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Making it Local: Exploring Energy Efficiency in Houston

Published: Nov 16, 2017 Policy | Blog Post

IMT Senior Program Associate Amberli Young recaps her on-site work in Houston, where she presented to NASA experts exploring energy efficiency for their research buildings and studied rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Harvey.

 

At IMT, we pride ourselves on the relationships we’ve built with many cities across the United States and the direct, local support to the jurisdictions we partner with while identifying and tapping into national best practices. This is especially true in the City Energy Project, where we work with each of the 20 participating jurisdictions to develop a suite of initiatives that will help meet each locale’s specific sustainability and energy goals. That being said, we are a national organization and I do not often get the opportunity to work on-the-ground with a local organization that has a focus on issues that are affecting a singular community.

Through the support of IMT and the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), however, I recently spent two weeks onsite with HARC’s staff scientists and researchers at their beautiful office building in The Woodlands, Texas, just outside of Houston. My arrival on September 11 marked a little over two weeks since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, and though the HARC building was safe from storm damage, the unprecedented flooding that occurred during Harvey had left a significant mark on the Houston region. Local organizations were coming together to figure out how to learn from the disaster and move forward in a way that would create a stronger and more resilient community. HARC is actively playing a role in this effort.

While in Houston, I was able to learn first-hand from the staff scientists at HARC who work to build relationships with the key decision-makers across the Houston region, including elected and local government officials, universities, nonprofits, foundations, and many others. This local network of practitioners are taking on the challenge of improving the resilience of their community in a number of different ways, which requires expertise in various disciplines. HARC has staff scientists who focus on environmental issues such as air quality, water quality, and energy production and consumption and work on projects such as advancing combined heat and power (CHP) technology and efficiency financing such as commercial property assessed clean energy (C-PACE) in Texas. Currently, HARC is working with the 15 jurisdictions that have enabled PACE financing in Texas to date. Combined, they have enabled nearly $35 million in projects over the past four years. HARC’s projects demonstrated to me the power of working at the local level when trying to understand complex, interconnected issues and the value of local, specialized partners such as universities and nonprofits, as well as larger organizations with an existing footprint in the local area, like NASA, for example. During my time in Texas, I got the opportunity to present on building efficiency at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), which is a 1,600-acre campus south of Houston that has a range of sustainability goals including energy and water reduction targets. The JSC Sustainability team and I discussed their current energy efficiency efforts to improve campus buildings through capital upgrades, operating changes, and a brand-new combined heat and power plant, as well as regional Houston efficiency efforts like the Houston Green Office Challenge.

Inside Houston's Green Building Resource Center.

 

Back in the office at IMT, I hope to apply this hyper-local lens to the work I do with our partners within the U.S. and abroad. How can we all work together at the local and national level to advance the resilience of buildings against the climate change threats that we are facing today? How can we move forward an “all-of-the-above” approach and collaborate across disciplines? I do not have all the answers on this yet, but I am looking forward to building and growing relationships and working with our partners like HARC on the complex issues of energy efficiency and climate resilience.