MIT Energy Efficiency Strategy Project

Publications - 2013

Pathways to Energy Efficiency at Greater Scale in Multifamily Housing
Michaels, Harvey et. al.; August 2013

Multifamily rental housing is considered among the hardest to reach segments for achieving energy efficiency, yet a market with a very large and cost-effective potential. An efficiency-upgraded multifamily housing stock would improve energy sustainability; add to the economic well-being of landlords, tenants, and cities; and reduce atmospheric carbon and climate change. During the 2012-2013 academic year, a student/faculty team explored strategies to encourage multifamily building owners to more frequently pursue efficiency upgrades, especially in the smaller 2-20 unit multifamily rental buildings typical of many older communities.

This paper introduces some of the strategies put forward, which included innovations in marketing approach, program models, energy data services, and advanced building technologies. These proposed innovations, described briefly in this paper and in greater detail in referenced project research documents, are worthy of further consideration by policymakers, program administrators, and service providers interested in scaling the adoption of efficiency measures in multifamily buildings.

Empowering Communities to Overcome Barriers to Multifamily Energy Efficiency
Cook, Ryan et. al.; July 2013

MIT’s Energy Efficiency Strategy Project conducted research over the last year on efficiency market barriers in tenant-occupied rental housing. This paper reports on a proposal to overcome some of the social and structural barriers that make this segment a difficult one to penetrate. Our research particularly considered how city partnerships with efficiency programs provided by energy utilities could be designed to help form a solution, with Cambridge, Massachusetts partnering with NStar Electric and Gas as a potential pilot site.

Traditional residential efficiency programs rely primarily on financial incentives, and have market-based participant recruitment and retention strategies. In this paper we propose a new model where a community-based program implementer offers individually-tailored retrofit terms, uses social pressure as well as financial incentives to motivate participation, and takes an active role in moving residents and property owners through the program participation pipeline.

The Residential Energy Map: Catalyzing Energy Efficiency Through Remote Energy Assessments and Improved Data Access
Howland, Alexis et. al.; July 2013

Renters and homebuyers are increasingly using online interactive maps to inform their housing choices. By publicly disclosing energy consumption and an energy performance rating in an online energy map, energy efficiency will be positively impacted through improved decision making and establishing new social norms. Privacy is the most significant barrier to displaying building-level energy consumption and performance information.

This paper explores how an energy map could catalyze energy efficiency upgrades, specifically in the residential market. This research examines existing energy maps, existing energy assessment platforms and what data they use, and evaluates the state of energy data access in the United States. It seeks to answer what data is necessary to map building level energy performance, what policies are necessary to access that data, and how should energy information be displayed in a map for the most meaningful impact. The paper concludes with recommendations for states and the federal government to improve access to energy consumption data. Recommendations are also made for an effective energy map.

Breaking Down Barriers: Exploring Program Models to Unlock Multifamily Energy Efficiency
Nochur, Aditya et. al.; July 2013

In coordination with the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts and the local utility NStar, a group of graduate students in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT have designed a multifamily efficiency pilot program to incorporate lessons learned from the Solarize Massachusetts and MPower Oregon programs which use a community-based social marketing and a tiered pricing scheme to increase the uptake and drive down the costs of home energy assessments.

The proposed Cambridge pilot focuses on streamlining the retrofit and financing processes for customers to help increase participation in multifamily energy efficiency programs. In essence, the team proposed a one-stop shop to enable customers to access multifamily efficiency services in a streamlined fashion at no upfront cost. Key features were:

  • Selecting a single Program Implementer to guide customers through all stages of the process, including outreach and marketing, scheduling and conducting energy assessments, assembling a financing package, installing retrofit measures, and tracking post-retrofit performance.
  • Simplifying and streamlining the loan process by building targeted partnerships between utilities and pre-qualified banks and contractors to offer loan products and provide customers instant approval upon completion of an energy assessment.
  • A retrofit certification program to provide the basis for rent negotiations between landlords and tenants. This will enable both parties to make adjustments to the rent if necessary as lease terms expire and are renewed.

