Irvine’s Community Energy Partnership Program Focuses on Changing Behavior

The City of Irvine won an Award of Excellence in the Planning and Environmental Quality category of the 2006 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit

Even before the high energy demands of the summer of 2006, the City of Irvine was looking for ways to change the energy consumption habits of residents and businesses in an effort to protect the environment, save money and conserve resources.

Finding a way to address these objectives was and continues to be a daunting undertaking. But with the support of the Irvine City Council, the city identified stewardship of the environment as an important value.

Implementing several cost-effective motivators that would cause people to adopt new habits was a critical component of this effort. The city’s goals included:

  • Changing energy consumption habits by effectively communicating with a large, diverse community about the importance and value of energy efficiency and conservation; and
  • Enlisting Irvine youth to effect change well beyond today’s needs.

In a community like Irvine with more than 180,000 residents living in the heart of Southern California’s Orange County, the pace of activity is hectic. Juxtaposed against daily, frenetic urban demands is the realization that change is a slow process that takes time.

In 1999, Irvine partnered with Southern California Edison, the Gas Company, the Energy Coalition (a nonprofit agency) and the City of Santa Monica to form the Regional Energy Efficiency Initiative (now known as the Community Energy Partnership). The partnership’s mission was to investigate new energy management ideas and technologies and introduce them to residents and businesses.

Since then, the number of participating cities has grown to 10. Facilitating collaboration between the utilities and the partner cities allows for a robust exchange of ideas and an opportunity to capital ize on the successes of each. It has also allowed Irvine to draw upon resources available through the utilities, such as energy audits, products and installations for homes, schools and businesses.

Changing Behavior

With the partnership well established, the next phase involved tackling the heart of the challenge: changing behavior.

The city’s plan called for educating and motivating the community at large in a fun and convenient way for maximum impact. This effort began in 2004 with the sale of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs or energy efficient light bulbs) to city employees at the “Buck a Bulb” event. Costs were underwritten by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). This was followed by a “Super Bulb Swap” program to encourage the replacement of incandescent bulbs with a variety of fluorescent lights.

In 2005, the partnership took the program to large community gatherings such as Irvine’s Earth Day celebration. Offering free energy-efficient bulbs provided a convenient opportunity to bring the community closer to reducing its energy usage one bulb at a time. Residents also received cost savings information to further motivate them to replace additional bulbs on their own.

Other outreach efforts included a torchiere lamp exchange in 2005, where the partnership offered new energy-efficient compact fluorescent torchiere floor lamps free of charge in exchange for dangerous and inefficient halogen lamps. Nearly 700 lamps were exchanged at the Irvine City Hall parking lot on a Saturday, and residents didn’t even have to get out of their cars to make the swap.

Targeting various populations with similar interests and needs was another tool used by the Community Energy Partnership program. Rather than putting the burden on the end user of having to come to city offices or facilities, the city chose to reach out to hard-to-serve groups where they congregate, live or run their businesses.

One of the first groups approached was Irvine’s senior citizen population. More than 500 Energy Efficiency Packs were given to seniors during the annual flu shot program. To show the community that Irvine practices what it preaches, the program targeted city-owned senior center facilities, which were audited for energy efficiency upgrades.

Creating Energy Districts

Dividing the city into energy districts to provide personalized, one-on-one attention to residents and businesses is another method Irvine used to deliver the message, “Saving energy saves money and the environment!”

In 2005, the city concentrated its efforts on the University Park District, which comprises several hard-to-reach groups, including apartments for physically challenged residents; several older, very large apartment communities; and a number of small businesses. An educational energy rally kicked off each engagement, followed by audits and product installation.

Producing a Lasting Change

The energy program works with the Irvine Unified School District to educate students and teachers through the PEAK program, which includes the development of after-school Green Clubs and summer PEAK programs, educational field trips, activities such as school energy audits performed by students, and training for science teachers.

The Community Energy Partnership program is working one energy district, one school, one business and one light bulb at a time to make a lasting difference. Encouraging outcomes include the following:

  • Between 2004 and 2006, the City of Irvine saved approximately 3,218,700 kilowatt hours of annual electricity usage and 202,800 therms of annual gas usage.
  • More than 13,000 residents, businesses and students experienced direct savings as of Dec. 31, 2006.
  • New energy-efficient products and proactive energy saving actions are estimated to save approximately $1,292,000 a year or $6,460,700 over the lifetime of the installed energy saving measure.
  • Six hundred eighty hard-to-serve families received energy-efficient upgrades to their homes, including light bulbs, low-flow shower heads and aerators, fans, thermostats, weather-stripping and more.
  • Thirty-one small businesses received “energy tune ups” valued at $500 for mostly new lighting.
  • Every fourth-grade student in the Irvine Unified School District receives the PEAK program’s energy conservation information so they can learn how to conserve energy in school and at home.
  • More than 6,600 CFLs were distributed to replace energy-consuming incandescent bulbs.

Irvine is committed to this “energized” energy-saving movement so that its ultimate goal of conserving resources, saving money and protecting the environment may be fully realized.

Contact: Shawn Thompson, energy administrator, City of Irvine; phone: (949) 724-7449; e-mail:

This article appears in the July 2007 issue of Western City
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