Achieving the Potential of Conservation


We have already mentioned investments like the biomass cogeneration plant in Austria as examples of conservation in action. The following two videos focus on two very different places in the United States that have undertaken aggressive conservation plans.

How the "Take Charge! Challenge" saved billions of BTUs... and four communities won $100,000 in the process.

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Earth: The Operators'Manual

Video: Kansas: Conservation, the "5th Fuel" (ENERGY QUEST USA) (7:52)

Click here for video transcript of Kansas: Conservation, the "5th Fuel".

Narrator: Kansas, a land of wheat, and corn, and cattle. In the heart of the country, it's number 48 out of all 50 states in energy efficiency. So this is a place where energy conservation can really make a difference. Come on, girls. Our region is a region of farmers. We are famously conservative, and we have talked from the beginning about putting the conserve back in conservative.

Narrator: According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, improvements in energy efficiency have the potential to deliver more than $700 billion in cost savings in the U.S. alone. But, they say motivating consumers to take action is the key to unlocking this potential and that was the aim of Nancy Jackson's Climate and Energy project, with its Take Charge! Challenge. Kansans are patriotic, Kansans are hardworking, Kansans are humble.

Narrator: And Kansans are competitive. You all are competing against Ottawa, Baldwin City, and Paola, so really, you gotta beat those guys, yes? Do you want to help us beat Manhattan?

Narrator: 2011 was the second year for the Take Charge! Challenge, a friendly competition among 16 communities arranged in four regional groups aiming to reduce their local energy use. Some of the lowest cost, most effective ways that you can take ownership of your energy future is taking ownership of the efficiency and the conservation of your house or your business.

Narrator: Ray Hammarlund's office used federal stimulus dollars to fund four prizes of $100,000 for each of the four regions in the competition. Just as important as the grand prize, $25,000 went to each community to fund local coordinators who took the lead in galvanizing grassroots efforts. Here's how the challenge worked in Iola. The challenge started in January of this year and ends October 1st. You're required to have three community events. We're going to have a lot more than that. Today, we are at the Fight The Energy Hog Festival.

Becky Nilges: I love the hog. He was just so ugly that he is cute. He represents energy hogs in your home. You would probably let him in, but you don't know the damage he's going to do.

Narrator: Competing towns scored points by counting how many CFL bulbs and programmable thermostats were installed and how many professional home energy audits were done. Our job as energy auditors, both for commercial buildings, as well as residential buildings, is, we're essentially detectives. What's happening here? Is there a great deal of air leakage? And we're finding that the majority of the houses that we're dealing with actually use a lot more energy than they need to.

Narrator: In Lawrence, a house of worship did an energy audit, made changes, and got a pretty nice donation in its collection plate.

David Owen: One part of the audit was to contact the power company. Well, during that process, we discovered they had been overcharging us. And so we got a check, a rebate check from them for $4,456.

Narrator: Other changes start small, but add up. We were a little bit worried at one point that the congregation would not accept the very bright, white type lights. So as an experiment, we took one of these chandeliers and changed all the bulbs in it to the CFLs. And then we took the priest over here, and we said, "Which one did we do?" and he could not tell us. So that told us it was ok to do them all.

Narrator: Changing lights, adding insulation, and upgrading windows paid off. Even though it's an old building, we saved 64% on the consumption of energy in this room.

Narrator: Lighting makes up about 15% of a typical home's electricity bill, and lighting all of our residential and commercial buildings uses about 13% of the nation's total electricity. But changing out old bulbs is a lot easier than paying for audits and the energy enhancements they recommend. Here's where the 2011 Take Charge! Challenge promised material assistance using stimulus funds.

Ken Wagner: It's a $500 audit that costs you $100. The rest of that $500 is covered under the Take Charge Challenge program through the Kansas Energy Office. We really love the competitive spirit of the program and I think it's really raised a whole awareness of energy efficiency and the importance of energy efficiency to a lot of segments in our community here.

Narrator: Even Baldwin City bankers were grateful for financial assistance from state and federal governments.

Dave Hill: Nine months ago, we installed a 14 KW solar power system. I believe the initial cost of the system was basically 65,000 dollars, and then we got a substantial grant from USDA, I believe it was $20,000. We have about $18,000 of our own money invested in the system, after all the deductions. We think it will pay out in about 7-8 years.

