Opower is a Virginia-based software company that uses data sorcery to pioneer innovative methods to lower energy consumption and encourage efficiency. Partnering with 85 utility companies in 31 states, Opower’s software generates tailored reports for customers that analyze their energy usage and make recommendations about how to reduce it with small changes, using advanced behavioral-science techniques. The company calculates that since 2007, it has helped customers save a total of $290 million on energy bills and has eliminated 3.6 billion pounds of carbon emissions.
Pennsylvania Center for Sustainable Shale Development
Hydraulic fracturing may have unleashed a domestic energy boom, but the controversial drilling technique better known as “fracking” has also sparked pitched battles between energy companies and environmentalists. The Center for Sustainable Shale Development represents an ambitious attempt to bridge that divide. Its initiative, announced earlier this year, brings together such energy producers as Shell and Chevron with environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, to set performance standards and bestow a new stamp of approval on fracking operations that meet set criteria in Pennsylvania and the Appalachian basin. Although some drillers and environmentalists are wary, the center may create a model for maximizing the economic benefits of natural-gas production while minimizing its environmental risks.
San Diego Electric-Car Infrastructure
If the United States hopes to ever transition from fossil-fuel-burning, planet-frying forms of transportation, the country first needs clean-energy infrastructure. That’s where multiple projects in San Diego can serve as a model. The University of California (San Diego) is building the largest system of charging stations in any university in the world, while the city of San Diego has launched the nation’s first electric-car-sharing service, boasting 12,500 members. Finally, the iconic San Diego Zoo has a first-of-its-kind Solar-to-EV project in its parking lot, converting solar power to charge plug-in electric vehicles and provide renewable energy to the electric grid.
New Jersey-based NRG Energy serves as a standout example of a utility company diversifying its energy portfolio and balancing reliance on traditional fossil fuels with investments in low-carbon energy. In 2010, NRG acquired Austin, Texas-based Green Mountain Energy, which provides electricity from renewable sources. The same year, it launched the first privately funded electric-vehicle charging system in Houston, which customers pay a monthly fee to use. The utility also owns four wind farms and nine solar projects; in addition, it operates a residential solar leasing program that allows homeowners to rent solar installations. By exploiting more renewable sources while maintaining a robust traditional fuel mix, NRG is a model for the growing number of utilities looking to balance reliability, affordability, and sustainability.