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Georgetown University offers $5 million community energy-efficiency prize

Georgetown University

In the wake of increasingly grim news on the climate front, and a deadlocked Congress unable to overcome resistance and take action, there is some good news coming out of Washington after all. Not from the federal government, but from Georgetown University.

This week the university announced the launch of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a $5 million competition that challenges communities to come together, develop and implement a plan to dramatically reduce energy consumption. Fifty communities in 25 states, from Fairbanks, Alaska to Knoxville, Tenn., have already signed letters indicating that they intend to compete.

The formal opening ceremony took place on April 23, featuring Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy; John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University; and Ellen S. Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation.

Why Georgetown? Somebody had to do it.

I asked Dr. Francis Slakey, executive director of the Prize, how it came to be the university that took action on energy efficiency. He said, “In 2012, we held a brainstorming session at Georgetown University with mayors, city planners and environmental managers from around the country. Everyone had the same problem: They wanted to create a more energy efficient community, but they struggled to win the buy-in of their residents. Adoption rates of energy efficiency technologies were stuck at 5 percent or even 2 percent—and it had been that way for decades.

“We needed a catalyst that would inspire action and create breakthrough solutions. Historically, there’s been an effective model to solve stuck problems: Hold a competition and offer a prize. Thus, the Georgetown University Energy Prize was born.”

What’s great about this contest is the emphasis on community. According to the press release:

“Communities will work in partnership with their local governments, residents and utilities to reduce energy consumption over a two-year period. A judging committee, to be announced in late 2014, will evaluate competitors on a specific set of weighted objectives, including their ability to:

Spur innovative, replicable, scalable and continual approaches for communities to decrease their energy consumption;

Highlight best practices for working with utilities, businesses and local governments to create and implement inventive plans for increased energy efficiency;

Educate the public and engage residents on energy efficiency issues, including methods, benefits and the environmental costs of the full fuel cycle; and

Collaborate with schools to educate and inspire the next generation of energy efficiency leaders in the United States.”

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