Kill-A-Watt: A Campaign to Increase Energy Efficiency on the Columbia University Campus

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Kill-A-Watt's Action Plan

Project Title/What’s the topic?

Kill-A-Watt: Increasing Energy Efficiency On Campus

Passion/Why does this matter?

The amount of electricity consumed by Columbia University is comparable to that of a medium sized town. Columbia provides heating, cooling, and electricity for six million square feet, the same as 3000 homes or 5400 apartments. Heating, cooling, and generating power for the thousands of devices and appliances on campus is quite a feat. Generating this energy, however, contributes to emissions that can be detrimental to our environment. When we burn fossil fuels carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Since the industrial revolution, the average annual concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased. Carbon dioxide is a ‘greenhouse gas’- that is, it forms a dense layer around the earth, which prevents heat from escaping. The rising temperature that results is leading to climate chaos, and we are already beginning to see the effects of this. Around 30 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere comes from the energy used in our homes, therefore reducing this factor will make a significant difference. By making Columbia University more energy efficient, we will reduce our contribution to the harmful emissions being released by energy generation.

Problem/What’s the scope of the problem?

Energy inefficiency is a problem that affects most of the world. Almost all structures, public and private, have some kind of energy sink hole. Clearly, one cannot even attempt to reform all of the wasteful energy practices around the world. We will focus on improving the situation at Columbia University, and hopefully our progress can serve as a model for other communities.

Point of View/What’s the focal point of the problem?

The focal point of the problem is the strain that our ever-increasing energy use puts on the environment. Increasing efficiency is one way of countering this by making more out of less energy. As students at Columbia University, we have a unique perspective and insight into the lives of the student body, as well as an interest in keeping Columbia’s costs low while improving lifestyles and the environment.

Perspective/What’s been done/what’s happening now?

Columbia has already made a great start. In 2001, Columbia University was able to reduce their energy expenditures by $2million. They achieved this by shifting the type of energy used at the University’s power plant- steam and electricity. Almost half of the University’s electrical consumption for air conditioning was shifted onto the steam driven boilers and chillers. The steam and cold water produced is piped through campus to heat and cool over 60 campus buildings. They were able to make additional energy savings by reinsulating more than 15 miles of pipes that carry steam and cool water to campus buildings.

The College has also installed energy saving devices such as timers and sensors into some public spaces as well as dorm rooms. The timers regulate the light switches in rooms, so that energy is not being wasted while the room is unoccupied. Barnard College has yet to install these types of energy saving devices – finding out why and how this can be remedied will be questions our project will answer.

Plan/What can I do?

Impressing the importance of energy efficiency on students is not an easy task. Kill-A-Watt has researched the ways in which student energy habits vary. We have done this by conducting a survey on energy habits and compiled and analyzed the data. The most striking results show the differences between on-campus and off-campus student energy habits. On-campus students have no financial disadvantage to being energy efficient, and no advantage to being conservative. Our research confirms that on-campus students are more prone to being wasteful in their energy habits than off-campus students (who pay for their own utilities).

We have also developed a proposal for an incentive-based housing system which would rely on students’ energy efficiency to determine housing selection times. This could be one way in which the college could provide an incentive for on-campus students to be more energy efficient, and in turn increase the energy savings of the college.

Students’ energy habits can have a profound impact on energy use. Kill-A-Watt has researched and found ways in which students can be more energy efficient. We have compiled ways in which students can be more energy efficient in their daily lives, decreasing the overall energy use on campus. We have disseminated this information through pamphlets, our Facebook group (which boasts over 120 members), as well as in the upcoming year through informational spots on energy efficiency which will run on CTV.

Product/What’s the outcome?

The main objective of the project is to promote more energy efficient living by the individual students on campus as well as encourage and where possible facilitate the purchase of energy efficient appliances and products for on-campus use.
By increasing Columbia’s energy efficiency the students and university can save money while reducing our impact on energy resources (and of course all of the implications draining our energy resources entails!):

It is possible to conserve and use energy more efficiently without placing a strain on the individual or impeding on their lifestyle. Energy efficiency is achievable with the same amount of time and money currently invested in less efficient options.

Finding ways to conserve and make our university more energy efficient will also be beneficial to our campus financially. Saving energy will save money and reduce the bills of all students on campus. By using Columbia’s campus as an example, energy efficiency could be improved at other campuses nationwide, as well. Implementing energy efficiency measures are a way to improve both the state of our environment and the state of our bank accounts.

People/Who’s the audience?

The audience is the student body, faculty, and administration of Columbia University. The students will benefit from buying energy efficient appliances for their dorm rooms, and the university will benefit from cost-saving efficiency in public spaces.

Purpose/What’s to be gained?

The individual, the university, and the environment as a whole will benefit from increased energy efficiency. Students and the university can benefit financially in the long run, and the environment will be spared even a little bit of harmful emissions.

Potential Savings
Payback time
Energy saving light bulbs
7 months
Lag water tank and pipes
1-2 years
Cavity wall insulation
3-5 years
Central heating controls
2-5 years
Floor insulation
$176 (DIY)
4-7 years

Possible partnerships/ who’s interested?

Columbia University administration and students will be interested if we can show how cost-effective being energy efficient is. Finding ways in which students can be more energy efficient is valuable to the college in terms of energy cost savings. Barnard alone is set to spend 1.6 USD million this year on electrical costs; any part of that huge expense that can be cut down on through students’ energy efficiency is valuable to the college.

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