Copenhagen Day 1 (EPA’s Lisa Jackson, Smart Grids, Weatherization)

Wednesday, December 9 (Day 1)

McNair Wagner, Robert Boyd and I woke up very early this morning (7am CET = 1am EST), put on our warmest clothes and made our way to the Bella Center for the U.N. Climate Conference. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of different organizations from all over the world represented at booths brimming with information. In a single (although very large) room, I was able to collect materials ranging from the IPCC's report, "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis" to the special Copenhagen edition of Ode Magazine ("for intelligent optimists"). 

We walked through the exhibition hall, picked up a daily programme and went our separate ways. My first sessions was "Taking Action at Home" with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in the U.S. Center. The main room was full more than 30 minutes before the event began, so I watched on a screen from the lobby just outside. I was in good company, though, because I ran into McNair, Robert and Energy Action Coalition's Executive Director Jessy Tolkan. Administrator Jackson's major announcement for the day was that the EPA has found once and for all that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten public health and the environment and confirmed the scientific findings that GHGs are at unprecedented levels due to human activity.  Read the official news release here.

Later in the day, I got a look at what communities are doing about those GHGs, in the form of Smart Grid technology (which we've written about before here) and the role of regulators in promoting and developing it in both Europe and California. In case you're not familiar with smart grids, they allow for significant improvements in the efficiency of energy distribution due to better monitoring, controls and storage capabilities. Smart meters would allow homeowners to monitor their energy consumption in real time and power companies could measure actual demand with greater accuracy, enabling them to meet that demand with minimal waste and losses. These grids also have increased ability to manage both central (power plant) electricity generation as well as distributed generation (small-scale solar and wind, etc.). As more and more electric cars hit the road, households will also be able to assist in energy storage (which can be very difficult to do on a large scale), again to prevent waste and energy loss. (Visit the U.S. Department of Energy's website for more information about this technology.)

My last session of the evening was titled, "Sustainable Living or Sustainable Building." Panelists discussed simple changes that we can all make to our living spaces, such as insulation and lighting retrofits, that will not only make them significantly more efficient, but more comfortable as well. The speaker discussing building insulation reinforced my excitement to start weatherization volunteer/training programs throughout the Southeast, which I learned a good deal about just last weekend by attending the BuildINSULATE! workshop at Warren Wilson College. You can watch a video about the workshop here, but also expect to hear a lot more about weatherization programs from me in the future.

Every county in the United States has a weatherization assistance program to help insulate and upgrade low-income homes. The Warren Wilson INSULATE! crew has come up with a great model that can be easily adapted to any inhabited part of the U.S., which will make homes more efficient (leading to less GHGs emitted in the future), reduce rising energy costs that can account for more than 50% of household spending in certain cases, and train participants in proper weatherization techniques that they can use in their own homes and communities, perhaps even creating a source of income for those seeking employment in the new "green" economy.