As we develop systems in our buildings that are more energy efficient, they become more complex, but we haven’t given enough thought to the technicians who run these buildings. I hope to empower these technicians—who are often in the best position to observe inefficiencies and propose solutions—to take more ownership over energy efficiency.
High schoolLexington High School, Lexington, MA, class of 2007
Graduate EducationM.S. in Technology and Policy, Focus in Energy Efficiency, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2017
In true Thoreau spirit, Danielle Dahan is willing to take risks for the things she cares about and dig deeply into underappreciated questions. These qualities have helped open doors for her on numerous occasions, and have allowed her to have a positive impact upon the energy efficiency of the built environment.
As an undergraduate at Brown University, Danielle appreciated the Engineering school’s integration with the rest of the Brown community, which culturally was very focused on environmental sustainability. Hoping to fuse her interest in engineering with her love for the environment, Danielle petitioned to switch from her declared major in Mechanical Engineering to a self-designed major in Sustainable Energy. Professors’ reactions were mixed, and the petition came with a degree of professional risk, as graduating with a self-designed major meant that Danielle would forego the possibility of a professional engineering licensure.
Nonetheless, she forged ahead. If anything, the decision helped her stand out, particularly when it came to applying for jobs. “My manager at the Volpe Center [at the U.S. Department of Transportation] cited my self-designed major as a motivating factor in hiring me,” she says. The value of Danielle’s decision was further validated at Brown, which, not long after she graduated, created a formal degree in Environmental Engineering, with tracks for civil engineering and environmental sustainability.
Danielle moved on from the Volpe Center to an engineering position with GreenerU, a company that helps university campuses become more environmentally sustainable. She managed energy modeling and analysis of campus buildings and identified energy efficiency opportunities for building retrofits. "I soon realized that the industry is missing significant opportunities to save energy in buildings – particularly through operation and maintenance improvements” Danielle explains. “Dissatisfaction with this shortcoming led me to want to understand the points of failure.”
After contemplating which links in the chain of building operations could stand closer scrutiny, Danielle began to focus on the role of building technicians. She wrote a proposal that outlined methods to improve building energy savings through building operator training in energy efficiency. Her paper won the Grand Prize out of nearly 600 proposals in MIT’s 2014 Climate CoLab contest.
“The typical role of technicians is to put out fires and address complaints,” observes Danielle. “Caring about energy efficiency is not in their job descriptions. But I’ve encountered technicians who are really interested in this field. They haven’t been encouraged to raise their observations—and proposed solutions—to their managers.”
Danielle Dahan studies building energy efficiency in a mechanical control room.
Danielle receives the Grand Prize at the 2014 MIT Climate CoLab contest.