In the Navy Yard

A national competition with future glory at stake. A battle between Philadelphia and the Bay Area. A confident powerhouse and a plucky competitor. And the underdog pulls off the upset.

A rehash of the drama of Giants-Phillies? No, I am referring to the US Department of Energy’s recent $129 million grant to Penn State University to establish a center at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia that will look comprehensively – through engineering, public policy, and behavioral nudges - at how to make buildings more energy efficient. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the powerhouse in this arena, was the favored, shoo-in applicant, but was somehow not selected, much to their chagrin and surprise. (Now they know how the Phillies feel.) I’m sure that Secretary Chu, who has Berkeley ties, has gotten a lot of flak for this.

Back on the East Coast, this is a huge coup for the City of Brotherly Love. The addition to the Navy Yard should make for an even better synergy of cool activity down there: scientists and policy wonks will now be joining makers of ships (Aker), trendy clothes (Urban Outfitters), and butterscotch krimpets (Tasty Baking Company) as Philadelphia-based firms with Navy Yard addresses.

It should also make for a fascinating experiment. Buildings are a huge energy consumer, of course: some 40 percent in this country, by some accounts. And a major needle-mover in terms of energy consumption by buildings will take a massive collaborative effort, since the present fragmented nature of the building industry often offers insufficient incentive for any one actor – the developers, the architects, the materials suppliers, the contractors, the occupiers, or the governments in whose jurisdictions they are located – to invest in more energy efficient solutions.

In other words, many eyes will be on this effort. Yay for Philadelphia that it will be housed within our boundaries. Now if only a certain baseball team was hosting games up the street on South Broad . . .

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