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

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Yale Climate Initiative

The concept of energy efficiency on a college campus is overwhelming. The more I read and learn about it, the more I discover that it is a much larger issue than we had initially thought. The pitfalls and obstacles involved in creating a comprehensive energy efficient campus are innumerable. The considerations and measurements that need to be known before one even begins to start to think about planning for energy efficiency on a large scale are significant. This has been my struggle to stay motivated when it seems like such an uphill battle. I have to remind myself to think step by step, and not be discouraged when my research and work seem to come full circle with nothing tangible to show for it.

Partially to motivate myself, I’ve been intensively researching other college campuses across the U.S. that are notable for their energy-efficiency related progress to see what they did, where they started, who was responsible for the change. In this research I stumbled across the Yale Climate Initiative, a student-run and initiated project committed to reducing Yale’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and increasing Yale’s energy efficiency. The nine students involved in the initiative attend the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, which itself uses energy only from renewable sources. The Initiative has been researching energy use at Yale over the past few years. In 2004, they presented the University with a detailed greenhouse gas emissions inventory based on 2002 data – the most recent available at the time. I have been reading a Working Paper of theirs from October 2005 (so, fairly recently) that reports on the results of the Initiative. Reading this was very exciting and motivating to me, even if their group consists of nine graduate students who have devoted all of their time to researching this project. I am currently trying to find a contact e-mail address from someone in their group or at their school – I have e-mailed an administrator at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and asked if they could put me in contact with anyone from the YCI. What would be great about this if I successfully make contact with them is that I could easily hop on a train to New Haven and speak with someone from their group in person and see what they have been doing. Seeing what the YCI has accomplished could be great inspiration and provide us with more ideas for accomplishing our own goals.

Here is the YCI’s Working Paper I referred to:

as well as a Yale newspaper article about their project:

I was also poking around on the The Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website (, and found: Energy Solutions for University Buildings. Here are some statistics about University energy use that I found on the site:

University Buildings
32% Space Heating
24% Water Heating
22% Lighting
05% Space Cooling
17% Other

Energy Usage Data
End Use
Consumption (TBtu)
Space Heating
Space Cooling
Water Heating
Office Equipment

Life and Numbers

Lots of people, myself included, tend to think only of things that pertain to them. It is much harder to put things in perspective, and imagine the picture in general. Kill-A-Watt project will include the facts provided below to give the readers an understanding of how their own consumption play a role in the welfare of the world.

Unplug your gadgets:
-Appliances and portable tools draw energy even when they are not "on".
Although it might seem like they do not require much energy (how much
could an electric toothbrush, a laptop and a lamp consume?). However,
together they might use more power than a refrigerator. If the equipment
is connected to a remote control, it is drawing power 24/7. Turning
those items off will save a lot of energy.
- If every American home (and college campus) would have the most
energy-efficient refrigerators, 10 large power plants could be
eliminated. When you are buying something, check the efficiency ratings
for it. Look fot the Energy Star (TM) label for the most efficient

-turning down the thermostat even by 2 degrees prevents the release of 500
pounds of carbon dioxide.
-Fuelwood provides nearly one-third of the energy needs of developing
-The U.S consumes more energy per person than any country in the world;
with only 6% of the world's population, it uses almost 30% of the world's
-Since 1950, the Earth's population hasd doubled, and the amount of fossil
fule burned for energy has quadrupled.
-The U.S. uses fossil fules for 85% of it's energy. At the rate they are
being burned, coal reservees are estimated to last 130 to 200 years;
natural gas, 60 to 120 years; and oil, 30 to 50 years.
-New York State uses nuclear power for nearly 40% of itsa electricity.One
nuclear plant can generate over 30 tons of highly radioactive waste
-Renewable sources of energy only provide 2% of the total energy nowadays.
-Each week, the average American consumes the equivalent of 300 shopping
bags filled with natural resources.

Compiled based on the information provided by American Museum of Natural History,

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Turn your computer off! Well, after you read this.

Computers are an integral part of our lives at college. Because of this, and the fact that you're staring at your monitor while reading the blog, they seem to be a logical place to start conserving energy.

The average desktop, which is made up of the "box", a monitor, and a printer, uses about 100 watts of electrical power. 15-17 inch monitors add 50-150 watts. Laser printers use as much as 100 watts when printing. Ink jet printers are much more efficient, using as little as 12 watts when printing and 5 watts while idle.

The user's habits play a large part in the energy costs of an individual computer. If a 200 watt computer is used all day and night everyday, the annual electrical cost would be over $125. In contrast, if you operate the same system for 40 hours per week, the annual energy cost would be about $30.

If your screen saver appears on your monitor for more than 5 minutes, you are wasting energy. Screen savers may save the phosphors in older monitors; however they serve no purpose in newer ones. Further, they do not save any energy.

