“These are my people.”

That was UH Information and Computer Sciences Professor Philip Johnson’s reaction when he attended his first BECC conference in 2009. BECC stands for Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change. The annual conference focuses on “understanding the behavior and decision-making of individuals and organizations and using that knogwledge to accelerate our transition to an energy-efficient and low-carbon future.”

What Johnson, who heads the Collaborative Software Development Laboratory at Manoa, meant was that when he talked about the open-source application designed by UH software developers to manage an online energy reduction and sustainability competition among campus dorms, nobody mistook “vampire load” for a reference to a Halloween costume mishap.

Instead, the audience understood how helping people to eliminate phantom loads translates into instant energy conservation, and why that is inherently valuable to a place like Hawaii that relies on imported fossil fuels to meet 90 percent of its energy needs. What’s more, they were able to offer their own insight to further inform and improve the project.

During this year’s BECC conference, which took place in Sacramento from Nov. 12-14, University of Hawaii Ph.D. student Yongwen Xu delivered a presentation about the software engine for the Kukui Cup game in a session on “Feedback and Response as a Behavioral Trigger.” The forum provided the opportunity for UH to introduce its open-source solution to a relevant international audience.

BECC’s 700 attendees included a diverse group of senior-level policymakers, social and natural scientists, program implementers, media, and energy experts. With sessions that span the range of behavioral impacts on energy and climate change issues — from marrying EVs with solar PV, to peer-influenced energy consumption habits, to leveraging conspicuous travel choices — there is an intense cross-pollination of ideas that goes on at BECC. The solutions that are fostered from those ideas benefit from both scientific knowledge and real-world applications that have been closely evaluated.

University of Hawaii Ph.D. student Robert Brewer, one of Johnson’s and Xu’s co-collaborators, points out that conference engagement is a two-way street. “People are blown away when I tell them we pay $0.35 a kilowatt hour,” he said, illustrating how researchers and industry practitioners regard Hawaii’s unique, if not daunting, energy challenge as a ripe opportunity for applying transformational strategies.

“Hawaii is a globally important case study,” offered Mackay Miller, a Technology Innovation Analyst with the National Renewable Energy Lab. The kinds of governance, system planning, and technical quagmires Hawaii finds itself in as it negotiates the transition to clean energy are the same challenges that the mainland will also face on a larger scale, and other places will look to see how Hawaii will effectively “integrate all the moving parts,” he suggested.

Also attending this year’s conference were representatives from Blue Planet Foundation and Hawaii Energy. “Of all the things we can be doing in energy conservation, the future belongs to behavior change,” said Ray Starling, Program Manager for Hawaii Energy, the ratepayer-funded program which administers the energy efficiency program for Hawaii, Maui and Honolulu counties under contract with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.

Starling is keen to stem practices that waste electricity, and he believes that behavior modification strategies can be an inexpensive way to turn them around. The success of Hawaii Energy’s energy efficiency programs are critical, not only to achieving the state’s mandate for 30 percent energy efficiency by 2030, but also to relieving the high (and rising) cost of oil-fired electricity borne by ratepayers. After all, the power of efficiency, by definition, is not about sacrifice (as it’s often misperceived), but about doing more with the same amount.

Blue Planet’s Program Director Richard Wallsgrove echoed the sentiments of the other Hawaii attendees. “BECC is a game changer. We met with some of the brightest minds from around the world to discuss simple and innovative ideas for tackling efficiency and solving the riddle of energy waste.”

“Many people we talked to were fascinated by Hawaii’s energy successes and challenges, and they helped us to envision how the concepts from BECC can be applied in Hawai‘i,” he continued. “We were inspired, and we are thrilled to bring that inspiration home, along with a wealth of ideas that will help reshape Hawaii’s energy culture.”

About the author: Catharine Lo is the Communications Director at Blue Planet Foundation.

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