Take Charge energy efficiency challenge wraps up first quarter

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Read through the standings of the Take Charge Energy Challenge, and you can almost hear K-State play-by-play broadcaster Stan Weber announcing the results like a football score.

“Through the first quarter of competition, K-State and Manhattan hold a one category advantage over the Jayhawks of Lawrence. This one could go down to the wire,” Weber might say.

The Take Charge competition pits cities from regions across Kansas against each other in a contest to see which city can become the most energy efficient. With the first quarter of the energy efficiency challenge in the books, K-State and the Manhattan area can enjoy a lead in two of the three categories.

K-State holds leads in energy efficiency measures, which includes homes and businesses switching to more energy efficient light bulbs or thermostats, and in community engagement, which includes public education and outreach efforts.

“At K-State, we’ve done a really good job of marketing this competition,” said Ben Champion, director of sustainability. “There’s been a lot of good media. We’ve had some good radio play in town. A lot of those things can contribute in small ways and together they equal a lot of participation.”

In addition to media coverage, K-State has engaged students on campus and used events such as basketball games to deliver information about the competition. The efforts have been effective, Champion said.

“By getting the word out, we’ve been able to educate people in town, and we can earn points (in the competition) for doing that,” Champion said. “Our approach here has been pretty effective at at least informing people that the competition is going on.”

Though Champion and other competition leadership have been successful in their efforts to raise awareness of the competition, K-State and Manhattan still lag behind in the third category, whole house retrofits, which measures the number of energy audits completed by homes and businesses.

According to the first quarter Take Charge standings through March 15, Lawrence residents have undergone 51 energy audits, while Manhattan residents have only completed four.

“One of the objectives is awareness building, but another is to actually take action, to implement some energy saving solutions and save our community money,” Champion said.

The deficit in energy audits is not only due to a lack of interest from residents, Champion said.

“The biggest issue there is that Lawrence has six energy auditors that are located in Lawrence itself, and we have one person who is a part-time auditor, but he is not taking on additional audits,” Champion said. “We basically don’t have anyone in Manhattan that is doing these audits, which is the first step towards getting spots in the auditing category.”

To overcome the lack of certified energy auditors, Champion has been compiling a list of households and businesses willing to undergo an audit. Champion hopes an extensive list will encourage an out of town auditor to make the trip to Manhattan. Another option more directly involves Manhattan residents.

“The other thing that could is that we can encourage people in our community to get trained as professional energy auditors. Conveniently, one of the places to do that is located right here in Manhattan,” Champion said, referring to Kansas Building Sciences Institute. “It’s one of only three places in the state where people can be trained to become an energy auditor.”

Beyond the energy audits, standings and competition, Champion said the Take Charge challenge has been effective at illuminating the challenges and obstacles in energy efficiency.

“That’s part of the learning process, and in some ways that’s why we joined the competition,” Champion said. “Without the program, would we have known that we don’t have enough auditors in town or contractors to do the work? We are finding that out right now.”

“Whether we beat KU or not, hopefully we will have more businesses in town willing to do the work, and as time goes on we will see more energy efficiency efforts around here,” Champion said.

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