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

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More on incentives...

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that incentive-based encouragement is the only way to get many students to be more energy efficient. I started the semester with a blog about 'students=sloths', and my views on that really have not changed much. In that way, I feel that the housing incentive Kill-A-Watt devised remains true to my personal gut instincts, as well. You can call it a pessimistic view, but I prefer to see it as realistic. This does not mean that I harbor ill will against my fellow un-energy efficient students (I myself am surely one of them in many respects), or that people who aren't energy efficient are "bad people," it simply means that some people need a personal advantage or reward for changing their habits in ways which may at first seem like impediments to your average lifestyle.

By no means am I saying that Kill-A-Watt's housing incentive is the 'be all and end all' (is that the correct phrase?) of energy efficiency incentives. It is simply an example of an incentive, because the college as well as the much broader scope beyond our campus needs to find creative ways to promote and encourage energy efficiency. Relying on good intentions or the ethical pressures of 'saving the earth' one kilawatt at a time is not enough to effect large scale change.

Incentive-Based Energy Efficiency

The Problem

In one word, the problem is apathy. Of course, there are some students that are highly self-motivated and conscious of their actions and of the environment, and are energy efficient because of this. Most students, however, are not so inherently ‘energy conscious.’ Currently, there is no reason why a student needs to conserve energy in their dorm room– it makes no difference in the life of a student how much energy they use. Whether they are incredibly wasteful or incredibly conservative in their energy use, at the end of the day the student has no responsibility to pay for the electricity they consume. There is no financial disadvantage to using a lot of energy, and no advantage to being conservative.
The importance of Incentive

In order to achieve results on a large scale, there must be an incentive for students to be more energy efficient when they normally would not be. Simply telling them that being energy efficient is “better” is not enough – there must be an incentive to motivate those students who are not inherently energy conscious.

The incentive must be something that most students care about, something important enough to get them to start thinking about their energy use. The incentive must be valued campus-wide. Financial incentive, for example, would not be a reasonable solution as it would provide motivation only to selective parts of the student body, not necessarily the student body as a whole.

Barnard’s Unique Incentive

Q: What can Barnard offer students that every student wants but costs the college nothing?

What do all students want that Barnard can provide them with at little to no cost in return for being energy efficient?

A: Better Barnard Housing Selection numbers!

Every spring, Barnard students go through the stress and hassle of getting Housing for the next year. Friendships are broken, hours are spent planning and strategizing over housing arrangements. The housing lottery system leaves very little agency to the individual student, and can be a very stressful procedure. Housing is very important to the students because there is such a discrepancy between the possible living situations at Barnard.
Housing could be a very motivating incentive for students. It is the ultimate motivation tool for Barnard, as well, because it is so important to students yet the procedure for assigning housing could be changed at no cost to the school. If being more energy efficient corresponded to getting better housing, students would be far more conscious of their energy use.

How would it work?

The concept of the incentive based housing system is fairly simple. Every Barnard student would receive an “energy number” which corresponds to their energy use over an academic year. Instead of being a totally random housing lottery, housing would be assigned based on energy numbers. The less energy a student uses, the smaller her energy number becomes, which means that she goes higher up on the list and chooses housing earlier. A very energy inefficient student receives a larger energy number and goes further down on the housing list, choosing a room after more energy efficient students.

Technical Implementation

In order for the energy efficiency incentive system to work, there needs to be a way to accurately monitor and record the energy use of individual students. There seem to be many options for this. Although this exact type of monitoring system is not currently on the market, monitoring systems could be set up using components from various companies that do manufacture energy monitoring chips and the like. It seems that the easiest and cheapest way to achieve this would be to attach these monitoring chips into the wall sockets (and if more than one socket is connected to the same wiring in the same room, then you would only need one), which would send “packets” of information via the electrical lines to a central computer in each building. From there, the information could be easily disseminated and used in any way via the internet. I have been told that this would be possible for under $10 a socket, without any wholesale discount. If Barnard were to buy these on a large scale, they would be much less expensive.
This type of product has never been manufactured before. However, the technology is available and in existence. The components would need to be assembled in a way that has not been done before, but it would be technically possible with today’s technology to monitor the energy use of students.

Student Survey Results

Although 100 responses were sent in, 9 of them were disqualified because the survey had not been altered at all in them – the only explanation for this is that the “send survey” button was pushed without any information having been changed/given. The 9 surveys can be discounted.

The 91 surveys that were correctly filled out, though obviously from a small and not wholly representative group of students, are still an interesting slice of student energy habits on campus.

Here is some of the information and findings from the survey:

Who Responded?

This is an overview of who responded to the survey:

The respondents were mostly CC students, followed closely by BC students

Table 1: Total Respondents by School
CC: 41
BC: 30
SEAS: 12
GS: 8

The Class of 2009 was most represented in the group of respondents, which can presumably be attributed to the Facebook membership and level of activeness on Facebook. The Facebook is most popular with Freshmen students, so it makes sense that the respondents would hail mostly from this group.

Table 2: Total Respondents by Graduation Year
Class of 2009: 35
Class of 2008: 16
Class of 2007: 17
Class of 2006: 23

The respondents were predominantly female.

