manage today’s use
CPAU is rolling out new programs like the Home Efficiency Genie audit and a new residential online utility portal to make it easier for residents to better understand their current energy use at home and take steps to improve efficiency.
Both the audit program and utility portal can help users identify inefficiencies and opportunities to manage electricity and gas consumption. Residents can call the Home Efficiency Genie experts for free utility bill analyses and subsidized energy audits of their homes. Participants will reap the benefits of a more comfortable home, reduced utility bill costs and the satisfaction of lowering their carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use—and helping their city in the competition.
Competition is tough
Palo Alto is not the only Western municipal customer competing for the Georgetown University Energy Prize. The Colorado cities of Aspen and Fort Collins are also participating, and all three are in the top 20 for energy savings.
Millions of homeowners, more than 60 local governments and over 100 utilities
are represented by the 50 communities competing in the Georgetown University Energy Prize. As of September 2015, participants have avoided more than 300 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions and saved more than 9 billion kilo British thermal units based on electricity and natural gas consumption. All that efficiency and conservation has saved participants more than $59 million.
Western wishes every competitor luck (but especially our customers), and we look forward to learning about the strategies the communities developed.
Source: City of Palo Alto, 5/16/16