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Interview with Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy

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Kateri Callahan has been the president of the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) since January 2004, and has more than 20 years of experience in policy advocacy, fundraising, coalition building and organizational management.  Her organization plays a key role in raising the public’s awareness on issues related to energy consumption and conservation, and as a result has helped shape energy policies that reward conservation efforts and encourage the development of more energy-efficient technologies and practices.

We recently caught up with Kateri to chat about new and emerging technologies, her role at ASE and what we can all do together to save energy.

What is the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE)?
The Alliance to Save Energy is a nonprofit coalition of prominent business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders who advance energy efficiency world-wide for an improved environment, a stronger global economy and enhanced energy security. Created in the aftermath of the OPEC oil embargo and resulting energy crisis in the U.S. in the 1970s by then Sens. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) and Charles H. Percy (R-IL), the Alliance has grown into the world’s premier energy efficiency organization with a budget of $10 million annually, a headquarters in Washington, D.C., operation in many states in the U.S. and countries around the world, and a staff of more than 50 professionals who advance the organization’s mission through research, technology deployment, education, policy advocacy, market transformation, and communications initiatives.  Today, the Alliance enjoys the leadership and participation of sitting Members of the U.S. Congress, key state and local officials, business leaders, and environmental and consumer interest group heads. The leadership of the Alliance, its talented staff, and the support of its corporate Associates and charitable foundations, combine to make the organization influential and effective in driving public policy, educating and motivating action by consumers and businesses, and transforming markets worldwide toward more efficient technologies and practices.

What are the biggest or most frequent obstacles the Alliance encounters in achieving this mission, and how are they overcome?
There are significant and continuing market distortions that keep consumers, businesses, and nations from reaping the full economic, environmental, and security benefits that accrue from being more energy efficient.  For example, the conundrum of “split incentives” continues to impede aggressive investment in energy efficiency.  Split incentives occur, for example, when the builder of a home or commercial building is not the one who will own/operate the property.  There is no incentive for the builder to invest in making the building as energy efficient as practicable because he/she will not be paying the utility bills.  Another important example is the split incentive that occurs is in the utility sector.  Often, electric and natural gas utilities have no incentive to assist their customers in increasing their efficiency, as in so doing they risk lowering their sales and therefore their profits.  To ensure that utilities aggressively pursue energy efficiency that can benefit customers through controlling costs requires breaking the linkage between profit and sales; it must be at least as financially lucrative for the utility to invest in energy efficiency as it is to invest in new generation capacity or greater throughput of natural gas.

Another primary obstacle is the absence of information that would allow consumers and businesses to make purchases based on life-cycle costs versus purchase price.  An easy example of the distortion that is occurring in the market place today is light bulbs.  A consumer purchasing a light bulb can choose to purchase an inefficient, incandescent bulb for roughly 25 cents.  A comparable, energy-efficient, compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) might cost about $2.00.  A consumer judging the product on purchase price alone would look smart to select the cheap incandescent.  But in so doing, the consumer likely will pay an energy cost penalty of $55.00, as CFLs use only ¼ the energy of an incandescent and last about 10 times as long.  Voluntary programs like ENERGY STAR seek to provide the information necessary for consumers to make the efficient choice, but much more can and should be done both to remove obsolete and inefficient products from the market and to ensure that efficiency is a primary purchase decision as consumers shop for electronics, appliances, vehicles and/or any other product that consumes energy.

What brought you personally to the organization?
Prior to being elected president of the Alliance to Save Energy in January 2004, I spent 14 years leading a non-profit coalition of businesses, government agencies, interest groups, and others that promoted battery, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles through policy advocacy, research, education, and communications initiatives.  Through this important work, I became aware not only of the incredible problems we were and are creating through our growing energy use, but also and importantly that there were solutions that could allow the U.S. – and indeed the world – to create a sustainable energy future – solutions that had the potential for allowing economies to grow and flourish, but without paying an environmental cost that is simply too great nor creating global unrest by dividing the world into the energy “haves” and “have nots.”  Energy efficiency is by all accounts the cheapest, quickest, and cleanest way to extend energy supplies while also taking great strides toward addressing global climate change.  Extending our energy supplies, and using energy efficiency to its fullest potential in the near and medium terms, not only provides immediate benefits, but also buys us time to develop new technologies and cleaner sources of energy for the future.  I am honored that the Alliance’s Board of Directors selected me from the large pool of candidates who applied to lead the organization, and I am humbled by the talented group of individuals who comprise the Alliance’s staff that I have been asked to lead.  I think all of us at the Alliance feel a bit overwhelmed by the attention that our issue and our organization are receiving as energy prices continue to spiral upwards and concerns mount about our nation’s energy security and our world’s climate, but I think we all recognize that we are making a difference – and this knowledge makes coming to work every day exciting and fulfilling.