Table 3: Total Respondents by Gender
Female: 57
Male: 34

Would You Describe Yourself as Energy Conscious?

We asked this question to determine how students view themselves and their relationship to the designation of being energy conscious. It was most interesting to see which behaviors were different between students who described themselves as energy conscious and those who did not, as well as which behaviors were the same.

Overwhelmingly, the respondents described themselves as energy conscious. There was no significant difference between males and females in terms of the ratio of those describing themselves as energy conscious vs. not.

Table 4: “Would you describe yourself as energy conscious?”
Yes: 66
No: 25

When comparing BC to CC respondents, BC students were more likely to describe themselves as energy conscious.

Table 5: “Would you describe yourself as energy conscious?” BC-Respondents
Yes: 80%
No: 20%

Table 6: “Would you describe yourself as energy conscious?” CC-Respondents
Yes: 60%
No: 40%

There was almost no difference in terms of ownership of TVs, fridges, and computers in their dorm rooms when comparing self-described ‘energy conscious’ students vs. not.

Table 7: Computer, Fridge, and TV Possession in Respondents’ Rooms

90 students had computers in their rooms. 1 student did not.
64 students had a fridge in their room. 27 did not.
35 students had a TV in their room. 56 did not.

However, there was a fairly significant difference in energy use between self-described ‘energy conscious’ students and those who did not describe themselves as such. Apparently, the self-identification was fairly accurate in this sense in terms of how conscious they are of wastefulness.

When asked “Do you leave your computer on all the time” these were the responses:

Table 8: “Non-Energy Conscious” Respondents
Yes: 64%
No: 36%

Table 9: “Energy- Conscious” Respondents
Yes: 50%
No: 50%

The question “If you live in a suite, does anyone turn off the light in the kitchen/hallway/bathroom/living room at night?” resulted in similar patterns:

Table 10: “Non-Energy Conscious” Respondents
Never: 52%
Usually: 16%
Occasionally: 28%
Always: 4%

Table 11: “Energy- Conscious” Respondents
Never: 48%
Usually: 28%
Occasionally: 12%
Always: 18%

Though the ‘energy conscious’ respondents seemed to be more aware of turning off the lights in their suites at night, there was still a significant number of students who did not – 40% of self-described ‘energy conscious’ students lived in suites where the lights in the kitchen, hallway, bathroom, and/or living room are never turned off at night. That is a significant amount of energy going to lighting unoccupied rooms while everyone is asleep!

On-Campus Housing vs. Off-Campus Housing

Next, we analyzed the data based on respondents living in off-campus vs. on-campus housing. We wanted to see if there was a difference in the energy habits and patterns of students paying for their own electricity. On-campus students do not pay for their own utilities, and thus do not have a direct financial connection to or responsibility for their own energy use. Off-campus students, on the other hand, obviously have to pay for their own energy use and literally pay the price for being wasteful with energy.

Table 12: “Would you describe yourself as energy conscious?” Off-Campus Respondents
Yes: 87%
No: 12%

Table 13: “Would you describe yourself as energy conscious?” On-Campus Respondents
Yes: 72%
No: 28%

One of the most significant differences between off-campus and on-campus students was whether or not they turned off their computer at night. As Jen will explain in her section, leaving your computer on at night is incredibly wasteful. What a difference between the two groups!

Table 14: “Do you leave your computer on at night?” Off-Campus Respondents
Yes: 25%
No: 75%

Table 15: “Do you leave your computer on at night?” On-Campus Respondents
Yes: 56%
No: 43%

Another huge indicator of energy use differences between off-campus and on-campus students was in lighting. In response to the question “When are your lights on?” , 100% of off-campus respondents replied with “only when in room.” By contrast, 12% of on-campus respondents said they left their lights on “all the time.” Imagine the wasted energy of lights that are permanently on - even when their owners are out of the room, in class, gone for the day, etc!

Table 16: “When are your lights on?” Off-Campus Respondents
Only in room: 100%

Table 17: “When are your lights on?” On-Campus Respondents
Only in room: 87%
All the time: 12%


Clearly, when students are paying for their energy and when they are environmentally aware enough to designate themselves as “energy conscious,” far less energy is used. If the students who are not energy conscious could be persuaded to change their energy habits, the energy savings could be enormous.

Kill-A-Watt's Mission Statement

Mission Statement

The purpose of Kill-A-Watt is to research the current energy use and student habits on campus as well as find a way to decrease this energy use. Barnard is set to spend 1.9 USD million on electrical costs for the year of 2005-2006 alone. If students were more energy conscious, the possible energy savings would be substantial. In addition to being financially beneficial to the college, energy efficiency and consciousness on campus contributes to the larger picture of being environmentally aware, as well. Columbia’s energy use is comparable to that of a small city – this is no small contribution year in and year out to the depletion of our natural resources and contribution to negative energy related effects such as global warming.

Often times students are unaware of the ways in which they use and waste energy. Kill-A-Watt has set out to see which areas of student energy habits provide room for improvement through a survey of students, as well as compile suggestions for students of ways in which they can increase their energy efficiency.

