On Monday, May 9, the Palo Alto City Council approved giving $1 million to the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) if the City wins the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize Competition. The Georgetown University Energy Prize is a national competition between small and medium-sized communities for energy efficiency. It is set up to drive innovation in programs and education delivered by local governments to increase energy savings among residential, municipal, and public school utility customers. The city with the greatest energy savings over a two-year time period could win a $5 million dollar prize for use in continuing energy efficiency programs.
The City of Palo Alto is encouraging residents to reduce electric and natural gas use in order to win the competition. Each participating community 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 City is building incentives and contests to encourage participation in programs that engage and educate people on energy use and efficiency measures.
One of the ways the City is hoping to increase its success is by partnering with PAUSD to identify and prioritize energy efficiency and sustainability projects that involve students. The City hopes PAUSD can tie this into class curriculums, allowing students to come up with ideas to look for ways to save energy and win the "Million Dollar Challenge" for the schools.
“This is a tremendous leadership opportunity for students, which teaches practical, real-world applications for understanding and managing energy use,” said City Manager James Keene. “These students are the future generation that will be faced with the impacts of climate change if we don't act with urgency. We all benefit by engaging students through education and providing an avenue for potential funding of programs to help sustain and grow this knowledge.”
The school district may be able to use the $1 million prize money for incorporating new or additional educational programs for energy efficiency, putting solar on schools, or upgrading lighting and HVAC systems. The City is engaging a team of high school students through “Get Involved Palo Alto,” a City-sponsored internship program, to generate ideas to help students, staff, and family members examine more closely their home energy use and try to reduce consumption. Included among the ideas already discussed is the development of a mobile app for residents to input their electric kilowatt hour (kWh) and gas therm usage after reading their meters on a daily or weekly basis to gain a real-time understanding of fluctuations in energy use. Students could track energy consumption over time and measure savings after making changes at home, such as insulating doors and windows, or reducing phantom load energy drawn by electronic devices.
The City has rolled out new programs like the Home Efficiency Genie audit and a new residential online utility portal to make it easy for residents to better understand their current energy usage at home and take steps to improve energy use efficiency. Both the audit program and utility portal can help users identify inefficiencies and opportunities to manage utility consumption. Residents can call the Home Efficiency Genie experts to take advantage of free utility bill analyses and subsidized energy audits of their homes. Participants will be able to reap the benefits of a more comfortable home, reduce utility bill costs, and enjoy the satisfaction that they are lowering their carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use.