EDF Sending 127 Climate Corps Fellows to 100 Organizations

vocational_trainingThe ninth year of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps program will see 127 young fellows embedded in 100 organizations. Most will be deployed in the United States, with a handful traveling to China. The goal is to help these entities – which include companies, schools, cites and public institutions – implement clean energy projects.

Clean energy, sustainability and energy efficiency go hand-in-glove, of course, so the Climate Corps also saves these organizations money. Program Director Liz Delaney said that the program started with seven participants in 2008. During the nine years since it began, the program has dispatched more than 600 fellows and saved participants about $1.5 billion.

The people dispatched generally are either recent college graduates or graduate students. Not surprisingly, engineering students make up about one-third of the fellows. Many are on the path toward MBAs and some have both financial and engineering backgrounds.

The fellows get four days of training, Delaney said. It consists in energy basics — such as definition of units and how a building consumes energy — the nature of building systems; renewable energy options and financial analysis. The latter category focuses on training fellows to help the organizations with which they work build a solid business case for investment in clean energy projects.

The fellows spend 10 to 12 works with their assigned organization, who pay them. In some cases, the relationship evolves to permanent employment. It is usual for only one fellow to be assigned to a particular participating company, but more than one is dispatched to a particular organization on occasion.

It is hard to make blanket statements about what the fellows find and what they do. In many cases, fairly basic energy efficiency steps – such as proper temperature settings and helping the transition from legacy lighting to LEDs – result in easy gains. Indeed, lighting is becoming a more common project as the price of LEDs drops and the payback periods shrink to the point that they are more or less “no-brainers.”

In other cases, simply having an embed as a second – and fresh – pair of eyes is beneficial. Delaney offered an example: When a conveyor belt is installed in a factory, the manager in charge is trained on its proper use, including efficient operation. However, if that employee moves on, the belt will be operated by somebody who is not trained. This results in less efficient operation. An energy manager may simply not notice – but, perhaps, the fellow. Thus, a project can focus on proper training on various systems and pieces of equipment. “Often the fellows catch things [energy managers] are missing because they are busy and are overlooking them,” Delaney said.

While much of the expertise of the fellows mirrors that of the building manager, the financial skill sets often are new. “Energy managers know a ton about energy and buildings,” Delaney said. “The environmental angle could be new to them [and the fellow can help] turn that to language the financial department understands so that that they can get approval on a project.”

Delaney points to “holistic energy management” as a goal of the program. “We like to connect the dots between kilowatt hours, dollar signs and emission reductions,” she said. “We think in drawing those three connections you hit on all those areas. Companies have different motivations. They want to reduce costs, run efficiently and are increasingly under pressure for environmental performance. We are trying to connect all those together and in a sense use multiple arguments to build that case internally.”

Delaney says that there is a rough equilibrium between the number of fellows available and demand from organizations. The program, she said, is a hit with participating organizations. “We find that a lot of companies keep coming back because the fellows are incredibly useful,” Delany said. “Energy managers are overworked. These are just the right folks to help them you accomplish their goals.”

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