Kill-A-Watt understands the need for incentive in promoting energy efficiency. Our final paper includes an idea for one way in which the college could provide incentive for students to be more energy efficient. The proposal is an incentive-based housing system which would rely on students' energy efficiency to determine housing selection times. Given enough incentive, even the most apathetic, ‘anti-energy-conscious’ student could be driven to energy efficiency.

We have also researched an extensive list of ways in which students can decrease their energy use. This list of suggestions is especially helpful for students who would like to be more energy efficient, but are not sure how to do so beyond just turning off their lights at night.

In the upcoming semester, the student run Columbia television station, CTV, has agreed to run advertisements and informational spots about energy efficiency and how students can be more energy conscious in their daily lives. This is one more way in which Kill-A-Watt has been and will be spreading the message of the importance of and ways for students to be conscious, efficient energy users.

We have used the social networking group of Facebook ( to great success this semester in encouraging students to visit our ELEA blog as well as fill out the survey on student energy habits from which we have gleaned statistical information. The Facebook has provided us with a medium and a resource for connecting students at Columbia University with our contribution to energy efficiency. We will continue to use it as a vehicle for spreading the message of energy efficiency on campus.

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.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tricking People into Caring

I was on the check out line at the grocery store yesterday when I noticed the "Special Green Issue" of Vanity Fair on the shelf. After thumbing through it, I decided to get the magazine for inspiration.

The issue contains profiles ranging from conservative CEOs to libral activists, all of whom are environmentally conscious. It also includes a brochure titled "What You Can Do: 50 Ways to Help Save the Planet". There are even segments about Earth friendly products right next to the standard Gucci ads. The whole thing made save energy seem like a very posh thing to do.

It made me think of the different ways that one can pitch a conservation campaign. A large part of our campaign has been figuring out how to convince the greatest number of students to listen to what we're saying. I've been focusing on providing useful information to students who already have an interest in conserving energy for whatever reason.

Shavanna has been devising ways to convince more students more care about saving energy. Her idea is to implement a program in which a student's housing lottery number is affected by the amount of power she uses in her dorm room. This is a great way to make students realize that the energy they use affects their everyday life. We need to carry the idea farther and market energy conservation in different ways to different people. We cannot just really on students who care about the environment, we need to start to appeal to the more personal reasons for participating in our campaign.

Monday, April 17, 2006


I know what you're thinking: An entire post on lighting? Does she think I'm a moron? Before I begin I promise that I will say more than turn off your lights.

With that said, I want to start off with a friendly reminder to turn your lights off when you leave your room. It's a simple habit that can save a lot of energy. It's also something that you should be able to do no matter how busy you are. You won't be late to class for taking an extra second to turn your lights off.

Now on to the less obvious tips. Try to decorate with light colors. Dark colors absorb light, causing you to use more energy in lighting you room. If you use light colors to decorate, you will relay more on natural sun light. Not only will this conserve energy, it will make stressful times such as studying for finals a little more tolerable.

The types of lights you use in your dorm also play a part in your room's energy efficiency. One large light bulb is more efficient than several small ones. The efficiency of incandescent light bulbs, as well as most other light sources, increases with wattage. This means that one 100-watt incandescent bulb provides approximately the same amount of light as two 60-watt bulbs or four 40-watt bulbs, but consumes less energy. Compact fluorescent lights should also be used instead of incandescent bulbs whenever possible. Compact fluorescent lights are three to four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last ten times longer.

Like all of the other suggestions presented in this blog, turning off lights when they're not in use and making smart choices when purchasing additional lighting for your room are extremely easy things to do. Unlike many other good habits, energy efficient choices are just smarter, not harder.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Energy Star

We all have power strips in our dorm rooms that are loaded with plugs for various chargers, a computer, and several other electronics that we would never give up. We assume that since these devices are not constantly in use they are not constantly using energy. Electronics don't use energy if they're turned off and not in use, right? WRONG!

40% of all electricity used to power home electronics is used while the electronics are turned off. For the U.S., this is the amount of energy produced by 17 power plants. Clock displays and remote controls use energy even when the electronic device is off. Even cell phone and other battery chargers suck power out of the wall when the phone is not connected. Conventional battery chargers can draw as much as 5 to 20 times more energy than is actually stored in the battery, even when the charger is not charging the product.

Obviously, the most efficient way to use electronics is to only plug them in when they are in use. However, if you're not quite that motivated, you can improve your room's efficiency by choosing energy star products. Energy Star is a government-backed program that helps the public protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. The average America home contains two TVs, a VCR, a DVD player, and 3 telephones. If these electronics were replaced with energy star models, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by over 25 billion pounds. This would have the same effect as taking 3 million cars off the road.

More energy is used to power a non-Energy Star DVD player when it is turned off than when it is being used to play a DVD. Energy Star DVD players use as little as a quarter of the energy. The same holds true for all of the other appliances mentioned above. Replacing old, worn-out electronics with new, Energy Star products makes a big difference.

The next time you buy any electronics, make sure it is Energy Star qualified. A wide range of brands offer Energy Star products. The Energy Star Website has further information, including guides to buying energy efficient devices.

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