A new EE resource: Distributed people

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By Elisa Wood

November 6, 2008

Energy efficiency is often described as the invisible resource. It improves our energy supply without any of the usual industry trappings: smokestacks, wind turbines, transmission lines and poles. This is one of its virtues.

But efficiency’s invisibility also causes problems. Because it operates out of sight – inside walls, underneath lampshades, and in factory motors — efficiency tends to attract fewer cheerleaders than more obvious forms of clean power.

Peter Love, Ontario’s Chief Energy Conservation Officer, has proposed a solution: Distributed people.

“Many of you have heard of the concept of distributed generation,” he told reporters this week during a news conference. “This is distributed leadership. This is having many, many people across the province become champions for conservation.”

Love kicked off his distributed people campaign last year by calling on each city to designate municipal energy conservation champions or MECOs. Fifteen cities in Ontario responded. Now Love is pushing businesses, health care institutions and schools to do the same.

No job description exists for Love’s MECOs (or BECOs, HECOs and SECOs). There is no pay scale or training. “The main thing I want these people to do is be noisy,” he said. “Conservation is invisible. We need to have markers for it — we need to let people know progress is being made.”

What message should these advocates promote? Love tells them to talk about efficiency’s “Three E’s,” which are its economic, employment and environmental benefits.

Love’s distributed leadership program may not be a game change on par with New York’s effort to reduce electricity use 15% by 2015; Connecticut’s program to develop a white tag market; or California’s zero net energy goal for new construction.

But, in a time when governments are running large deficits and banks are reticent to loan money, it may make sense to pursue a low-cost strategy of ‘small, loud and many.’

Following his own advice, Love issued a “noisy” report on Ontario’s progress. Peak demand was down 5 percent by the end of 2007, and now the province is on target to achieve a 6,300 MW reduction by 2025, he said. The report, including a description of Love’s distributed leadership program, is available at http://www.powerauthority.on.ca/Page.asp?PageID=1115&BL_WebsiteID=1

Visit Elisa Wood at www.realenergywriters.com and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.