Narrator: David Crane of NRG Energy thinks that kind of approach makes good business sense.

Crane: What I say to every businessman who has a customer-facing business, think of a solar panel not only as a source of electricity, think of it as a billboard. You don't even have to write your name on it. Just put it on the top of your store and it will be sending a message to your customers that you're doing the right thing when it comes to sustainable energy.

Narrator: Surveys of why conservation is hard to achieve have found that people want one-stop shopping, a place where they can find out what to do and get practical recommendations about who to hire and what it all might cost, just what this new facility was to offer. Now it's mid-October, time for the results of the 2011 Take Charge! Challenge.

MC: Fort Scott. MC: And the winner is Baldwin City.

Nancy Jackson: Over 100 billion BTUs were saved as a result of this Challenge, and millions and millions of dollars in each community. Those savings come from measures that have been installed that will guarantee those savings for years to come. So the savings are enormous over time. $100,000 has a nice ring to it, and it's a nice cash award for a community of our size. Our challenge now is to continue on with energy efficiency and encourage our community to save.

Nancy: One of our real goals was to help people to stop thinking about energy efficiency as the things they shouldn't do, as what not to do, and think about it instead as a tremendous opportunity to both save money in the near term, and to make our electric system more resilient in the long term. So it's about what we can do, both individually and together, and for us, that feels like the real win. The United States today is twice as energy efficient as it was in the 1970s. And I think we have the capability in the decades ahead to become twice as energy efficient again. We believe this is something that can be done really anywhere with great success.

Baltimore: City government, utilities, and "Energy Captains" reach out to neighbors, with economically stressed communities saving most.

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Video: Baltimore: Conservation in a Big City (6:25)

Click here for video transcript of "Baltimore: Conservation in a Big City".

Narrator: Baltimore, Maryland. According to one study, the air in Maryland is the 5th dirtiest in the nation. Are there ways for America's 21st largest city to cut emissions and save energy and money? Baltimore is unique in that it has over 225 neighborhoods within the city limits.

Narrator: Like Kansas, it's been using competition to jump-start the process of sustainability.

Narrator: BNEC, the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge used existing events like this anti-crime rally in the Park Heights neighborhood to let city residents know about opportunities to save energy and to share the top ten things to do. You signing people up? We are willing to go and talk to anybody, anywhere, where we can get some face time with people to talk about energy savings and conservation. And if it means going to an event talking about crime, we will go to an event talking about crime. If it's about a neighborhood block party, we will go to a neighborhood block party. We find people where we can get them. And the toilet tank bank and draft stopper gaskets as well. You're welcome.

Narrator: In addition to sharing information, the Baltimore Challenge enlisted energy captains to canvass their own neighborhoods taking the conservation message directly to homeowners. Ok, on this side as well, right?

Narrator: That's something the challenge's utility partners knew they couldn't do. I'm on the BNEC challenge pledge.

Ruth Kiselewich: If somebody just comes to your door and asks you to sign a petition to help the environment, to reduce your energy use, or if you see a message even from the local utility about all these great things you can do, it's not enough. My sister Tracy, Alice Kennedy from the Baltimore City Sustainability Commission.

Thomas Stosur: Unique thing about BNEC is the fact that it builds on this neighbor-to-neighbor advocacy and communication for energy conservation. It goes right down to the household level, you know, neighbors talking to each other across the yard. What do you guys do to save energy at home? Leave the lights off. During the day we turn the lights off. When we're not looking at TV, we turn the TV off. So the TV cannot watch itself. That's basically what we do.

Narrator: To jump-start energy savings, the challenge has a bag of free stuff including indoor/outdoor CFLs, just right for the porch lights so characteristic of Baltimore. Would you be interested in trying that? You can get up there-- He will! Everyone's household budgets are shrinking right now too, so I think that if we all just can be wise about what we're doing, we're all going save a little bit of money.

Robbyn: So, you're all signed up? I think I have to give you my account number.

Narrator: The challenge found that neighbor-to-neighbor sharing could be even more effective when the energy captains went inside homes to demonstrate quick and effective steps in a simplified peer-to-peer energy audit. Then when you're not here or you're not using it, turn the power strip off.

