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Did a Berkeley, California, Bureaucrat Revolutionize the World Energy System?

COPENHAGEN—People often don't make their homes energy-efficient, because the upfront investment requires a long time to pay off. Now, a Berkeley, California, maven has helped make greening homes much easier to do.

Daniel Kammen won rousing applause at a session on energy efficiency here after describing a financing scheme that the city of Berkeley set up last year. The system follows existing forms of infrastructure financing, including the way that towns pay for power lines, sewage systems, or new roads. The idea is that towns would float a bond, backed by the municipality, and homeowners would use the money to first make their homes energy-efficient and then install solar power panels on their roofs. As they'd save money on their energy, they would pay back the financing through a monthly note.

Kammen says the scheme has been picked up by Boulder, Colorado, and Babylon, New York. Officials from Lisbon and Stuttgart, Germany, and dozens of other cities are also looking into the idea, he says.

And the innovator? Francisco DeVries, the chief of staff of the city's mayor. DeVries proposed the idea to Kammen in a city office, after which Kammen helped him hone the concept. "I'm kicking myself," said Kammen. "I can't believe that in all my years as a policy expert in energy I didn't think this up myself—and this political chief of staff guy came up with it. It's a duh, that's obvious idea."