Want to Save Energy? Eat Together.

By Liz Walker (photo by Jim Bosjolie)

Adriane Wolfe is an action-oriented entrepreneur. When she has a good idea, she pursues it with enthusiasm. For her master’s degree in energy systems engineering, she researched electricity usage in EcoVillage’s first neighborhood. By analyzing neighborhood-wide data as well as individual household usage, she noticed something interesting: on nights when there were community meals in our cohousing neighborhood, overall electricity usage plummeted. What was most surprising is that evening peak energy usage for participating households dropped by a whopping 32%.

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This is a very important finding, since peak demand – the times when households are drawing the most electricity from the grid – drives statewide use of older, more polluting coal-fired plants. Utilities also base their need for new power plants on peak demand. If there were a reliable way to cut back peak demand significantly, without building any new plants, it would be a break-through.

When Adriane presented her research to EcoVillage residents, she said, “I’d love to scale this up. Imagine Con Edison throwing block parties on the hottest summer days in Brooklyn.” My response was, “That’s a wildly creative idea, and it just might work.”

We’re now about to try this out on a small scale. Adriane’s newly formed company Quinn Energy invited Learn@EcoVillage and Southside Community Center (SSCC) to partner in a mini-grant from Sustainable Tompkins. Called SouthSUP, this partnership received $500 to be used to purchase food for several Ithaca community meals on the coldest winter nights. (Extreme weather creates another source of peak electricity demand.) Free suppers will be served at SSCC, and we’ll track electricity saved by participants.
What’s the next step? Depending on potential funding, our partnership will explore working with BlocPower, a minority-owned Brooklyn energy project to experiment even further. We’ll let you know how it works out!

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