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How important is comfort in conserving energy?
How important is comfort in conserving energy?

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency by weatherizing windows or upgrading to a new furnace can result in lower utility bills. But isn't your comfort level also worth consideration? Graduate students in Randy Bluffstone's Cost-Benefit Analysis class work with companies and organizations in the energy sector, especially the Energy Trust of Oregon, to try to quantify subjective values, like comfort.

"Energy Trust had a lot of analytical questions," says economics professor Bluffstone, "but didn't have the bandwidth to deal with them." His students formed four groups to tackle problems like the psychological barriers that keep power customers from investing in efficiency, what kind of neighborhoods adopt efficiency measures most readily, what non-energy benefits efficiency can bring, and how much customers value comfort in their homes.

The students collaborated with Energy Trust employees, such as Matt Bramin, a planning manager who earned his master's in economics from PSU in 2006. "We had the class digging into some pretty big issues directly relevant to where the state of Oregon is going with efficiency initiatives," Bramin says. The results particularly helped the Energy Trust's marketing program, he adds, helping determine how to reach out to customers who might consider efficiency projects through incentives and social media.

The result is that a number of PSU graduates have been hired by Energy Trust and by private sector companies in the energy industry. "From the workforce development perspective," Bramin says, "it's been a huge resource for us."