The Energy Efficient Cities project took place in the state of Minnesota and used a community-based approach to achieve greater results in comprehensive, whole-house energy efficiency programs. Using citizens and community-based learning strategies, the two –year program focused on a one-stop- shop whole-house approach that would make it easier for homeowners to take energy efficiency actions while maximizing participation and energy savings. From late 2009 through July 2011, the Energy Efficient Cities included Apple Valley, Austin, Minneapolis, Owatonna, Park Rapids, and St. Paul.
The project was undertaken by the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) which received a grant from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund in 2009 to pilot residential energy efficiency programs. In addition to CEE, utilities from each of the cities mentioned above were strong supporters and critical for the success and support of the program, mainly through funding the home energy visit portion of the program.
Using a combination of community-based strategies, home energy visits, energy use feedback reports, and follow-up assistance, the project exceeded its goal for participation with 8, 243 people attending the workshops, 6,922 of the households who participated completed a home energy visit. 1,474 of the homes completed major energy efficiency upgrades and all homes receiving a home energy visit were given a blower door test, insulation and air-sealing evaluation, a heating system evaluation, and a product mix of compact florescent bulbs, low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators, a hot water heater insulation jacket and cap, programmable thermostats, and other minor energy efficiency products. An estimated 76,120 million BTU’s of annual energy savings over the life of the installed measures, 1,148,000 million BTU’s of total savings over the lifetime of the installed measures, and $13.8 million in energy bill savings over the lifetime of the up-grades and retrofits installed during the program.
Contractors were required to take training and certification classes prior to installing upgrade measures and this was important to providing quality assurance to the homeowners. Training in air-sealing, combustion safety, and proper insulation installation was required and contractors were required to have the proper equipment, such as a blower door, and be able to demonstrate proper use of the equipment. Through education and exposure to vital equipment, the program was able to ensure the work would be done correctly.
A central theme to this study is that through raising awareness, education, and following through, energy savings can be achieved in existing homes. The education of both the general population and those who build and design new homes and those who retrofit existing homes can help keep Minnesota in the forefront of other important aspects of energy efficiency such as building and energy code adoption, implementation, and verification. This is a step in the right direction to reducing our energy consumption and this program has proven that it can be done in existing homes using some of the same techniques found to reduce energy consumption in new construction homes.