Narrator: For Baltimore residents, saving water also saves substantial dollars and this simple bladder reduces the amount used in each and every flush. What impressed the organizers of the first year's challenge was that Park Heights, home to the Pimlico racetrack and one of the most underserved neighborhoods saved the most energy, nearly 13%. The organizers said the main reason was the energy and enthusiasm of the Park Heights energy captains. They actually saw those residents who participated there, the largest benefit of any of the neighborhoods. To see this very grassroots effort take off and outperform any other neighborhood was really impressive.

Narrator: The Park Heights captains were also successful in applying for follow-on funding to continue their conservation efforts. The announcement of the 2011 community energy saving grants brought out U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Mayor Blake: Saving energy means lower utility costs and after the heat wave we've had, I'm sure everyone is interested in lower utility costs and the knowledge about energy savings is contagious.

Narrator: Baltimore city itself took lessons from the challenge and started pitting city departments against each other in a competition to catch energy vampires around city buildings. Using their new grant, the Park Heights captains started planning a new outreach campaign, using junior energy ambassadors to reach out to schools and others. With homeowners' permission, challenge staff could access utility bills and so track energy savings, neighborhood by neighborhood. So, we actually are able to show that we have proven savings by looking at utility usage data and showing that some of these little actions in the home can help save money and save energy.

Narrator: Bottom line, thanks in part to the challenge, Baltimore is on track to meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions and energy use 15% by 2015 and the utilities can cut back too. As we reduce energy use and energy demand what we're doing is we're eliminating the need for a new medium-size power plant. Particularly in hard economic times, this challenge helps build a sense of, "I can accomplish something individually. I can impact my life in a very positive way." Saving energy means a reduced strain on our power grid, lower utility costs as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, which means, for generations to come, we will have better air quality and a cleaner and more sustainable Baltimore.

Credit: Earth: The Operators' Manual. "Portland: "The Trip Not Taken." YouTube. April 22, 2012.

After you watch the videos, go back to the executive summary of the McKinsey report on energy efficiency, Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy, and scroll down to look at Exhibit G on page 16 of the report. What strategies employed in Kansas and Baltimore can you find on this chart? Remember that a lot of the emphasis in Kansas and Baltimore was on building energy efficiency, which means things like improving lighting and so-called “shell improvements” (like new windows, weatherproofing and so forth). Can you find these strategies on the graph in Exhibit G? What do you notice about the cost of reducing CO2 emissions using these strategies? If you look hard enough you’ll see that the costs are negative, meaning that the residents of Kansas and Baltimore were saving money and doing something good for the planet.

That’s nice, but it raises an important question for energy conservation. If there really is so much money waiting to be saved through energy conservation, why aren’t people taking advantage? We don’t like to pay more than we have to for food, for clothes, or almost anything, nor do we like to drop hundred-dollar bills on the ground. But people systematically behave like they want to waste money paying for energy. This “energy efficiency paradox” has been noticed by economists for more than thirty years, and we still don’t really know why it happens. There are a few ideas, though:

  • Tenancy: Many people do not own the places in which they live, yet are responsible for energy bills. This creates a problem known as the “split incentive,” where a building owner has no incentive to invest in conservation measures because he or she doesn’t pay the energy bills. The tenant has some incentive but does not have the right (since the tenant does not own the property in the case of rentals) to make major energy-efficient renovations. (Tenants can still buy efficient light bulbs and, in some cases, appliances, however.)
  • Mobility: People in modern economies move fairly often – about every seven or eight years on average. This is about the typical payback period for a good energy conservation investment. The market does not always price conservation very well (i.e., a conservation investment in a house that you plan to sell soon may not be reflected in the market price of the house), so this makes conservation investments look risky.
  • Liquidity: Some types of conservation investments, such as for weatherproofing or new appliances, can be expensive. Not everyone has enough cash lying around to make these investments, and charging expensive items to credit cards involves high-interest payments.
  • Myopia or Loss Aversion: The way that people’s brains process difficult decisions may explain part of the energy efficiency paradox. The fact that many people do not make energy conservation investments (whether those are investments in appliances or “investments” in behavioral changes), even though those investments will pay for themselves relatively quickly, suggests some level of myopia (near-sightedness). People may not care about the future as much as we think they should. Another explanation from behavioral economics is that people tend to fear large losses more than they enjoy large gains. (So the bad feeling you get if I take $100 away from you is stronger than the good feeling that you get if I give you $100.) People also tend to fear things that they don’t understand or that represent deviations from historical behavior. So instead of a lack of far-sightedness, the reluctance to engage in conservation measures may reflect a perception among people that those measures will not really save them money; may involve uncomfortable behavioral changes, or will result in the replacement of functional appliances with things that don’t work so well.

