Counting the meters

Competition for energy conservation

Srivatsan Uchani, Staff Reporter

One of the most commendable features of Case Western Reserve University is its forward-thinking dedication to being environmentally sustainable. A host of initiatives and organizations on campus have worked for years to reduce CWRU’s environmental footprint.

One of the most recent initiatives in this direction has been the Campus Energy Challenge, a competition run by the Office of Sustainability and sponsored by the Residence Hall Association (RHA). Many students will by now have seen the various “zombie” signs posted throughout campus advertising the competition, which began on Oct. 31 and will end on Nov. 14.

The main goal of the challenge, which is modeled after a similar nation-wide program called the Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN), is to spark efforts to reduce energy consumption among the residence halls at CWRU.

“Students, especially those living on campus, are often unaware of the energy we use on a daily basis,” said Andrew Dupuis, president of RHA. Therefore this energy conservation contest is intended to bring awareness of power usage and promote positive habits relating to lights and “ghost” power, according to Dupuis.

“Considering our campus is majority residential—that is, more than 3,200 residents—even a small change like consistently turning off unused lights makes an incredible impact on our energy utilization,” Dupuis said.

Erin Kollar, assistant director of Sustainability, agrees with this sentiment. “All of the residence halls are involved in the competition,” she said. “The goal [of the challenge] is to encourage students to reduce their own piece of our campus energy load. This is the first year that we’ve done our own internal competition on campus, although the style is modeled after the CCN contest.”

The Campus Energy Challenge divides the CWRU residence halls into three groups: the South Residential Village, including both the top of the hill and bottom of the hill halls and the Greek residences; The Village at 115, partnered with the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Residence Hall; and the northwest side of the North Residential Village, where the first-year residential colleges are located.

Significant though the challenge may be, the means of determining the winner is somewhat less glamorous.

“Energy consumption is being measured by total metered utilization in the three parts of campus,” said Dupuis.

As Dupuis explained it, total metered utilization is basically the total amount of kilowatt-hours used in each area before the competition began. Over the course of the competition, the percent reduction in energy use is measured. Measuring the utilization both before and after removes the uncontrolled bias from different heating/cooling systems that are beyond the student’s ability to control.

The data available to the Office of Sustainability so far indicates that the Village has a clear lead at the moment, although the other halls are not too far behind.

According to Kollar, the Village and Stephanie Tubbs Jones residence halls are currently in the lead with a combined 6.42 percent reduction in usage. The Northside first year residence halls have reduced their usage by 3.81 percent and the Southside residence halls have reduced their usage by 3.17 percent.

This particular competition is intended only for residence halls. But that doesn’t mean that students can’t participate in the overall spirit of the initiative.

“Students can affect how their residence hall groups are doing by reducing their own energy  usage,” said Kollar. “Take the stairs, unplug chargers and other electronic devices when not in use, close your windows, use natural light when available and turn off lights when you leave a room.”

The RHA also encourages student participation in the program.  

“While this competition is looking purely at percent energy reduction in the residence halls, we always encourage other students to participate in reducing their energy usage and improving their environmental awareness,” said Dupuis.

Dupuis explained that one of the best ways to do this is through the Green Your Room Certification test. Students can use this website to check their habits for sustainable practices, learn about ways to be sustainable while living on or off campus, and even get a certificate showing their commitment to sustainable living.

For residence halls, though, there is an additional incentive to win the Challenge. The prize for the winning residence hall will be an unplugged campfire party held on Friday, Nov. 18.

This last part is merely the icing on the cake of a very worthwhile endeavor, in the view of third-year student Maggie McClarren, one of the sustainability ambassadors for the Office of Sustainability.   

“After this contest ends, our energy consumption will of course continue,” she said. “At the Office for Sustainability, we have the opportunity to raise awareness of energy-saving techniques…. Not only does this contest encourage students to reduce their energy usage in order to win a majorly awesome prize, but I hope these temporary behavioral modifications can transform into conservation habits.”