November 29, 2012
We know energy efficiency can save the world, but can it save a marriage?
Leave it to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to take on that question. The agency is known for its vanguard energy research. But it is one thing to produce papers on topics like ‘Air Bypass in Vertical Stack Water Source Heat Pumps’ and another to delve into what a cold room can do to a new marriage.
That’s the premise behind Irreconcilable Temperatures, a five-part comedy/ad produced by NYSERDA.
I know what you’re thinking. An energy agency and humor? No, not happening.
It was with deep skepticism that I clicked on the first ‘webisode’. I’ve seen energy folks try for comedy before and fail miserably. But these short sketches had me chuckling – while learning about on-bill financing. A miracle.
The show’s tagline is “Save your love life! Plus hundreds of dollars – even more – on energy every year.”
Here’s the story line. Newlywed Russell is crazy frugal. After he and Wendy get their first utility bill, he keeps turning down the thermostat. Wendy is freezing, Russell is oblivious.
Finally she sits Russell down and says, “We need professional help.”
Russell is bewildered. “Why?” he asks. You can see his breath.
Of course, she’s not talking about marriage counseling, but a free home energy performance audit through NYSERDA. He’s hesitant. “Russell, is our marriage worth… free?” she asks.
Supporting characters enter. A triathlete neighbor, who drinks soy lattes with whey protein, thinks energy efficiency begins with installation of an expensive new heating system. She brags that her new furnace “has a self-calibrating variable speed inducer.”
“How nice for you not to have to do all that calibrating by hand,” Wendy comments.
Two assessors certified by the Building Performance Institute come to the rescue, one a straight man who often relieves Wendy and Russell’s confusion. For example, the couple thought that to pay for the home improvements they would have to sell Russell’s presidential sock collection on e-bay.
The sketches are a clever way to educate the public about the Home Performance with Energy Star Program. The energy industry tends to trade in arcane information and even make arcane that which should be straight forward. The industry’s penchant for staying within its bubble was okay when consumers were passive receivers of utility services. Now, however, the new world of smart grid requires that consumers take action and manage their energy use. Irreconcilable Temperatures isn’t exactly The Daily Show. In fact, it’s not even Saturday Night Live on an off week. But for a public service-type series, it is clever. High quality promotions like this are a big step toward making the world of energy accessible.
“Humor can be a powerful educational tool. This campaign seeks to capitalize on humor in a way that demonstrates to homeowners the many very real and practical benefits of investing in energy efficiency in their homes,” said Francis Murray, NYSERDA President and CEO. “We want all New Yorkers to know about the wide range of programs available – from direct incentives to free or low-cost assessments and financing – that can increase the comfort, safety and energy efficiency of their homes.”
The Irreconcilable Temperatures website also includes stories about homeowners across New York who have saved money through energy efficiency, steps to get started, and information on incentives and financing.
Watch the webisodes here: www.nyserda.ny.gov/energy-stars.
Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work can be found RealEnergyWriters.com.