Activate Your Learning

Most of us are not doing everything we could to conserve energy. Do you ever leave your computer on overnight? Drive when you could walk? Do you turn off the lights whenever you leave a public restroom unoccupied? Take a moment to write down what you think might be preventing you from saving in all the ways you could.

Click for answer.
ANSWER: Answers to this question will vary from person to person. If you are a college student who has always lived with your parents or in a dormitory, it's quite possible that you have never paid an electric bill. Perhaps you have never had reason to think about how much energy you use. You may rent an apartment or house with several other students who leave their computers and the lights on all the time, and conservation may seem like a wasted effort in such an environment. Maybe it's too cold or too hot or too rainy where you live to walk when you go out, or maybe you live in the suburbs and there is nothing within walking distance of your house except other houses. Perhaps you just can't afford to buy new light bulbs or a more efficient car. We all have our reasons, and none of us are perfect conservers. Hopefully completing this activity has gotten you to think about your reasons a little more deeply, and to ask yourself if it would really be all that much trouble to turn the lights off any time you have the opportunity.

All of these factors suggest that there is some role for policy initiatives to play in encouraging conservation. Examples of policy initiatives include efficiency standards for transportation, housing or appliances; financial incentives; and improving information flow to people. Refrigerators in the United States are a simple but good example of how standards can be used to improve energy efficiency without degrading utility. Starting in the 1970s, the US federal government imposed energy efficiency standards on residential refrigerators. The result was, over the course of more than 20 years, the energy usage by individual refrigerators in the US went down by 80% while the size of the average refrigerator went up by nearly 20%.

Planners in some cities have also been able to encourage conservation by making energy-intensive activities more difficult or more expensive. We’ll finish off this module with the following video, which focuses on transportation, shows how Portland, Oregon became the bicycle capital of the US:

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Decisions made 30 years ago are now paying off in fewer car trips, and a more livable city.

Video: Portland: "The Trip Not Taken" (7:55)

Click here for video transcript of Portland: "The Trip Not Taken".

Narrator: Can what cities do locally really move the dial toward national sustainability? Portland, Oregon, shows what's possible. 70 percent of all the oil consumed in America is used for transportation. But congestion wastes a huge amount, perhaps 16 percent of all the oil imported from the Persian Gulf. Despite our best efforts, we are still taking 10 percent of the world's petroleum supply just to get back and forth to work every day.

Narrator: Congressman Earl Blumenauer represents Oregon's third district, including Portland. He heads up the Congressional bike caucus. And his city started finding solutions some 30 years back. You know, one of the things we did was, we have an urban growth boundary, and what that is, is a ring around the city of Portland and its surrounding suburbs so that we cannot kind of sprawl out and we can't become Los Angeles.

Narrator: Between 1950 and 1990, America's urban population grew by 90%. But cities' land area grew more than 250%. Remarkably, Portland bucked that trend of urban sprawl. Key decisions made include a move from investment in freeways into transit and also to integrate transit planning with land use planning.

Narrator: Along with region-wide thinking, Portland now has an infrastructure that emphasizes mass transit, along with something this city pioneered in the 19th century... bicycles. It may be easy to parody Portland's love affair with all things green including the cycling community. But putting bikes to work has practical advantages if they can be made into something used for more than pure recreation. That's the purpose of what's called the Oregon Manifest, a design challenge to come up with clever and practical ways to transport packages as well as people. A decade ago, it was hard to find a bike that was not a racing bike or a mountain bike or a touring bike. Now any bike shop that you walk into, in the city of Portland anyway, you'll find city bikes, bikes that are really made for commuting to and from work, from riding to the park to the grocery store.

