Governance by those who do the work.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Competing for Energy Savings

MassSAVE (formerly the Massachusetts Residential Conservation Services Program) has been providing conservation services for Massachusetts residential energy consumers since 1980.  It is funded by Massachusetts' gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency providers.

Given that energy-audits and most of the related services are free to Massachusetts households yearly, why are annual participation rates only a few percent?

The largest obstacles to greater participation may be related to everyday suspicions about offers for free services:

* "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is."

* "If it will save me money, why are they giving it away?"

Countering these suspicions is an uphill battle, as most of the "free" offers people encounter come with hidden agendas.  If a nominal fee were charged, then it would still give people cause for inaction, thinking "an energy-audit probably won't be worth the fee".

Another commonly heard objection to getting an energy-audit is the belief that one will not live in her current residence long enough to justify effort or expense.  This article suggests that we look for motivations beyond the energy savings themselves.

People are less critical about participating in activities organized around civic or charitable purposes.  Even residents without children are often willing to support local school fundraisers.

Unlike energy-audits, those fundraisers involve familiar goods or services like baked goods and car-washes.  To motivate people to participate in an unfamiliar process, it makes sense to frame the activity as a competition, a popular meme in contemporary life. Making that competition be between a few towns (for energy-audit participation rate) increases the chances for winning from the hit-by-lightning odds of lotteries or singing competitions to plausible, achievable levels.

A prize to benefit a town will motivate civic-minded citizens to participate.  If the prize is a green energy source (such as a solar array), then even climate-change deniers must acknowledge that the prize will save the town (and their taxes) money; such savings are valued beyond their true economic worth in contemporary American society.

For a prize benefiting the town, the town's or school's infrastructure for communicating with residents could be harnessed to promote participation.

As for the prize itself, the publicity generated by the competition should be very attractive to green-energy companies, who may be convinced to supply the prize at reduced or no cost.

Because energy-audits can be done annually, these competitions could be repeated each year (perhaps without the previous winning towns).

The energy-audit participation rate competition is an all-winners proposition:

* Energy-audits become widely used and accepted;

* a town wins a green-energy source which lowers their energy costs;

* all participants save money on energy costs;

* electric utilities avoid the need to construct new generation capacity; and

* fossil-carbon pollution is reduced.

I am talking with NextStepLiving about setting up an energy-audit competition northwest of Boston.