This February will mark the beginning of a multi-year competition for the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize, an award aiming to foster strategies for energy efficiency in the United States.

GUEP is open to U.S. communities with populations ranging from 5,000 to 250,000 residents; communities that meet this criterion represent more than 65 percent of the country. The communities will compete to develop the most creative and replicable strategies for energy consumption reduction.

“It’s all about the innovation,” GUEP Project Director Christofer Nelson said. “It’s all about thinking outside the box.”

The competition, which is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, is sponsored by 16 organizations, including the Sierra Club, the National League of Cities, the National Science Teachers Association, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The $5 million prize is collectively funded by the competition’s private sponsors.

Although the competition has not officially launched, communities can submit non-binding letters of intent until December. As GUEP will undergo modification until its official announcement in February, all guidelines are still considered tentative. According to these current guidelines, participating communities must compete in four separate stages that will continue until December 2016.

The first two stages consist of an application and an official plan of action, when communities will create long-term energy efficiency plans with Deloitte consultants, Georgetown students and representatives from the EPA and the DOE.

The bulk of the competition, however, is a two-year evaluation of energy consumption from July 2014 to July 2016, as measured by gas and electric utilities within the community. During this time, communities will work with local utilities, businesses and government officials to implement plans to increase sustainability, and finalists will be chosen primarily based on their reduction in energy use.

A panel of judges will then choose the community that exhibits the most creative strategies for efficient energy use. In particular, GUEP Executive Director Francis Slakey said that the competition focuses on strategies that can be implemented nationwide.

“The goal goes beyond getting communities to reduce their electricity and gas,” Slakey said. “It’s really to surface innovative, creative ideas that are replicable and scalable in different communities across the country. It’s not just about the energy reductions that’ll happen during the two years of the competition.”

In addition, although only one community will win the $5 million prize, all participating communities will receive access to financial and technical resources in order to help them achieve greater energy efficiency in homes and municipal buildings.

“It started with discussions with mayors and their concern about energy efficiency. … If you were to poll the public, 87 percent will say they want to be more energy efficient, and only 5 percent do anything about it,” Slakey said.

The competition will also offer interested Georgetown students hands-on experience, as they will help research the data reported by competitors, test their own ideas in the competing communities and work with community leaders.

“For those students who are interested in energy policy, are concerned about climate change or want to be involved in community organizing, this is a great fit because it’s an opportunity to work with energy efficiency experts … and to work with cities all across the country,” Slakey said.

Nelson agreed and stressed that students offer a unique perspective into the energy issue.

“Pairing with community leaders, academics and students from Georgetown is a great way to get new ideas to surface,” Nelson said.

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