WC Dashes toward a Greener Future

By Catalina Righter

News Editor

Washington College has taken an important step in reducing its energy use with the installation of an Energy Dashboard that monitors the kilowatts, pounds of carbon dioxide, and money spent to power 16 major campus buildings in real time. Anyone can access this dashboard through a link on the school’s website. “By providing a visual record for accountability it will help the College implement real policies to reduce its energy use,” according to the WC website.

WC is the first college in Maryland to make use of the dashboard designed by the Lucid Design Group. In addition, the WC dashboard is unique because it measures the monetary cost of energy use by using the College’s actual utility rate of 8.50 cents per hour. Many schools use the general utility rate for their state, which may lead to less accurate and useful data.

Energy Programs Manager of the Center for Environment and Society (CES) Briggs Cunningham is in charge of managing the system. This is not the College’s first effort to track energy usage, which they have been doing since 2007 with help from Cunningham. The previous years of data provide “an accurate baseline,” he said, which future energy changes can be compared to.

If the school plans to grow in numbers, energy use will naturally increase. “More students mean more staff and more residence halls, means more electronic devices,” said Cunningham. “The want to use electronic devices isn’t going to go away. Conservation is the easiest way [to reduce the carbon footprint.]”

A major part of conservation in the next few years will be improving the efficiency of campus buildings during planned renovations. Improvements will hopefully be seen in areas like insulation, HVAC systems, and light fixtures. In addition, the heating in many buildings will be switched from oil to the more efficient electronic.

Cunningham’s push for conservation has a promising precedent in Chestertown.  CES branched out from the College to reduce energy use in the Chestertown municipal government through the ShorePower Program, which was established after former Mayor Margo Bailey signed on to the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2007. The ShorePower Program was started by CES “to help Eastern Shore municipalities significantly reduce their energy expenditures at no cost to the towns,” according to their website.

Under ShorePower, Chestertown municipal staff were able to reduce energy use by 10 to 15 percent, equating to about 150,000 dollars. According to Cunningham, part of the money saved went toward municipal staff raises because they were the one’s taking active conservation measures like turning down heat and turning off lights. “We could easily do it here,” Cunningham said, referring to the College.

Cunningham accesses the online energy dashboard from one of the Miller Library computers.
Cunningham accesses the online energy dashboard from one of the Miller Library computers.

In the coming months, the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) will be involved in the promotion of the dashboard and energy use reduction in general. The biggest event will be an energy party taking place March 28 in the Goose Nest to coincide with Energy Hour. Energy Hour is a nationwide event where people are encouraged to turn off all electronic lights and devices for one hour to promote mindfulness of energy use. At the energy party, the SEA will serve energy drinks and hand out glow sticks. On the week surrounding Earth Day, they will host a table in Hodson to introduce students to the dashboard. For more information about SEA activities, see their Facebook  page or their energy saving videos on the WC homepage.

At one time, a contest with prizes for the residence halls able to reduce their energy usage the most was considered. However, the College decided that would be unfair since all residence halls have not been integrated into the dashboard.

To be measured by the dashboard, a building must be installed with an electronic monitor. The monitors and the dashboard were funded through a grant. The money from the grant was enough to outfit 16 buildings with the monitors. At this time there is no plan to outfit every building on campus, which would require about 45 monitors.

This spring Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Amanda Sommerfeld will be teaching a class in which the data from the Energy Dashboard will be directly used to measure changes in behavior. The class, PSY 403  Behavior Modification, will include an experiment where students attempt to modify the behavior of the WC community toward using less energy.

“One of the difficulties with studying group behavior is that it is often difficult to gather data about how the intervention has affected behavior, but the Dashboard takes care of that for us and allows us to target a group behavior that is particularly important on our campus- energy usage,” said Dr. Sommerfeld. The findings of these interventions could then be used to inform future campus interventions.

To view the interface, go to http://buildingdashboard.net/washcoll/#/washcoll

One thought on “WC Dashes toward a Greener Future

  1. Kudos to Ms. Righter for stitching together a good piece about a number of complex issues. One correction is in order: the big energy event in March will coincide with the annual international “Earth Hour” when citizens from around the world turn off lights and computers and appliances to promote energy awareness. Won’t you join us?

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