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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

students = sloths?

I think I am probably an average college student in terms of energy use. Even though I am aware of wasting energy, and am indeed working on this project to increase energy efficiency and reduce our energy use on campus, I don't think that my own energy habits are particularly efficient. Sure, I'll turn off the lights in my suite's kitchen/bathroom/hallway at night if I remember to do so, but if I go to sleep before 2am I can usually justify my own lethargy by telling myself that surely someone else is still awake and will turn off the lights when THEY go to bed. I'm not proud of it, but my personal energy habits aren't exactly worthy of imitation - though they are exemplary in the sense that I think they represent those of a typical good-intentioned, yet perpetually exhausted and therefore slothful college student.

Anyway, the point of that is that I would like to see if my hypothesis about college student energy use is correct - am I in fact average? Do my energy habits pretty much align with those of my fellow students? Finding out what is going on is an important, no, ESSENTIAL part of our energy project. I am currently typing up an energy questionnaire, with multiple choice questions such as:

Scenario 2: You're rushing out of your dorm room, already going to be a few minutes late to class. As you lock your door, you feel a pang of guilt - you've left every light and the tv on in your room. Do you:
a) rush back inside, frantically turning off the lights and tv.
b) suppress the pang of guilt, telling yourself you'll be back soon and will definitely remember to turn the lights off next time you go to class.
c) pang of guilt? what are you talking about?

The questionnaire will hopefully give us a sense of the energy habits of students at Barnard (and maybe some CC students? to have something to compare us with?) - especially how long they are gone during the day at class on average, whether or not they turn off their lights, etc. I'm very excited about the findings, even though I suspect I can already predict them based on my own energy habits.

The question now is how to get a good sampling? Again, I am your typical vaguely-apathetic self-centered college student, so I know that many people when approached with a non-mandatory questionnaire will wave it away ("sorry, I have so much work to do"). Will the people who take the time to respond to an energy-use questionnaire also be the ones who have more conscientious energy habits? I don't know, maybe I am reading too much into energy habits - maybe they aren't a reflection of someone's general attitude (i.e. lazy across the board or just selectively lazy? is it even fair to call it lazy at all?). I'm just afraid that the people who don't take the time to answer a random person's questionnaire (especially if they themselves are uninterested in the topic of energy efficiency) are also the people who don't take the time to turn off their lights when they leave the room....meaning that the responses to the questionnaire will paint a much brighter 'energy habits picture' of our college than the 'grim reality'. Does that make sense?

Anyway, any suggestions about where to distribute + collect the questionnaires to maximize the number and diversity of responses would be very helpful. Maybe handing out the questionnaires + those mini golf pencils during lunch in Hewitt/Mac and then collecting them again right then?

...I'm very excited about the glorious pie charts and graphs that I'll be able to make once I get some student body energy use statistics.


Environmental Action: Getting Started

Shavanna, Jen and I are doing research of the market and possible ebergy saving techniques independently from each other. In our opinion, the more information will be collected the better overall picture we will have. If we have a clearer idea as to the science behind the energy efficiency, we will be able to make better choices on the economic implementations of our campaign.

I came across some energy efficient appliances. The prices are exorbitant; however, it is possible to bring them down if we make a deal with the company to buy in bulk or establish a rental service (more revenue for them, less energy used for us).

We might aolso consider using gable fans in the beginning of the fall term and in the end of spring, especially in the Quad. From my experience as a first-year, I remember it being increadibly hot, and my roommate and I having out fans on almost 24 hours a day. We could cut energy usage for those by installing gable vents that do not require any electrical input.

There are many computers on campus. Computers in the computer labs are never turned off, libraries and student recreational centers (like McIntosh or Lerner) are never turned off. If we can not make the administration turn them off completely, we could ask them to reduce the number of computers working 24 hours a day or at the very least make them shut off the monitors during the night.

Although some energy devices seem more energy efficient (halogen lamps, for example), they might not be acceptable for a different reason (halogen lamps are fire hazards, and are prohibited in Barnard residence halls). We will try to work with Barnard facilities to establish environmentelly-friendly, energy-efficient and, hopefully, low-cost solutions. We are also trying to get in touch with companies who have already done work in this area (for example, Energy and Environment, Inc ( do environmental consulting. They have worked with various colleges all over the nation, and saved them millions of dollars. However, they might be reluctant to supply the information to us without any monetary return, but we are trying to at least obtain some information.)


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