The “low-hanging fruit” cliché can oversimplify energy saving expertise.
Community Power | By Areef Abraham | August 25, 2016
We cannot count how many times over the years we have heard the cliché “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to discussing energy saving measures. While there is a level of truth to this cliché, we have learned there is danger in oversimplifying the implementation of energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits if you want to drive positive long-term impact on communities and the environment. This is especially true for communities that have energy challenges that go beyond the simple act of changing a light bulb or weather stripping a door.
Learn about the community energy goals and aspirations
As a first step, it is always important to take the time to learn about community energy goals and aspirations. We try to understand how energy efficiency fits into the bigger vision of social and economic development and environmental sustainability. More often than not, communities have strong interest in pursuing renewable energy generation. If this is the case, energy efficiency and demand side management can play a major role in reducing energy demand, which in turn can reduce the capital cost of a renewable energy project. That said, each community has unique energy needs and demands, so we like to work closely with communities to learn about those needs and then customize energy and housing solutions accordingly.
Assess the complete energy chain of a community
To go beyond the “low-hanging fruit” rhetoric and fully understand the bigger picture of energy waste and consumption, Community Power takes a holistic approach and assesses the complete energy chain of a community. This involves viewing each building as a system to understand how various interrelated components impact overall energy efficiency. Understanding how energy is supplied, transmitted and used throughout the entire community is also paramount to determining the most effective energy saving measures. Undertaking a comprehensive community energy assessment will provide a realistic state of buildings and also provide the information neccessary to optimize energy saving opportunities.
Develop a business case for making efficiency investments
The community energy assessment should lead to the development of a detailed energy and housing management plan. In close collaboration with community partners, this typically involves determining the project scope, budget, forecasted energy savings and projected return on investment. Having a solid plan in place puts community partners in a better position to access funding or financing from government or private sources. The goal at the end of the day is to ensure that money spent is invested on measures that support the business case, save energy over the short and long-term and produce meaningful impact for the daily lives of community members.
Build local energy awareness and capacity
An important consideration for any project we take on is identifying how we can build energy awareness and community capacity. We therefore take a skills development approach and integrate local training opportunities through each phase of a project. We want to leave communities equipped with the knowledge and tools to continuously improve the management of energy use. This approach supports project objectives to develop local skills and create green jobs within the community.
Monitor energy savings before and after upgrades
One of the key aspects of the work we do involves implementation of data collection and monitoring systems to verify energy savings before and after efficiency upgrades and building retrofits. We want to make sure communities have the data and information available to continuously improve the management of energy use and maintain housing infrastructure. Having the proper systems in place also allows us to demonstrate the positive impacts from both a financial and environmental perspective.
Combining all these project elements requires a holistic approach to community energy savings that goes far beyond the “low-hanging fruit” measure. It often takes a bigger vision to drive an community-wide energy efficiency project that aims to successfully reduce energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and save money in the short and long-term.