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Energy Upgrade: Efforts to boost energy efficiency during COVID-19

March 2021 Training
Zoom photo from the first day of training on March 2nd.

Zoom photo from the first day of training on March 2nd.

Since 2018, Sarasota County Sustainability has offered an intensive “Energy Coach” volunteer training to teach participants energy and water-saving techniques to aid low-income residents through educational programs and in-home “energy sweeps.” Typically, the training was held in-person, but this year we needed to quickly adjust our training style to provide safe and effective training for new volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2021, four of our dedicated past Energy Coaches and thirteen new volunteers successfully completed the four-session virtual training. Topics included: low and no-cost energy strategies, energy equity, financial assistance for energy improvements, indoor health and home energy systems. A post-course follow-up survey indicated that all participants were very satisfied with the virtual training and noted that they gained knowledge about the topics covered. Energy Coach Paula Silverman noted that the program was, “very well organized and presented.” Another volunteer Olivia Huey said, “the training was an excellent way to learn how to make a difference in your community.”

Our Efforts

Since the training, our staff and volunteers have focused on supplying residents with Do-it-Yourself (DIY) Energy Kits and hosting virtual educational sessions. This allowed us to continue supporting energy-burdened Sarasota County residents with the free supplies and information while keeping everyone safe.

Energy Coach Lake Garren giving out efficiency devices at an All Faiths Food Bank drive-thru event.

Energy Coach Lake Garren giving out efficiency devices at an All Faiths Food Bank drive-thru event.

Now more than ever, volunteers’ contributions are critically needed to help families get back on their feet as we all recover from the pandemic. Spending more time at home, working from home and virtual schooling has greatly raised energy demand and expenses especially for those facing financial hardships. This spike in utility bills is coming at a time when households are also facing increased financial struggles due to the economic downturn related to the pandemic.

Energy Coaches have been working to help these struggling families by distributing DIY energy kits and conducting education sessions at human service non-profit organizations that serve low-income communities. This allows us to meet those in need right where they are at and equip them with efficiency devices to start saving money right away. Reaching low-income communities during this time has been particularly challenging, but we have found this method to be very successful. So far this year, we have saved families $42,000 in utility costs or over 377,000 kWh of energy- and we’re just getting started!

Notably, we formed a partnership with the volunteer-led nonprofit, Mothers Helping Mothers, by tabling during operating hours to conduct 1:1 education and distribute energy saving devices to their clientele. This amazing nonprofit provides necessities such as clothing, baby items, household items and services free of charge to families in need. Partnering with this organization has allowed us to provide low-income families with energy and water saving devices that will save them money on their utility bills. We’ve also teamed up with All Faith’s Food Bank to hand out efficiency devices and educational information as part of their drive-thru food distribution events. Some other local organizations we work with include: The Boys and Girls Club, Unidos Now, United Way, The Jubilee Center, Senior Friendship Centers and more! Though COVID-19 caused some changes to the ways we can offer our program, our Energy Coaches remain committed to supporting energy burdened residents in any way we can.

What’s Next?

Fortunately, now that most people are getting vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions have eased, we are hoping to resume in-home “energy sweeps” later this year. During the sweeps, Energy Coaches will meet with housing authority tenants to offer simple tips for energy savings, such as changing the thermostat settings or turning off fans when away from home. They also perform minor installations, such as changing out air filters or upgrading incandescent bulbs to LEDs in a safe and socially distant manner.

Additional Information

Want to learn more about what you can do to save energy in your own home?  Sarasota County’s Energy Upgrade program has several resources available:

  • Visit the Energy Upgrade website for more resources and information about energy savings.
  • Check out our Energy and Water Saving Fact Sheet for low-and no- cost tips on how you can save energy, water, and money at home. It also has information on available utility bill payment and other financial assistance programs.
  • Take our Energy Upgrade course online! This free self-paced course will teach you energy, water, and cost-saving strategies at home.
  • You can also schedule a presentation to your neighborhood association, civic or faith group by emailing SustainableSarasota@scgov.net.
  • For questions, email agarrett@scgov.net

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