Without question, the world is embracing new technologies and practices that promise to help our society become more energy efficient.  Which of these new developments show the most promise in your opinion?
There is such an explosion of new technologies and improvements to existing technologies that picking the one with “most promise” is impossible!  I do think, though, that the work that is being done under the banner of “Smart Grid” in which the IT industry, the electric utility industry, and others are participating is critical to our ability to ensure both adequate supplies and reliable delivery of electricity.  As well, the body of work that is being done to research, develop, and deploy new and improved technologies and practices for the built environment – which accounts for 40% of overall energy use in the U.S. and fully 75% of the electricity consumed – is both impressive and necessary if we are to meet the growing call for “carbon neutral” and/or “net zero energy” buildings and residences.  I believe, however, that perhaps the most promising development is the growing awareness and interest of policy makers in providing the public policy framework to drive and underpin the move to a more energy-efficient economy.  With the passage this past December of the most significant energy-efficiency legislation in three decades, and with a growing body of research suggesting the enormous potential for using energy efficiency as a resource for meeting projected growth in demand and tackling climate change, I believe policy makers both within the U.S. and abroad will be motivated to provide to use the full arsenal of policy tools — incentives, public funding, public education, and mandates – to ensure that energy efficiency is deployed fully.  The Alliance will play a major role in advocating for such policies.

What are the most important things people should be doing to save energy on a daily basis?
At Home:

-Make sure you have the proper amount of insulation for your climate, and seal leaks around doors and windows to cut your heating and cooling bills by up to 20 percent.  With home energy costs estimated at $2,200 for the average U.S. household in 2008, and just over half of that going for heating and cooling, those savings can amount to about $225.  Added benefit:  Eliminate drafts and hot and cold spots for greater indoor comfort.

-Replace incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified lighting such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).  Energy-efficient lighting products use 3/4 less energy than standard incandescent lighting and last up to 10 times longer.  So despite their higher up-front cost, they yield lifetime savings of up to $50 per bulb.

-Use a programmable thermostat to cut heating and cooling costs by about 10 percent – enough, in most cases, to pay for the device within one season and then yield home energy savings of about $150 a year.  Added benefit:  When the thermostat “remembers for you” to adjust the temperature when no one is home, you come home to a comfortable house yet have not wasted money or polluted unnecessarily.

-Look for ENERGY STAR qualified products to cut related electricity costs by up to 30 percent.  More than 50 categories of products are now labeled with this government “seal of approval” for energy efficiency.

On the Road:

-Obey the speed limit.  Each 5 miles per hour you drive over 60 mph costs you about 20 cents more per gallon of gasoline.

-Avoid aggressive driving habits – speeding, rapid acceleration and braking – can lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent around town.  But driving sensibly can save up to 200 gallons of gasoline per year at highway speeds, or about $600 per car and about $1,200 per household with gasoline prices at $3/gallon.

-Keep your tires properly inflated to improve gas mileage by about 3.3 percent.  You could save more than 20 gallons of gasoline per year, which amounts to about $60 per car annually and about $120 per typical two-vehicle U.S. household with gasoline at $3/gallon.  Added benefits: Extended tire life and avoidance of more than 390 pounds of CO2 production per vehicle yearly.

-Keeping your vehicle in good working order.  Fixing a car that is noticeably “out of tune” or has failed an emissions test can improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.  That amounts to nearly 25 gallons of gasoline per year, or savings of about $80 per vehicle per year or about $160 per household. Added benefit:  Savings of nearly 500 pounds of C02 per vehicle, or 1,000 pounds per household.

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