Peter Troast is a veteran entrepreneur, marketing guru, technologist, and energy efficiency fanatic who leads up the team as founder and CEO of Energy Circle, an internet startup headquartered just up the coast from me in Freeport, Maine. Peter built Energy Circle with the goal of helping people learn more about the need for all of us to boost our energy efficiency. Energy Circle has a lot of great educational materials about things like air sealing, insulation, home energy audits, and my favorite, energy monitoring (gadgets!) and ties it together with a well-stocked online shop where you can buy everything from greener lights to crank powered flashlights and radios.
Before he started Energy Circle, Peter co-founded and worked as head of internet at FetchDog.com, another information-rich e-commerce site selling dog products. He's also worked as VP of Marketing & Brand Strategy at the American Skiing Company and as Strategic Principal at the VIA Group, a well-respected Portland, Maine marketing and advertising agency.
When Peter was 19 he dropped out of college to work for Friends of the Earth in Washington, DC where he shared an office with Amory Lovins. He eventually found his way back to school and is a graduate of the Resource Economics program at UC Berkeley.
Peter lives in Freeport with his family in a house which is best described as an efficiency laboratory. Peter takes his business very serious and has used everything sold on Energy Circle on his own home, largely cutting the amount of energy it uses every year.
Here are seven questions answered by Peter Troast.
MNN: Does the world need saving?
Peter: Yes, of course it does. On so many fronts, we’re headed in the wrong direction. But the 20th century has also shown our society’s resilience to huge challenges -- two world wars, the Cold War, the prospect of Nuclear Armageddon, etc. In that context, today’s challenges appear manageable.
That said, we are in a period of energy transition, which history tells us are painfully slow and protracted. We need urgency now and, sadly, the degree to which we ultimately benefit from the changes taking place today rather than suffer from them will depend on our honesty in facing the situation. Climate change will upend communities across the globe, the impact of the decline of fossil fuel resources, in my opinion, is much closer than we might think, and the economic growth taking place in China, India, and other developing countries is upsetting the global landscape in a big way. Global energy demand is expected to triple by 2050. So we do need to be honest about the need to change the way we do things.
Peter, clearing an ice dam from his roof, ice climber style.
What's the difference between green and greener?
The concept of green has suffered from so much misappropriation, to the point where pretty much anything you buy has some sort of leafy green symbol on it to demonstrate its “greenness,” from Cheetos to gasoline. I think, in a way, this is a good thing, because it shows that the concept of environmental consideration has entered the mainstream. I think “greener,” or my preferred term, “post-green”, is the next logical step, which will mean getting beyond the shallow, leafy green symbols and really starting to determine what our priorities should be. For example, if we were forced to choose between organic vegetables with a high embodied energy, or locally produced vegetables with genetic mutations, which should we pick? A great example of this in the energy efficiency world is the debate going on right now about spray foam insulation. For particular applications, it’s one of the best insulations we have from an R-value and air sealing standpoint, but it has high embodied energy and global warming potential because of the blowing agents emitted during installation. Alternately, we have cellulose insulation that doesn’t have quite the R-value or air sealing qualities as spray foam, but it’s made from recycled materials. I think “greener” means really evaluating things on this level, and making the smartest decisions we can make from an informed, conscious standpoint. “Greener” requires a boatload of information, and education.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
There is a large cadre of people in the residential energy space that have been doggedly at this issue since the first oil crisis in the 70’s. One person in particular who deserves much more recognition is Linda Wigington, founder of Affordable Comfort Institute (ACI), visionary behind the 1000 Home Challenge and champion of the concept of deep energy retrofits--measures that can reduce the energy use of homes by 70-90%. With buildings representing 40% of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and the residential sector representing the majority of this, there are few more important challenges than fixing the amount of energy waste in the 124 million homes in the US. Linda is showing that with straightforward technologies and American jobs, we can make this happen.
What have you done personally to reduce your energy use?
Our family is doing our best to walk our talk. Late last year, we completed a comprehensive air sealing and cellulose insulation project in our house that reduced air leakage by 35%. More time will tell, but in the 2 cold months since the project was completed, our monthly fuel oil consumption is down from 110 gallons/month to 59. What is equally awesome is that our house is substantially more comfortable now. I’m not sure we knew, frankly, how uncomfortable it was before, but even my 16 year old son is raving about how much better his room is now. We also continue to champion the use of real time energy monitoring to build awareness of electricity use. For us this has produced a 29% reduction in electricity since we started measuring in 2009, some of which is attributable to lighting changes and smart powerstrips but most of which is the result of sheer awareness. Seeing the live data, knowing what the house should be drawing, and being the competitive lot that we are, has been very powerful.
Does efficiency need to be sexy?
Everyone in residential energy efficiency, and even the President, seem to think that glossing up efficiency is part of our solution. I’m not sure I agree. The appeal of the things that have the most impact on energy use in the home are really the polar opposite, and in my opinion that’s what’s so cool. This is incredibly basic, appropriate technology that only requires care and workmanship. And that equates to solid American jobs. We’re in a new era of frugality and simplicity now, and I like the idea of being the antithesis of the shiny new thing. I will proudly trumpet my invisible 35% airflow reduction that cost a net of $1700 against your spanky new $25,000 solar panels.
Describe the perfect house, from an Energy Circle point of view.
The perfect house is the one you already live in. A huge misconception about green building and energy efficient building is that you need to build new to achieve your energy/environmental goals, which couldn’t be further from the mark. We have the technology, the knowledge, and the workforce today to make most existing buildings use anywhere from 50-90% less energy, and to become more comfortable and healthier places to be in the process. It’s just a question of getting it done -- and that starts with a whole house energy audit that will give you a long term game plan for a phased approach to reducing your home’s energy use.
Shea's note: I invited Peter to create and answer his own question here.
What's the best way for renters to get in on the efficiency game?
Obviously, the big question is who pays the energy bills. When it’s the landlord, he or she has just as much incentive, and maybe they just need the nudge. When it’s the tenant, pressuring the landlord to fix his building so it’s less of an energy hog is the only solution. The best way would be, if possible, to talk to your landlord about a comprehensive energy audit, and it’s shocking how many property owners don’t know about this. If pressuring your landlord doesn’t produce results immediately, tackling the small things can still have an impact. Lighten your plugload with power strips, change out lightbulbs, turn down your water heater if you have access, insulate your water heater if you have access, switch out faucets and showerheads for low flow models. These are the things that may seem trivial when looked at individually, but collectively can have a pretty substantial impact.
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