GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY ENERGY PRIZE Fifty small cities and towns across the United States were chosen as semifinalists for the Georgetown University Energy Prize and will implement detailed energy efficiency plans over the next two years.
Fifty small cities and towns across the United States were chosen as semifinalists for the Georgetown University Energy Prize and will implement detailed energy efficiency plans over the next two years.

Fifty communities across the United States were selected Jan. 14 as semifinalists from hundreds of applicants to compete for the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize.

The communities, which are small cities and towns, will work to lower their individual energy consumptions over the next two years, after which one winner will be chosen in June 2017. All applicants were required to have a population of fewer than 250,000 people, making 70 percent of communities in the United States eligible to apply.

Fifty-three eligible communities were selected as quarterfinalists in August based on basic energy plans. In the subsequent stage, each submitted detailed plans to improve energy efficiency, and semifinalists were selected based on their unique and innovative ideas. The plans were reviewed by a panel of energy efficiency expert volunteers and were asked to incorporate commitments from residential associations, businesses and governmental institutions.

“Every one of the fifty has the whole community involved and has a serious energy plan,” GUEP Executive Director Francis Slakey said.

As the communities execute their plans over the next two years, Slakey, Technical Director John Shore and Project Director Christopher Nelson will be in constant communication with the competing cities, receiving quarterly statistics for electricity and natural gas use.

Based on their energy-saving performances, ten finalists will be selected in January 2017 and will be further judged on sustainability, reproducibility and community engagement in advance of the announcement of a winner later that year.

“The plan had to be something that could be duplicated in cities around the country. The goal here is to find plans that can be replicated by small and mid-size cities in the U.S.,” Slakey said.

Although only one community will win the $5 million prize, the expected five percent annual increase in energy efficiency for each community will allow all competing cities to benefit economically with savings estimated at $10 million.

“The Prize is unique and exciting in several ways. Besides yielding innovative solutions that can be implemented throughout the country, it will result in widespread education within the participating communities and beyond, and it will have valuable benefits to every participating community, not just the winners,” Shore said.

Slakey explained that the idea originated a few years ago at Georgetown.

“We started this a couple years ago with a workshop here on campus where we invited in mayors, city planners and energy efficiency experts,” he said. “We asked them what we could do to help their cities get more engaged in energy efficiency. We decided to have a competition and offer a prize. There is nothing like a little friendly competition to get people really motivated.”

The GUEP directors held an event to announce the opening of the application phase in April 2014.

“Hundreds of cities contacted us which gave us the luxury of setting the filter pretty high about who gets into the competition. All communities needed letters of commitment from their mayor, from all utilities servicing their community and from some prominent community-based organization,” Slakey said.

Although large cities have made substantive strides in energy efficiency, the GUEP aims to identify plans that will work in small to mid-size cities in the U.S.

“There is a lot going on for energy efficiency in big cities in the U.S. like Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and San Francisco. They are doing exemplary work, but their plans don’t really scale to small and mid-size cities in the country,” Slakey said.“If it’s going to work in Fargo, Fairbanks or Houghton County, it’s got to be something that can be slotted in very easily without expectations for additional manpower and resources from the city. That’s what the prize is intended to create.”

Each community plans to lower their energy consumption in different ways. Some competing cities will work with scientists at their local universities to apply the latest concepts in behavior change, while others plan to implement sophisticated ideas in gamification or data analysis to identify what their city’s biggest needs are.

Slakey said he believes that the diversity of approaches that integrate both policy and technology will make the competition both effective and exciting.

“There are 50 cities and 50 different plans. Everybody came up with a completely different approach, which was something that we were hoping for. There are some ideas that are just wildly aggressive and there are others that are a bit more conservative,” he said.

Slakey expects that after two years, tens of millions of tons of carbon will be displaced, an important step forward in energy efficiency.

“Right now in America, we are wasting half the energy that we burn. We are sitting on this vast reservoir of available energy. We have to become just as effective for mining for efficiency as we are for mining coal, natural gas or petroleum,” Slakey said.

Besides the GUEP’s proposed benefits for the competing communities, Shore is confident that the GUEP will also be valuable for the university as it engages with sustainability and energy-efficiency initiatives on campus.

“It will foster cross-disciplinary engagement among the various schools within the university, it will yield data for research, for studying what does and doesn’t work in energy education, and it will engage students in numerous ways, including experiences with community service that help to solve real-world problems,” Shore said.

The Office of the President’s Chief of Staff Joseph Ferrara (GRD ’96) echoed Shore, noting the connection of the GUEP to the university’s Jesuit identity.

“We believe that there is a unique potential in hosting a challenge like this in the context of a University — a place committed to learning and experimentation, seeking a deeper understanding of our world, and supporting the well-being of our communities and the common good. This challenge has deep resonance with the mission of this university and its Catholic and Jesuit tradition,” Ferrara said.“The Energy Prize is animated by this tradition and we’re very excited about the new ideas and dialogue it will support — as well as the impact it will have for communities around the world.”

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