Reflections on BuildingEnergy 2013
Last week, Anna Jursik traveled to Boston for the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association's BuildingEnergy, a cross-disciplinary renewable energy and high-performance building conference and trade show. In this post, she shares her impressions of the conference.
Had you attended BuildingEnergy before?
Why did you decide to attend this year?
Lester Shen and Tom Spielman presented their work integrating iPads into our residential energy programs last spring, and had great feedback about the conference’s content and quality. And when Bernice Radle guest blogged about her track on resilient cities, I was sold.
Why was it useful for you to attend BuildingEnergy?
I think it’s always useful to learn what people are doing in other parts of the country (or world)! The tracks painted a bigger picture of energy issues and considered them on a larger scale than a single building or appliance. Each session incorporated group discussion, so I learned not only from presenters, but also from other attendees.
What information is presented there? Who are the presenters?
The “economics for environmentalists” keynote from Planet Money’s Alex Blumberg set the tone for the conference’s interdisciplinary approach. Tracks focused on multiple building sectors, as well as on cities, systems thinking, financing, and renewable energy. I also met an interesting mix of attendees: engineers, architects, planners, psychologists, educators, designers. Seemed like everyone was thinking how to apply insights from their field to projects in other disciplines.
Which sessions did you attend and what were the most interesting things that you learned?
I attended sessions on energy efficient homes homes, resilient cities, systems thinking, and renewable energy technologies.
Elizabeth Humstone and Margarita Iglesia of Boston Architectural College presented an overview of LEED for neighborhood development and then led a group critique of the standards. Key questions included whether the credit level for each measure was commensurate with its benefits, whether the neighborhoods would perform if built, and how could planners integrate an educational component for residents. The consensus was that there’s a need for reliable standards at the neighborhood scale, so LEED-ND could be a tool for local planning and evaluation.
Chris Lotspeich from Celtic Energy brought experience as a firefighter and EMT to present a “first responder’s perspective” on resilience and security for the electric grid. He made a good case that an integrative design approach increases return on investment, and asserted that “sustainability” includes resilience and disaster preparedness.
Which major trends did you see?
Resilience. Every session I attended referenced Hurricane Sandy. Minnesota hasn’t experienced an extreme weather event of that scale, so I hear energy issues framed in terms of cost-effectiveness or sustainability, not disaster response.
I heard lots of conversation about the social and behavioral aspects of clean energy; along with the future role of sociologists, planners, and psychologists. Many sessions also considered energy at the neighborhood or community scale, as opposed to the building scale.
What was the coolest thing you saw?
Case studies from small cities working to become more sustainable and resilient. (Did you know that bicyclists collect and haul trash and recyling in Northampton, MA?!) And the Zen Circle applied to the history of architecture.