August 14th, 2020 by Scott Cooney
In the wake of COVID-19, the County of Kauai has launched an economic resiliency and relief program to help residents affected by the pandemic. One of the programs in progress is a DIY home efficiency program, where residents can use a guided home efficiency self-audit tool, and receive a box in the mail full of efficiency products specifically tailored for their home.
Niki Kunioka-Volz of the County of Kauai’s Office of Economic Development (OED) said, “We hope this program will attract widespread attention to one of the many ways that households can save money during this economic downturn. We want our residents to take advantage of the tools offered through this program, and continue to identify and adopt practices that will help them bolster their resilience during times of crisis.”
Teaching People to Fish
The idea of subsidized home efficiency programs is certainly not new. Most utilities and municipalities have some sort of program to give out flyers or LED bulbs or other products to help residents save energy and water. The efficacy of these programs is marginal, and often difficult to measure. Direct install programs, wherein local efficiency companies go do the work for the resident, are much more effective, though obviously come with a higher price tag.
This hybrid program on Kauai allows Kauai to get more bang for the buck, wherein residents get a more prescriptive set of measures to install in their home than the standard kits, and by doing their own guided audit, they learn and have a stronger sense of involvement. There are videos with tips and tricks in the web app, meaning as people are auditing their home they’re learning how and where energy and water are being wasted.
“We know that economic recovery from the pandemic is going to be a long road,” said Ben Sullivan of Kauai’s OED. “Supporting energy efficiency in island households is a way to help people save money for years to come, and to spend their limited resources on other critical expenses.”
Sullivan clarified this program is not about COVID or climate change. “It is about providing any and all means of economic relief to Kauai households who have had to deal with a complete freefall in the local economy…efficiency is a resilience tool because it reduces our dependence on outside resources during times of disruption, which are inevitable with island economies.”
George Evanoff (pictured above), the Kauai resident who was the first to go through this HomeEfficiency.com self-audit, said, “What can I say, but wow! Great, useful items, all geared to saving energy and natural resources like water. The smart surge protectors are just the right thing…so many devices are “On” (still using power) even when off, and I especially like the shower flow valve – keeping the right temperature and wasting no water while we soap up! Everything in the box is super useful!”
To help implement this program, the County partnered with Hawaii-based Blue Planet Foundation. Griff Jurgens, Education Director of Blue Planet Foundation, said the program was a great opportunity to “create a fun, interactive program to help alleviate the economic hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic and help cut CO2 emissions for families on Kauai.” BPF has been engaging students to take control of their climate future through a “Climate Crew.” According to Jurgens, Climate Crew’s second Cohort “created a two week program with energy efficiency challenges for families to complete at home to help save money on their electric bills.” The families got help with their bills and also got points for each action they took and used them to earn other rewards. The students in this program are getting real-life experience in problem-solving, program development, and collaboration. Blue Planet hopes to expand the Climate Crew program and is looking for funding to help equip the next generation of climate activists with the tools they’ll need to stop climate change. If you are inspired by this world-changing climate non-profit, you can donate to Blue Planet Foundation here.
HomeEfficiency.com created a customized energy efficiency program tool for Kauai, and can do so for any municipality, utility, or company that looks to help its residents, employees, and other stakeholders with economic challenges. The program on Kauai is currently returning a $4 economic stimulus per year for each $1 spent. This means Kauai residents going through the program will now have more money to spend on local goods, and Kauai will send less of its limited financial resources off island to buy diesel, which is still the primary fuel source for the Hawaiian island energy grids. The average household going through the program can save up to $12,000 over 10 years in post-tax money.
Reaching a Diverse Set of Residents
To help assure this help reaches everyone, both the online audit tool and a paper copy were sent out to Kauai residents through local press. Those who are more tech-inclined have used the tool and so far completed more than 60 audits. Those not so technologically inclined have already turned in more than 50 paper forms. Kids engaged by Blue Planet Foundation are helping their grandparents and other family members, too.
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