The biggest wasters of energy in America today are none other than college students, according to Brian Keane.
Keane is the president of SmartPower, a nonprofit marketing firm that directs campaigns related to energy efficiency. He gave a talk titled “50 Shades of Green: Changing Energy Behavior in the United States” to about 30 members of the Yale community in Kroon Hall Wednesday evening, focusing on how community-based outreach can be used to make solar panels a ubiquitous source of energy in the United States, and how college students can be part of this effort.
“The only way to get people to engage in energy is peer to peer, friend to friend and neighbor to neighbor,” he said.
Keane spoke of four distinct barriers that deter the average consumer from buying solar power: doubt about the energy source’s reliability, lack of commercial availability, perceived high costs and unwillingness to switch over from their current power source.
However, Keane said these problems could be solved simply. He cited making solar panels easier to purchase and educating people about the benefits of solar power as two potential solutions. Political or social incentives could also help change consumer priorities, he added.
Keane said he has seen through the work of SmartPower that people are most likely to buy solar when those around them are buying it as well.
“The best way to get somebody to do something is to make it normal,” Keane said.
Keane stressed that, while college students waste the most energy of any demographic in America — college students take, on average, a 45-minute long hot shower every day, he said — they are also eager to help fix the problem.
He gave the example of the America’s Greenest Campus Challenge, which offered monetary rewards to universities across the country for reducing their energy use during a six-month period in 2009. Yale, Harvard and Stanford all finished in the top 10, and all participating schools saved a total of 4.25 million in energy costs during the competition, Keane said.
“College students want to be part of the solution, they just don’t know how to use energy,” he said.
Keane said one phenomenon that Americans should know more about is phantom load — the power that televisions, refrigerators, computers and other appliances drain from outlets even when they are turned off. According to Keane, almost 10 percent of a home’s energy is lost to phantom load. Over the course of a year, the amount of energy wasted is the equivalent of the energy produced by 16 coal-fired power plants, he said.
Keane said marketing approaches for solar energy may not even include publicizing the moral or environmental implications of choosing solar power. Rather, he said campaigns can inform consumers about what solar power can do for their lives through community-based outreach, or by encouraging people to make one simple energy-saving change, which often starts a chain reaction of subsequent energy-saving actions.
Students interviewed who attended the talk said they found Keane’s approach to solar energy unconventional but interesting.
“I thought it was interesting approaching sustainability from a marketing point of view,” said Emma Ryan ’17, a member of Yale solar advocacy group Project Bright. “Putting it in terms of economics is really a driving factor for most people.”
Marissa Galizia FES ’15 SOM ’15 said she was intrigued by how Keane stressed that the best way to market solar energy may be to emphasize the difference it will make in consumers’ lives.
SmartPower is currently involved in a project called Solarize Connecticut, a program that aims to make solar power more accessible to Connecticut consumers.