Ten teams and 41 students stripped off their electricity use this semester in Middlebury's first Power Strip challenge. This competition differed from most campus efforts to raise awareness about electricity conservation because it focused on individual electricity consumption instead of aggregate consumption per building, allowing participants to see exactly how their actions impact their use of electricity. Members of each team tracked electricity using a Kill-a-Watt meter, which they plugged electronic devices into, and then compiled results to compete with other teams to see who could "take off" the most.
Stanis Moody-Roberts '11, of Team Green, said he was surprised to learn how much electricity he could reduce, "but it took a lot of effort! I stopped using my lamp, turned off my computer when it wasn't in use, changed the settings so it went to sleep after three minutes of non-use, and turned off my speakers. I also didn't use my electronic massage chair all week! This was a big energy saver."
Team Green had the greatest percentage reduction, at 88.83 percent, closely followed by Mei 4th Five and Battell 1 Center. Heavy Weapons had the greatest reduction in kilowatt-hours with 17.29 kWh, again followed closely by Mei 4th Five. Team Green and Heavy Weapons were the Grand Prize winners, receiving $100 for their team and $25 Kiva gift cards (used to make micro-loans to people in developing countries). Due to the tight race for the top slots in each category, awards were also given to Mei 4th Five and Battell 1 Center.
Together, all 10 teams conserved 108 kWh of electricity, which was an average reduction of 56 percent. If all students at Middlebury reduced their use of this much electricity for an entire year, it could save nearly $45,000 and over 34,000 lbs. of CO2. While this is less than 1 percent of Middlebury's carbon footprint, due in part to the low carbon sources of Middlebury's electricity (hydro and nuclear) and to the small amount of campus-electricity use individuals directly control, it is still a very important way for students to see the impact their of actions and to participate in sustainability efforts on campus.
"Even though I consider myself to be "environmental," it made a great difference to have my consumption tangibly visible," said Yuki Yoshida '10, who organized team Forza Italia. "As the leader, I tried to involve friends who usually aren't as involved or interested in the environment." While her team did not reduce as much as other teams, they did use the least amount overall, using a total of 10.93 kWh over the two-week period, while the average was 30 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Most students had computers, cell-phone chargers, lamps, and alarm clocks plugged into their Kill-a-Watt meter, and a few plugged in mini-fridges, TVs, and speakers. Students reduced their electricity by turning off devices when not in use, studying in common areas, and adjusting the temperature or unplugging mini-fridges. One student was surprised to discover that he could reduce his electricity use by almost 60 percent simply by turning off his computer between classes and at night. Other teams made large reductions by unplugging their mini-fridges either for the whole week or only during days when it was empty.
According to Katie Scott who organized this competition through the Sustainability Integration Office, the purpose of this competition is to give people instant feedback on how much electricity they are using so they can see the reason to engage in conservation practices. "Ultimately, we hope that participants continue these conservation practices, even if it's not to such an extreme level as during the competition" said Scott.
Since Power Strip, Moody-Roberts has done just that. "I realized that the power cord that I own has a button that turns it on and off. Having seen the energy wasted through the "phantom load" during the challenge, I make sure now to turn the entire cord off when not in use." He also continues to use the energy-saving settings on his computer and uses his desk lamp rather than the overhead lights.
For information on upcoming Power Strip challenges contact the Sustainability Integration Office at 802.443.2536 or email@example.com.