2013 Practicum Cambridge Pilot Proposal

Report of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning Spring Practicum Class 11.3948

The semester’s objective was to propose a set of multifamily energy efficiency experiments that can be implemented by NSTAR and the City of Cambridge to unlock all available energy savings in the Cambridge multi-family residential sector. In developing this proposal, we examined the state of energy efficiency programs available in Massachusetts; assessed the unique barriers to multifamily efficiency; assessed the concerns of stakeholders likely to be involved in implementing the pilot; and sought to imagine how local community organizations and “big data” can be leveraged to design the next decade of energy efficiency programs.

The City of Cambridge also has a strong interest in the success of a multifamily energy efficiency program: in addition to the economic benefits that improvements in energy efficiency bring to Cambridge’s multifamily residents and building owners, a successful multifamily efficiency program could help to realize the city’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goal – to 20% below 1990 emission levels.

The Practicum’s proposed plan for a multifamily energy efficiency pilot program for the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts investigates two propositions:

  1. A streamlined, community-level energy efficiency program can increase resident participation beyond the level that impersonal marketing and a complex assessment and financing system can yield.
  2. More data-driven methods of energy efficiency program implementation can produce measurable increases in the level of resident and owner participation.

The plan is composed of six design ideas:

  1. Process improvement, built around a program implementer who guides landlords through the entire retrofit process;
  2. Community empowerment, which leverages local institutions and community organizations to conduct outreach and education on the value of energy efficiency in their communities;
  3. Financing, which includes streamlining the Mass Save HEAT loan program;
  4. Technology, which tests new control technologies in selected buildings to improve efficiency while enhancing occupant comfort;
  5. A typology-driven approach to home energy assessments involving an online tool; and
  6. Energy data transparency, which tests the benefits of disclosing building energy ratings.

These design ideas are proposed within two distinct program components:

  • The Base Citywide Component implements process improvements, community-based outreach and organizing efforts, new approaches to project finance, and innovations in building technology.
  • The Data Central Component tests concepts related to building typology assessments and data transparency.

Publications - 2012

The Role of Local Governments and Community Organizations as Energy Efficiency Implementations Partners
Mackres (ACEEE), Alschuler, Stitely, & Brandt (MEPC); 2012

This paper describes the characteristics and potential contributions of both local actors and utilities as they relate to implementing energy efficiency. Next it describes two different roles for local governments and civil society in implementing energy efficiency: (1) enabling policies and (2) program partnerships—including several detailed case studies for each. Finally, this piece concludes by describing some of the trends and challenges in local implementation of energy efficiency.

Unlocking Energy Efficiency in Office Districts: A Comprehensive Approach to Efficiency Programs
Alschuler & Michaels; 2012

Puts forth a more complete paradigm of energy-related system of office building – as including physical and social systems, and facing both financial and non-financial barriers. Takes into account the actions of multiple stakeholders, including owners, facility staff, tenants and office workers.

A New Model for Disclosing the Energy Performance of Residential Buildings
Nadkarni & Michaels; 2012

Proposes a new model of disclosing residential energy performance for states to adopt. The model, centered around web-enabled data analysis, aggregation, and access, has the potential to provide clear, consistent, and visible ratings to key market actors and, in turn, provide more complete information to residential markets on building efficiency.

Mapping Energy Efficiency for Community-Level Engagement
Reul & Michaels; 2012

Promotes the implementation of a community-level energy mapping tool as the information platform to amplify energy service scales, increase the degree of transparency, and improve the level of coordination amongst service providers. Postulates that an effective mapping tool requires three components: a data information display, corresponding program & Incentive features, and a two-way feedback input option.

