April 5th, 2010

How Can We Improve the NESEA Building Energy Conference?


Two weeks ago, I wrote a fiery review of NESEA’s yearly building energy conference called Why I Hated the NESEA Building Energy Conference. It received some amazing feedback on both my blog, The Green Light Distrikt and on Renewable Energy World, and made it on The Energy Circle’s week in review. Before you comment on this post, you should see the great conversations we had.

The goal of the post was to get people’s attention so we could help to improve the event. I love NESEA and have been going to the event since I was 16 and think that the workshops for the building industry are second to none. However, I think we can do better at two things 1) Attracting and educating property owners that are actually buying these things and 2) Attracting students and young professionals to the event and 3) Marketing to the huge community of people already interested in the subject

Overall the comments were great. Without question, its a good sign that people came to the rescue of the conference that I was so clearly attacking. It shows that people truly, something we’ll need to improve it.  I was very happy to get comments from Jennifer Marrapese of NESEA, Pam Cargill of Alteris, Erica Brabon of Steven Winter Associates, Chris Kilfoyle of Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, Peter Troast of Energy Circle, on why I was wrong about innovation at the event, how the workshops were amazing, and their thoughts about ‘grey hairs’ at the event. I agree with all of you NESEA is awesome, but I think we can do even better. That is my challenge.

Here’s the test! Now, the goal is to take the energy and make it useful. I’m going to be publicly collecting everyone’s idea, then create a vote and present the top 10 ideas to NESEA’s interim director Jennifer Marrapese.

Here is what I propose.

I want to gather everyone input on how we can improve the conference. In the comments section of this post please leave your ideas.

Please leave them in this format

1) Type of Idea – Ex. New Media Marketing

2) Idea Description – Ex. Get a Twitter account

3) Logic of why the idea will help – Ex. A twitter account will make it easy, cheap, and effective for NESEA to connect with existing communities that are interested in green building and renewable energy.

I’m really looking forward to hearing your ideas!


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Chris Williams

About Chris Williams

Chris Williams is the editor of Green Light Distrikt and Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring . He has experience in business development, prototyping and new venture research with a focus on geothermal heat pumps, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies. Chris is an IGSHPA accredited geothermal installer and NABCEP certified solar installer. Chris is focused on solving customer facing issues in the creation and adoption of clean energy technologies and products. Chris has installed over 300kW of solar and tens of geothermal systems. He's invented the PV Pal , developed many trainings at HeatSpring, publishes the NABCEP Study Guide , the Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech and has done due diligence research for Urgent VC . Feel free to connect with him @topherwiliams , on Linkedin , or through email about new ventures, collaborating, writing, research or whatever is on your mind.

  • http://www.energycircle.com/ Tom Harrrison

    I was very impressed with NESEA’s BE10 conference this year. I was able to attend several really exceptional sessions on Tuesday. What was remarkable to me was the depth of the conversation — this was pros talking to pros, very little fluff. I found session leaders were advocates of their methods and views. The speaker at a session on using data recording devices to measure building performance was dismissive of modeling methods used by architects and engineers. The architects and engineers saw things differently. The person running the IR camera session would have us believe that this technology could see through walls … which in this case, it could :-) .

    Reports from others attending sessions suggested that there was robust debate between Passive House and more detailed methods for creating high-performance buildings. And almost universally I heard the term “weatherization” used as a pejorative.

    I am torn between healthy debate on which method or approach is “better” and concern that the group here is being distracted away from a far more important problem: the majority of buildings constructed are constrained by what their builders see as “reality” (read: cost) and are, at best, paying lip service to building performance. The attendees of the conference were certainly true believers — while refreshing indeed, it’s possibly the case (from my outsider’s view) that the conversations were somewhat inward focused.

    I think it’s important that all of us who are concerned about sustainability pop our heads out into the real world and find practical ways to get most of the benefits of high performing building design and construction in the hands of the owners, builders and designers who may be more focused on survival … because survival may indeed come from embracing some (if not all) of the techniques and approaches that NESEA attendees use … to an extreme.

    Rather than “all or nothing”, or “my way or the highway” it seems to me that we need to be embracing all practitioners of any methods of addressing building efficiency issues, even if the method is ineffective. Why? Because by bringing people into the fold, they can learn how to move a step up the ladder from those who understand why that’s important.

    Well, you asked :-)

    I was mostly booth-bound at EnergyCircle.com on Wednesday and Thursday, but was truly excited by the enthusiasm of those who stopped by to see the energy monitoring products we had on display, and on the new offering we’re selling to help building performance professionals expand their services. To be sure, we were preaching to the choir, but it was a big choir! (And yes, that was a shameless pitch for Energy Circle. Sorry.)

    A good and exciting event that has the possibility to be bigger and better, without undermining core principles.

    Tom Harrison

  • http://www.thegreenlightdistrikt.com Chris Williams


    Thank you so much for your amazing comment. It struck me that you seem to be in the building community and thus found the workshops really awesome . However, I talked to quite a few vendors on the floor and they had an issue with the number of leads they got

    I wonder if creating a day that had education sessions for home, and property owners would be useful. One, by educating this very important group of people.

    Two, by making it more valuable for renewable energy companies. They want to sell to property owners not other contractors.

    What do you think?


  • http://www.energycircle.com/ Tom Harrrison

    Chris —

    BE10 was definitely aimed at building performance pros, and of course the money’s in commercial, or big residential construction … so that’s who was there. Perhaps in prior years the show attracted everyone from all sectors; we’re in a recession now and only the folks with a vested interest can afford to spend the money. That’s life in the big city.

    We would be thrilled by a focus on home owners (that’s our product market, to be sure), and it would also confirm that there are real people who care. But these days are different, I think: leadership in sustainability, efficiency and building performance still comes from those who are trained and understand why and how to make a difference. I know a couple of folks in the business who didn’t come this year — it was not due to a lack of residential attendees. So my short answer is: NESEA is true to its roots as an organization oriented around pros focused on the “how” of sustainable building methods. Any lack of leads has to be attributed to the economy — if it continues to improve (or if energy prices continue to spike), the future of our sector is bright indeed.

    It’s actually a bit odd — in so many ways we’re completely primed for the kinds of businesses that NESEA has been promoting for ages … yet the recession might trump all of that.

    For us (energycircle.com), as a vendor we had tons of leads — building pros are interested in building efficiency products that we sell, a new monitoring product called eMonitor (certainly appropriate for new or retrofit residential construction), as well as in our EC PRO marketing program aimed at auditors, HERs, insulation and air sealing pros, and others in the field who know there’s a market for their services but want to focus on what they’re good at and trained for. So I can only speak for our business — it was a great success, and a great opportunity to meet and influence the movers and shaker in the industry. Thanks to NESEA, March was a huge month for us, and April’s already looking like a winner.

    But our continued success is completely bound to the success of pros who are making it in businesses around building performance. If others didn’t get lots of leads, it may simply have been a side effect of the recession. A few years ago, companies might have had the luxury of choosing their clients; today, new approaches to getting business and new strategies for marketing may be needed.

    Not that I am (once again) making a blatant self-promotion of Energy Circle’s services … but (as Jon Steward might say), I’m just sayin’, if you didn’t get the leads you expected from NESEA, there are companies out there who can help. Not naming names or nothin’. Just sayin’. :-)

    Tom “EC PRO” Harrison