I oft-times describe myself as a ’systems-of-systems’ thinker (not engineer), fascinated by how (oft-times radically) different things interact in ways and for results unrealizable if we rest in a stove-piped consideration of some narrow part of a problem or the world. While the domains I focus on, our e3 (economic, energy, environmental) challenges and opportunities, are what I see as critical for my children’s and nation’s future security, this focus also creates great enjoyment as I am constantly learning and constantly gaining understanding of system dynamics and interactions. Honestly, since my first recollection, I’ve thought this way — and it took a long time to realize that this isn’t how most people view the world and address challenges/opportunities. Rarely am I in a place where such thinking is a dominant part of the social milieu but one such opportunity is coming up next week when Affordable Comfort Inc (ACI) will be holding their annual conference in Baltimore, Md.
a national nonprofit organization that has become the go-to resource for information, education and best practices in an area of residential building construction that has become known as Home Performance and Weatherization. ACI connects the professional contractors and technicians on the front lines with the newest building science information from industry experts.
Seeking energy efficiency in a home is a complicated systems-of-system issue. What types and how much insulation creates what sort of impact in terms of required / desired heating and cooling systems (HVAC)? How do lighting options impact cooling requirements? How does one get a homeowner to understand the various ‘paybacks’ from an energy retrofit (that can include not just $ savings but increased comfort, reduced maintenance, lower carbon footprint, higher resale value, …) and convert that into a prioritization of efforts within a budget? How much is technology and structure the driver vs occupant usage/behaviors and how does one influence the second (the occupant) to maximize the benefits of the first (the technical system)? What is the “right” home heating solution … for San Francisco or Wyoming or Boston or …? Etc … “Home performance and weatherization” is a complex systems of systems set of challenges and opportunities.
ACI National (pdf) pulls together, much as ACI claims above, an extremely diverse group who all bring a window on the system-of-system issues in home energy performance. And the conversations — from formal presentations to debates at the bar to early in the morning — often reflect efforts to understand the complex interactions and make sense of them.
While this systems-of-systems perspective isn’t the only reason marking ACI National as a high-value event to attend. In the conference, it is not unusual to have conversations (debates even) with Ph.D. researchers, Corporate executives, people with 30 years in the business, and the person who just started crawling in attics a few months ago treating each other as equals — engaged and learning from each other, each bringing value ‘to the table’ that the others’ can learn from and absorb into their effort to foster an improved understanding of the residential energy system-of-systems.
Also, somewhat in the ‘no regrets strategy‘ model, ACI National is an environment where ‘ideology’ is often left at the doorstep. At last year’s event, I had businessman state explicitly that he didn’t believe in global warming but “it didn’t matter” since he thought “anyone who doesn’t realize that energy efficiency is a smart thing to do is an idiot who wouldn’t care if their money were falling out of a hole in their pocket.” With that statement of global warming science skepticism out of the way, in the first moment of the conversation, we then fell into a deep discussion of what he thought the best payoffs were for his clients versus what the clients put on the top of the agenda.
Here’s ACI’s own promo ad … which rings ever so true.
All in all, while some might see Darryl Hannah’s presentation as a major attraction, the ability to be surrounded by ’system-of-system thinkers’ (even if they don’t see themselves), wander an exhibit hall with some fascinating companies, and have the chance to be caught in a hallway debate between a data crunching researcher and the person who crawls in attics every day are the real reasons to spend several days in Baltimore next week.
- Home Energy Efficiency: no surprise, very fast paybacks to be expected
- Energy Home: Common sense solutions to common problems (about test-driving products from a company that will be in the ACI exhibit hall)
- Addressing home affordability through efficiency in financing process
- Making Energy CENTS from the home to the globe