Publications - 2011

A Community Action-Feedback Model for Operational Efficiency in Office Buildings
Alschuler, Donnelly, & Michaels; 2011

A general framework for information-driven operational efficiency programs in central business districts. Draws from development research the Smart Energy Now program in Charlotte, North Carolina

MA Green Communities Program for Municipal Building Retrofits: Assessing Initial Impacts on Small Communities
Reul & Michaels; 2011

An examination of the Massachusetts Green Communities Program and how it enables small communities, under 35,000 in population, to achieve energy efficiency. Draws from case study research in three communities - Wayland, Easton, and Greenfield, Massachusetts

Democratizing Efficiency Delivery Through IT
Mekler & Michaels; 2011

An examination of how information systems, which combine and analyze data about building energy performance, can help utility program administrators support community‐managed energy efficiency programs and improve program outcomes. Assesses major challenges associated with developing and deploying these information systems and suggests strategies to overcome these challenges

Publications - 2010

Architecting the Smart Grid for Energy Efficiency
Michaels & Donnelly; 2010

As utilities begin their planning and implementation for Smart Grid, it remains ambiguous as to whether the elements needed for efficiency and demand response will be included. Will utilities offer dynamic pricing, and/or control customer systems directly? And will utilities provide customers with a more frequent and granular measurement of energy use? This paper considers these questions, and proposes architectural directions for the Smart Grid that compare utility-controlled and consumer-controlled energy networks

Enabling Deep and Scalable Energy Efficiency in Communities

Final Product of 11.946 Community Energy Efficiency Practicum in Spring 2009

Student Theses

Community Based Outreach Strategies in Residential Energy Upgrade Programs
Brendan McEwen (Master in City Planning, MIT, 2012)

Explores the use of Community Based Outreach (CBO) by six building upgrade programs operating in five regions in the USA. Through interviews, it seeks program managers’ and outreach personnel’s qualitative impressions of the efficacy of different CBO methods, and the factors that contribute to this efficacy.

Sharing Local Energy Infrastructure: Organizational Models for Implementing Microgrids and District Energy Systems in Urban Commercial Districts
Genevieve Rose Sherman (Master in City Planning, MIT, 2012)

Assesses the feasibility of two organizational models for implementing local energy infrastructure in commercial districts: a joint cooperative model and an independent provider model, learning from experiences in Portland, Oregon and Stamford, Connecticut.

Greatest Generation: A New Retail Store Model for Delivering Energy Efficiency in Massachusetts
Elijah Hutchinson (Master in City Planning, MIT, 2012)

Based on previous program evaluations, interviews, new case studies, and market information, what follows is an investigation into a proposed retail store model for energy efficiency products and services. This thesis is an investigation into the elements of retail store that could make the model viable in Massachusetts.

Ordinances to Enable Energy Efficiency in Rental Housing in the United States
Pat Coleman (Master in City Planning, MIT, 2011)

Explores actions municipalities can take to complement existing voluntary retrofit efforts by reviewing ordinances that aim to enhance the energy efficiency of rental properties in San Francisco and Berkeley, California; Wisconsin; Burlington, Vermont; and Austin, Texas. Each jurisdiction’s policy is unique but each seeks at least one of two objectives: the establishment of minimum energy efficiency standards or the disclosure of building energy information among current and prospective owners and tenants

Making Energy Efficiency Desirable: Lessons from a Cutting-Edge Program in Minneapolis
Stephanie Stern (Master in City Planning, MIT, 2011)

Examines a cutting‐edge residential energy efficiency program: the Community Energy Services pilot program run by the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), a Minneapolis non‐profit organization. Identifies the barriers to homeowner investment in energy efficiency, arguing that it is important to distinguish between financial and logistical barriers and emotional or psychological barriers

Understanding the Complex Components of Community-Based Energy Efficiency Programs: A Study of Two Massachusetts Program
Erin Brandt (Master in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University, 2011)

Explores recent interest in residential programs that have “community” elements. Analyzes two Massachusetts community efficiency programs to understand how community energy efficiency programs are designed, developed, and implemented


Community-Based Innovations in Energy Efficiency — April 29, 2011

A collection of student presentations related to:

  • Community-Partnership Models
  • Data- and Information-Enabled Efficiency
  • Equity and Efficiency
Recent Events
Greening Cities with Energy Efficiency

How do cities think about and work with energy efficiency as part of their sustainability initiatives?

Cities and community organizations continue to move forward as catalysts of energy efficiency in the built environment. With emphasis on highlighting the work of students and recent graduates, we consider how local action is moving to the forefront as a strategy to save energy and mitigate climate change.

View the agenda.

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