Free course in Sustainable Energy Innovation – Snowil’s energy audits

Here is your chance to create the future! In my free eight-week Sustainable Energy Innovation course, you will begin developing profitable social and technological innovations to tackle our pressing energy and climate obligations. Course content includes videos and short readings carefully selected and organized to be accessible to a wide audience regardless of nationality, educational background, professional interests, or academic focus.

All of the work in this course is designed to help you dream up and begin developing your own sustainable energy innovation. Your innovation may be a physical product, or a service. It may be a technical innovation, or a social one. It need not make you rich, but you will be challenged to at least make your project self-supporting. The course materials, my feedback, and, most importantly, interactions with your classmates, will all help as you try to make your ideas real.

Here is one of my favorite examples from the Clemson version of this course. This true story is from the perspective of ‘student’ Snowil Lopes (4th from left in the picture).

Snowil’s Energy Audits

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Snowil  (4th from left) and other Clemson energy interns.

In India, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change, so I came to graduate school motivated to do something about the energy and climate problem. Initially, my focus was on producing cleaner energy – solar panels, windmills, things like that. This seems to be what gets the most publicity and marketing, maybe because it’s easier to visualize. Anyway, David MacKay’s book and Amory Lovins’ presentation really got me thinking in terms of “Negawatts.” I realized that saving energy can be just as good as producing sustainable energy. But I had a part-time job and three other classes, so I definitely was still thinking of this as just another assignment.

My perspective began to change when Tony Putman, Clemson’s director of utilities, came to talk with our class. From Tony’s presentation, it was pretty obvious that reducing energy use in buildings was something that needed to be done right here on campus. I spoke with Tony after he presented and this is when I started seeing my project as an opportunity.

My first idea was to use the project to start my own energy retrofit company, but I had trouble getting partners. My teacher gave some advice but was pretty clear that he didn’t want to help start a company. Students in my group had some good ideas too. But their life plans, understandably, didn’t include helping me start an energy retrofit company. While I was failing to find partners, I was also learning as much as I could through internet research.

Looking back, I was working hard on the project, but not yet working smart. I needed that background information, but anyone can browse the internet. I had to figure out what I was uniquely qualified to do and what unique resources I had. From then on, I did anything it took to push my idea forward, even when it was uncomfortable for me. Tony and I met and he gave me contacts with energy audit companies who I interviewed by phone. I was persistent, probably annoying, but I didn’t care. It was actually kind of fun. Some of my dealings were disasters. One professor didn’t respond to my e-mails; I had a hard time communicating with the industry members; and a couple people just talked for the entire meeting about irrelevant topics.

I got my break when Tony and I came up with an idea to start an internship program for student workers to do energy retrofits. This was a long way from my original vision for my company, but I saw the opportunity to achieve the same goal. Plus, at this point, I was tired of planning and ready to start the project and see what happened. I knew I’d be able to solve any problems that came up. I interviewed interested students and selected a group of 5 to start in Summer ’12. We worked together on projects ranging from counting and changing light fixtures to analyzing potential for PV-covered parking structures. By my initial rough estimate, we’ve helped save over $1 million in energy costs and we are expanding the program for next year.

In the meantime, I have a good job offer with one of the energy retrofit companies I spoke with on the phone. This gives me a nice sense of security, but I really want to figure out how to build the internship program into a career for myself by expanding it to other institutions.

Pretty inspiring, right? Sign up for the course and begin writing your own story.

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