Saturday, June 11, 2011

Case Study #1: Overview of the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge (BNEC)

My first case study for my summer research is the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge, or BNEC for short.  BNEC is an energy conservation initiative based out of the City of Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability.  BNEC primarily focuses on educating Baltimore residents about low-to-no cost measures they can take to reduce energy consumption and lower their utility bills.  Thus far, BNEC only organizes in select Baltimore Neighborhoods, but it plans to move into a more open city-wide model next year.

BNEC’s central strategy to encourage residents to conserve energy is the BNEC Pledge, which states:
“I pledge on behalf of my household to reduce our energy use and help the city achieve its goal of 15% reduction in energy use by 2015.  I pledge to adopt no and low cost practices to help save my family money and conserve energy.  I pledge to share information that I have learn with my neighbors and friends and to encourage participation in the BNEC program.  I pledge to make my neighborhood a stronger, safe, and more sustainable community.”
 To participate in the program, a resident must simply sign the pledge.  In return for making this commitment, the resident receives a BNEC home energy savers kit.  The kit contains several free items (like a CFL and a toilet-tank bank), as well tips and resources on how residents can save energy in the home.  The BNEC kit also contains information on other energy savings programs that can help Baltimore residents save a substantial amount of energy.  For more information on the BNEC Energy Savers kit, see this post.

BNEC currently has two full time staff members.  Susan Carroll coordinates the program, and Alex Haworth serves as the assistant coordinator for community outreach.  In addition, BNEC has three full-time Americorps volunteers who serve as community organizers for BNEC’s 12 current neighborhoods.  These Americorps volunteers joined BNEC last fall and will complete their year of service by the end of the summer.

BNEC uses a variety of methods to reach out to Baltimore City residents.  One of the most innovative aspects of BNEC is its “Neighborhood Energy Captains,” trained volunteers that recruit their neighbors and fellow community members to be part of the challenge.   To identify potential Energy Captains, BNEC forms a partnership with the neighborhood’s community association or another 501c(3) organization.  BNEC then attends the organization’s meeting and recruits the attendees, who are likely already community leaders, to serve as Energy Captains.  BNEC staff then train the captains in energy saving techniques and provide BNEC kits, assistance, and encouragement to help the captain’s recruit other members of the community to take the pledge.

Through Energy Captains, BNEC can quickly gain the community’s trust and reach many more neighborhood residents than through staff outreach alone.  However, BNEC uses many other outreach tactics, including door-to-door canvassing, individual home visits, and tabling at community events.  BNEC also partners with neighborhood institutions, such as schools or churches, to reach even more residents.  Since BNEC began in 2009, its outreach has yielded close to 1200 pledges.

BNEC formed a partnership with the local utility, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE), to assess the energy conservation impact of its pledge and educational efforts.  In the initial Pilot Phase, which targeted eight neighborhoods in 2009, pledge households reduced their electricity usage by an average of 6.6% compared to their non-pledge neighbors.  However, BNEC’s effect on natural gas consumption appears negligible, as pledge households in some neighborhoods achieved small reductions while other pledge-households slightly increased their natural gas consumption.  A diagram of the Pilot Round results is included below, with electricity changes in blue and natural gas changes in green:

Overall, I have been very impressed by BNEC.  The staff members are enthusiastic and dedicated, and few captains I talked with were very excited about the potential to save money through energy conservation.  BNEC is about to go through a transitional period and slightly change its program’s structure, but I after my two weeks in Baltimore I am confident that BNEC will continue to increase its pledges and serve as an important part of Baltimore’s effort to reduce its energy consumption by 15% by 2015.

For more information regarding BNEC, please e-mail


  1. I'm assuming the graph only takes into account data for the houses that participated in the program? Is that correct?

  2. Yeah, the data is relative for homes that took the BNEC pledge compared to the neighborhood averages for homes that did not.