The Georgetown University Energy Prize has selected 53 communities to advance to the quarterfinals of its $5 million, privately funded energy prize, which will award one community for its energy efficiency. Among the quarterfinalists are a range of small and medium-sized cities, towns and counties from across the United States, each with a variety of past efficiency experience and goals.

The competition’s goal is to ultimately create a platform for a diversity of innovations and ideas across the United States.

According to GUEP Executive Director Francis Slakey, this project is broad in scope, partially because of the eagerness of each community.

“The enthusiasm in these communities is contagious,” Slakey said. “This is the first time so many governments, utilities and community groups will be working together to reduce energy consumption.”

Since the Georgetown University Program on Science in the Public Interest launched the competition in February, these communities have worked to outline a plan for increasing energy efficiency and generate a leadership team to lead their projects. Additionally, the communities must secure signed commitments from their local governments, as well as electric and natural gas utilities and a community-based organization.

Currently, 16 launch sponsors, primary collaborators and outreach organizations, have committed funding, resources and assistance. Among these groups are the Joyce Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy and AARP, as well as any additional organizations secured by the individual communities. The high level of sponsorship secured by the communities in the quarterfinals exceeded GUEP Project Director Christofer Nelson’s initial expectations.

“I think when we first set out the requirements, we were thinking nonprofit organizations, local environmental groups or maybe even home-owner associations. We got letters from Microsoft, Belview Washington and even New Belgium Brewing to support different communities’ efforts,” Nelson said.

The prize’s sponsors support innovative efforts in participating communities.

The range of diversity within sponsorship, mentorship and participants enhances the array of possible outcomes that will extend beyond community boundaries. One major sponsor, the Joyce Foundation, is based in the Midwest. According to Ed Miller, the foundation’s environmental representative, the foundation is excited to sponsor the prize.

“We are eager to continue to partner with Georgetown University, and we are planning as the prize progresses to help get the word out in the Midwest, whether the winner comes from the Midwest or not,” Miller said.

Although Washington, D.C., does not fit the criteria of a “small to medium community,” 10 Georgetown University students have interned at GUEP’s office. During the summer, one Georgetown student made the discovery that with slightly moderate energy conservation efforts, this competition has the potential to immediately save $1 billion in energy costs and cut millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the course of the next two years.

“It is an example of an idea that’s pretty modest, but one which can really make a difference,” Nelson said. “This competition has really been about leveraging the assets the university has, which is intellectual capita, brilliant students, faculty, as well as a desire to serve our community and make a difference. Truly, the sky is the limit.”

Communities will continue to develop their projects until Jan. 1, when they will compete against each other.

Competing community Farmington Hills, Mich., has continued to assemble its team this fall since submitting their proposal.

“We have a lot of great things going in Farmington Hills. We’ve been doing many sustainability projects over the years, but this time we’re excited to compete with our peers. May the best community win,” Nate Geinzer, assistant to the Farmington Hills city manager, said.

Innovation efforts in Farmington Hills have included water efficiency efforts and an emphasis on alternative transportation, such as public transit and hybrid vehicles.

Nelson said he hopes to recruit Georgetown undergraduate and graduate students to help with the project.

“There is a huge amount of untapped potential here that we haven’t even gotten into because we don’t have the bandwidth,” Nelson said. “There are opportunities for unique graduate student and faculty research. There are opportunities for hands-on learning. There are opportunities for teaching. There are just so many things that can come out of this, [of] which we haven’t even scratched the surface.”

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