Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) recently invited Christiane Egger from O.O. Energiesparverband, an organization similar to VEIC located in Upper Austria, to visit Vermont. O.O. Energiesparverband functions to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in the federal state of Upper Austria. What is interesting is that the state of Upper Austria provides 33% of its energy from renewable sources including hydroelectric, solar thermal and biomass and is similar in size to Vermont. Upper Austria has a population of 1.38 million (similar to that of New Hampshire) and is about the size of Connecticut – with a quality of life equal or some might even say better than the majority of the U.S.
Upper Austria has made major strides in increasing the market share of renewable power as well as in the field of energy efficiency. The average residential home in Upper Austria today consumes 39 kWh/m2 (12.4 kBtu/ft2), as compared to the average residential home in the northeastern United States which consumes 163 kWh/m2 (51.7 kBtu/ft2). One in every two new homes in Upper Austria is built with a solar thermal system which seems like almost an unconceivable number in the American market where solar panels are still thought of as a pricey accessory to a home where only those who can afford it and ask for it specifically include the solar panel in their design.
The organization of O.O. Energiesparverband has been in business since 1991 and has developed a strategy in Upper Austria to use a series of legal measures, financial measures and information activities which they refer to as the “stick”, “carrot”, and “tambourine” respectively. Their policy has followed the rule that these measures must be implemented together in order to make a difference, so all legal measures are backed up by financial incentives and financial incentives are backed by information activities so all measures have a chance of succeeding.
O.O. Energiesparverband’s accomplishments and ambitious goals for the future should work to function as an inspiration for those of us in Vermont. This is an example of a place, similar to Vermont in many senses, that is making renewable energy and energy efficiency work. Walking away from this talk I was struck by the sense that we in Vermont often think of ourselves on the cutting edge of energy efficiency and renewable energy, but really there are people in the world that are significantly further along than we are. We should actively search out these places and learn from their successes and failures to implement a plan in order to ensure a better future for all of us here in Vermont.
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