torstai 4. joulukuuta 2008

Tackling climate change with behavior and technology

A report from Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference,
Sacramento, CA November 2008

European perspective into North American policies

This year Behavior, Energy and Climate Change, or BECC, is organized for the second time. The conference has attracted more 600 visitors, mostly US and Canadian, single participants in many European and even African countries, relatively few from Asia. Focus is on US, particularly west coast, but the global state-of-the-art is well transmitted.

BECC is not a scientific conference. It is an event organized around a mutual theme and even though a fourth or a third of all participants represent universities, presentations are dominated by federal and commercial units. Essentially this is a venue for networking and making impact. The constellation of people present offers excellent opportunity to have an impact in practices and policies and local governments and energy companies if you have an idea and well-prepared sales pitch.

The conference program does have room for more advanced debate as well, but it maybe bit suffers from the broad topic, which has attracted so large heterogeneous audience that the branch experts hardly meet.

The overview shows that there is a huge interest in creating new solutions for energy efficiency and peak production. Although the conference was clearly Californian (along with New Jersey), different kinds of local organizations were clearly over represented, this is very understandable in terms that the states with greatest goals about fighting climate change and reducing energy demand. The actions in US seem fluctuate between different kind of organizations.

Energy service providers, utilities, are currently active trying out different techniques using powercost meters, peak pricing and AMI built-upon applications. The range is quite wide, from lo-fi (remote consumption display) to hi-fi (web-based UI displaying AMI output with the resolution of 15 sec). Generally, the work carried by utilities is not far behind the from the-state-of-the-art but analysis of the data is not carried out on a very detailed level (e.g. Sacramento SMUD)

Research organizations and innovative companies are trying the push the state-of-the-art clearly further. Lot of interesting concepts were introduced and stable technology is used for more extensive and elaborate analysis. For instance, at several universities you can find people who are actively investigating feedback (e.g. in Canada, Waterloo, Alberta). There are so many activities going on that it is very difficult to estimate what will come out of it all. It was actually noted in a conference presentation that there is a concern about how can we ensure that some lessons are learned across a variety of studies.

The situation is difficult in the sense that the amount of players in the business is large and there is a variety of incentives among the parties involved. For instance, the experiments sponsored by PCM or AMR producers may be biased to give a favorable impression of the capabilities of the device.

Seeing the bigger picture through all presentations is not easy. What should be done, what are the priorities? Who should pay for PCM/AMR technology? One important but what felt fully neglected issue in the presentations and posters I saw, was consideration of the expenses on changing from one technology to another. There have been huge campaigns to get people replace regular bulbs with FLSs but the environmental impact of discarded, functional if not efficient technology was not really considered. Although many kind of interventions were introduced to support behavioral change, there seems to be a strong believe that the technology that has gotten us into a trouble should easily also get us out of there. The most rational point of view seems to be held by the utilities that are concerned about the costs and ROIs of the new technology.

Majority of the BECC presentations can be viewed here:

Lassi A. Liikkanen