Narrator: Half of U.S. car trips cover less than 10 miles, and short trips where engines make a cold start are the most gasoline intensive and polluting. So if city bikes like these became mass-produced and popular and if every one of the nation's more than 100,000,000 households substituted one 5-mile trip each day, the nation would save $36.5 billion on gasoline. Already, one young entrepreneur has put Portland's non-polluting pedal power to work and made a business of it. We use these large tricycle trucks to deliver products into a two-mile radius of the urban core for Portland. We deliver everything from bread and produce to office products to water to cycle parts. Each trike can carry about 800 pounds. They're all electric-assisted. So it's a hybrid human and electric power. The less congestion we have, our goods and services move faster. We're an international global city. We have to be scrappy, so bicyclists are about reducing congestion. Over the past 2 1/2 years, we've helped displace over 25,000 truck or van-based deliveries. And when you start to look at the overall greenhouse gas reduction and avoidance, day by day it's not very much, but cumulatively it really starts to stack up.

Narrator: Cycling may be an outward and very visible sign of a transition away from cars, but the region's mass transit network also has serious numbers. We have been electrifying our transportation for 30 years here. And today there's literally about 150,000 boardings per day. And that means that people who otherwise might be traveling around in cars are traveling around in electrons. As a result of how we put the pieces together in Portland over the last 1/3 of a century, Portlanders voluntarily drive 20% less than the national average. This translates into a dollar savings for the typical household of more than $2,500 a year. And that's money that stays in our community. It is not going to Houston or Saudi Arabia, Japan or Germany.

Narrator: Portland's leaders talk about the trip not taken as something that saves money and benefits the environment. Currently, more than a quarter of Portland's workforce commutes by bike, carpool or mass transit. But planners are working on the next giant step in low carbon transportation, electric vehicles. I think we get to the point where electric vehicles will be able to do, you know, 98% of the personal transportation needs, and of course, that's mainly in the cities and the suburbs.

Narrator: An average Portlander's daily commute of 20 miles could easily be powered by a single battery charge. So Electric Avenue is a test site to get ground truth on how people might use e-vehicles. We think the next 10 to 30 years is going to be focusing on individual passenger vehicles like the ones behind me and also on urban freight and service vehicles, those parcel delivery trucks, the post office.

Narrator: Those vehicles also make lots of short trips with starts and stops, producing emissions and using up a lot of fuel. Nationally, companies like Frito-Lay are competing with others like Federal Express to see who can deploy the most low emission delivery vehicles. Tailpipe emissions are the single greatest source of emissions in our major cities. So I think probably every mayor, everywhere, supports the idea of getting more vehicles on their local roads that don't have tailpipes.

Narrator: Portland's original plans concentrated on land use and transportation. The focus for the future is the neighborhood. The goal is what's called a 20-minute neighborhood with most everything a family needs in easy walking or biking distance, where kids can learn how to ride safely to and from school.

Earl: This effort of integrating the pedestrian, streetcar, bike, along with mixed-use development, it is enriching the experience of going to the store, going to visit a neighbor and makes us a more sustainable, cost-effective community.

Narrator: Portland's transportation innovations have direct economic benefits. By actually doing the right things here, we've built this base of great export. We've got solar firms, wind firms. We have firms focused on energy efficiency with hundreds and hundreds of employees. And they're locating here, or they grew up here because we were trying to do something, and we built demand here. We're one of the cheapest cities on the West Coast because we offer options other than having to own a car to live and work and have a good life. I think just like anything you're trying to do, whether it's a business or a government or a city, good things don't happen by accident. You need to have some good plans. We can reduce that carbon footprint while we provide economic opportunities for our citizens and others.

Credit: Earth: The Operators' Manual. "CO2 & the Atmosphere." YouTube. April 9, 2012.

In summary, there are ways that communities and other organizations are trying to get beyond the energy efficiency paradox. What the examples from Kansas, Baltimore and Portland (along with stories like the refrigerator standards) show us is that there are different ways to motivate individuals to act (ironically) more in their self-interest, saving money while reducing their environmental footprint at the same time. Good government policy is certainly one way of doing this, although a community-driven organization can be just as effective.