The best way to conserve while your computer is turned on is to enable energy saving features. Here's how:

Windows 95 and above
1. Click on Start
2. Go to Settings
3. Click on the Control Panel

For the Monitor
4. Open Display
5. Click on Screen Saver tab
6. Check "Low Power Standby" and "Shut off Monitor" boxes
7. Select time for enabling sleep (10 minutes or less is suggested)

For Hard Drive
4. Open Power
5. Check "allow Windows to manage power" box
6. Click on Disk Drive tab
7. Select time for enabling sleep (10 minutes or less)


1. Click on Apple Icon in top left screen
2. Select Control Panel
3. Click on Energy Saver
4. Open Sleep set up
5. Select time for system sleep (10 minutes or less)
6. Select time for display sleep (10 minutes or less)
7. Select time for hard disk sleep
8. Open Schedule
9. Select time for start up computer
10. Select time for shut down computer

While power saving options are good, the most efficient way to operate a computer is to turn it off when it is not in use. When you are asleep or not in your room, your computer should be off. Is it really essential to be signed on to instant messenger 24 hours a day? If we all make small changes in our computing habits, the small amounts of energy saved daily will add up.

For more information:
Conservation Tips

Monday, March 20, 2006

Energy Use Survey

Please take the energy use survey below, and let me know if you have any suggestions or comments, i.e. other questions that should be asked or issues that need to be addressed. Thanks!

Please click on the following link to take the STUDENT ENERGY USE SURVEY. It's short, anonymous, and will be very helpful to us!
Student Energy Use Survey

Energy Use Survey

The results of the survey below will be used in a student research project on campus energy use. It’s completely confidential, anonymous, etc (in case you were hesitant about disclosing your energy use habits), and it shouldn’t take too long to do. Thanks for taking a moment to fill it out!


What school are you in?

If you live on campus, which building do you live in?

Describe your housing situation.
What year are you?

Are you…

Would you describe yourself as “energy conscious”?


2) How many light bulbs do you have in your room?

3) When are your lights on?
only when you are in your room
all the time

4) How many hours a day are your lights on…(on average)?

5) Do you have a computer in your room?

6) Do you have more than one monitor for your computer?

7) Do you leave your computer on all the time (vs. turning it off at night)?

8) If you don’t leave it on all the time, when do you turn it off?
At night,
when you’re in class,
whenever you aren’t using it

9) How many power strips do you have in your room?

10) Do you have a fridge in your room?

11) Do you have a TV in your room?

12) How many other “little” things do you have in your room that use electricity? (i.e. alarm clock, iPod charger, hair dryer) – don’t kill yourself trying to remember everything.

13) Have you ever had to call facilities because a fuse blew as a result of your energy use? (For the record, this has happened to my roommate and I a few times)

14) If you live in a suite:

Does anyone turn off the light in the kitchen/hallway/bathroom/living room at night? Never,

How is the temperature in your living situation?
Too warm,
too cold,
just right,

15) Scenario: You're rushing out of your dorm room, already 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 - you’ll turn them off next time.c) pang of guilt? what are you talking about?

16) Anything else? Suggestions/comments on your energy use or anyone else’s on campus?

Monday, March 06, 2006 Procrastination with a Purpose

Shavanna, Kseniya, and I have been working diligently researching ways that the residents of Barnard and Columbia can help the university become more efficient. Our first thought was to use posters and brochures to promote our project. However, we soon realized that this approach had many disadvantages. Students are bombaded with flyers, handouts, and mail that are not of interest to most of them. Any useful literature that we produce could get tossed in the recycling bin without a second glance.

We decided to use this blog, specifically my postings, to convey information to the student body. We avoid wasting paper by using the blog, which saves energy. The blog is also much less static than any paper literature we could produce. We can update as often as needed. The internet provides us with a much larger audience than any other medium as well.

But we still need a way to publize our work. Obviously, we cannot wait for people to randomly stumble upon the site. We need a way to point people in the direction of the blog. If only there was a website that almost every student at Columbia willingly visits on a regular basis. Some sort of social network where you could communicate with others at your school. Did someone say The website on which we all waste hours instead of studying for that chemistry midterm is usefull for something other than stalking after all!

We have created a Kill-A-Watt group on that contains a brief mission statement and a link to the blog. We hope that as students browse Facebook, they will find our group and click on the link. When people join the group, it is displayed on their profile, and our project will get more publicity. It's procrastination with a purpose!

Thanks for reading! If you haven't joined the group already, please do! We promise that we will post weekly updates, including ways you can help conserve energy and other interesting news.


This page has been created and published by a Columbia University student, faculty or staff member as part of course or other requirements. The ideas and information expressed in this publication have not been approved or authorized by Columbia University, and the University shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever resulting from any action arising in connection with its publication. Columbia University is not responsible for the contents of any off-site information referenced herein.