The City of Palo Alto is ramping up its energy-saving efforts with new programs designed to help customers dive deeper into their energy use, learn about ways to improve home efficiency, take charge of managing their utility consumption and further reduce their carbon footprint. These efforts are in line with the City's overall sustainability and climate protection goals, but also motivated by Palo Alto's participation in the Georgetown University Energy Prize Competition.
The Georgetown University Energy Prize is a friendly competition between small and medium-sized communities across America for energy efficiency. Over a two-year period, from January 2015 through December 2016, each community will encourage their residential, municipal, and public school utility customers to reduce electric and natural gas use. Participating communities will be rated not just on energy savings, which is something Palo Alto has been actively pursuing for over 30 years, but also on program innovation, potential for replication, future performance, equitable access, education and overall quality of services. The winning city will receive $5 million for use in programs to reduce energy consumption.
As of the end of September 2015, Palo Alto ranked 16th in the competition, which is in the top third of all participating communities! The top 10 communities will make the final round and be eligible for the $5 million prize. Other Bay Area cities participating in the challenge include Sunnyvale, Fremont, San Mateo, Berkeley and Davis.
"This is an exciting accomplishment for Palo Alto," said City Manager Jim Keene. "The City has promoted energy efficiency as part of its sustainability efforts and climate protection goals for a long time. The Georgetown University Energy Prize Competition provides us with a new challenge to take our City's energy-saving goals to the next level. We're thrilled to be participating as one of the nation’s semifinalists, and are keeping our eyes on the prize."
The City is building in incentives and contests to encourage customers to participate and help drive Palo Alto closer to an energy-saving win in the Georgetown competition. Utilities rolled out new programs like the Home Efficiency Genie audit and residential online utility portal. Both of these programs provide customers with greater insight into their utility usage and can help users identify energy and water use inefficiencies to better control and manage their usage. Residents can call up the Home Efficiency Genie experts to take advantage of efficiency opportunities, and learn about how to make their lifestyles more eco-friendly by also participating in the PaloAltoGreen Gas renewable natural gas energy program. Participants will be able to reap the benefits of a more comfortable home, reduce their utility bill costs, and enjoy the satisfaction that they are lowering their carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use.
Greening Your Energy Usage
Palo Alto has long been a leader for environmental sustainability, but the City took its eco-friendly reputation to a new level when its full-scale municipal utility adopted a carbon neutral electric supply portfolio in 2013. The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) purchases electricity only from renewable energy sources. Any power purchases that do not come from renewable resources are then "greened-up" through purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Palo Alto was one of the first municipal utilities in the nation to adopt a carbon neutral electric supply.
After going 100% green on electricity, the City decided to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the City’s natural gas supply, and launched the PaloAltoGreen Gas program in 2015. This is the first of its kind Green-e® Climate-certified carbon emissions offsets program offered by a municipal utility. The program allows customers to pay a small premium on their utility bill each month to neutralize the carbon emissions associated with their natural gas use. The Utility’s goal for PaloAltoGreen Gas is to enroll 20% of its customers, or 10% of its overall natural gas load, by the year 2020.
In July 2015, all 33 City-owned facilities enrolled in PaloAltoGreen Gas, including the libraries, community theaters, aquatics center, Regional Water Quality Control Plant and a Junior Museum and a Zoo.
"With the City’s decision to enroll its facilities, now more than 4% of the community’s natural gas load and nearly 1,000 customers are participating in PaloAltoGreen Gas, an impressive start for such a unique program which has been in existence for just a little over one year," said Gil Friend, the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “Once again, Palo Alto is taking a leadership role in the quest to become the greenest City in America.”
Investing in Energy Efficiency
For homeowners, investing in energy efficiency programs should be a simple process in order to realize savings on energy bills and reduce their carbon footprint. That is why CPAU developed the Home Efficiency Genie, a one-stop-shop for residents to learn more about CPAU programs, energy efficiency and home utility performance. Through Home Efficiency Genie, a Palo Alto homeowner can talk to an energy advisor free of charge and schedule a discounted home assessment with the program’s specially trained building science experts to help them learn things about their home energy use they may never have known.
This convenient new program not only equips Palo Alto residents with a better understanding of their energy consumption and how to become more energy efficient, but it provides consumers with true support and direction throughout the process.
Taking Control of Your Utility Usage
In early 2016, CPAU launched a new residential online utility portal. Through this portal, all Palo Alto residential utilities customers will be able to log on to view historical monthly consumption data, receive information on efficiency programs and rebates, find energy and water-saving tips and compare their usage to similar homes. Portal users will have access to dynamic information about their home utility usage all in one location. And CPAU expects to continue expanding the features offered through this user-friendly online program. By putting the information and tools in customer hands, CPAU is empowering its customers to become active managers of their utility usage. Customers can access the online portal from cityofpaloalto.org/smartenergy
Bringing it All Together for a Win
The City of Palo Alto and its residents are committed to energy efficiency and leadership for environmental sustainability. The City hopes this enthusiasm will help Palo Alto advance to the final round in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. The $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize challenges small- to medium-size towns, cities, and counties to rethink their energy use, and implement creative strategies to increase efficiency. To compete for the Prize, Palo Alto’s community members will need to work together to demonstrate success in reducing energy consumption through the end of December 2016. Through tools like the Home Efficiency Genie, online utility portal, PaloAltoGreen Gas and carbon neutral electric supply portfolio, CPAU offers a range of innovative programs and a personalized solution to help residents achieve their energy efficiency and sustainability goals, without any hassle. Utility customers can take advantage of free services and rebate programs from CPAU, and make simple changes at home. Since there are so many ways for people to save energy, CPAU adopted a Georgetown competition campaign theme of “5 Million Ways to Save," capitalizing on the $5 million prize incentive.
The City invites the community to get involved with Palo Alto’s energy efficiency initiatives and help our community win the Georgetown competition. Visit cityofpaloalto.org/georgetown to join in and learn more about CPAU activities supporting participation in the energy competition. Share your energy-saving ideas with the City, print a personal energy pledge certificate and take advantage of available resources. You can follow the Georgetown University Energy Prize and track the competition progress at www.guep.org, on Twitter @GUEnergyPrize or Facebook at facebook.com/guenergyprize
Visit efficiencygenie.com to get started with the Home Efficiency Genie, and log on to the new online utility portal at cityofpaloalto.org/smartenergy