Grant buys energy monitors for two colleges

The next time students in Pierson and Silliman colleges leave appliances plugged in over a break, they won’t be the only ones who know about it.

Two real-time energy monitors will be installed in the entrances to the Pierson and Silliman dining halls by the week of Feb. 8, said Robert Ferretti, program manager at the Yale Office of Sustainability. The monitors should raise awareness, engage students and lead to energy-reducing behaviors in the colleges, he said. Funding for the monitors came from a $40,000 grant awarded by the Accelerating Campus Climate Initiatives at the Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization promoting sustainability, according to Michael Kinsley, a senior consultant at the institute.

After the data is processed at the University’s central power plant on Grove Street, as well as by the Independent System Operator (ISO) New England grid, the energy monitors — designed by the Lucid Design Group — will allow students to see exactly how much energy they are using, Ferretti said. While in the past it was difficult to show students’ energy use because the data lagged by several months, the monitors will make it instantaneous, Ferretti said.

“[Students] will see when they flick that light switch on it actually does make a difference,” he said.

The system appears to have some kinks that have yet to be worked out. According to the data gathered so far, Pierson has been using far less energy than Silliman, which has shown enormous spikes in energy usage with no apparent explanation. Silliman may use more energy overall because it is has more students, said James Wyper ’11, one of the college’s STEP coordinators. Energy usage in the residential colleges is also not limited exclusively to energy used by students — some classroom buildings, for example, are listed under Silliman’s energy usage, he said.

But those involved in the project were uncertain about why Silliman had heightened energy use per person and per square foot and unexplained spikes in usage.

Sarah Armitage ’12, who first brought the idea to install energy monitors to the Office of Sustainability, said she is looking into the inconsistencies in usage. Possible explanations include the size of the kitchens or the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems in the two colleges, Ferretti said.

Educational campaigns and initiatives will teach students how to use the monitors, Ferretti said. Students will also be able to view the data — which includes heating, electric and cooling costs and a comparison of the Pierson and Silliman’s energy costs in terms of dollars spent or pounds of carbon dioxide — on a Web site, whose address will be released to the public once the monitors are installed, Ferretti said.

If the project sees at least a 5 percent reduction in Pierson and Silliman’s electricity consumption, the Facilities Department will consider expanding the program to the other 10 residential colleges, Armitage said. But there will be no formal competition between the two colleges to encourage sustainable energy consumption, she added.

Once the system is installed, adding additional monitors is less expensive by comparison, Armitage said.

The installation of the two monitors is part of University President Richard Levin’s campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, Ferretti said. But there has been less focus on reducing energy consumption in residential colleges, since students came just short of achieving a 15 percent reduction in energy consumption in 2007, he said.

Having energy consumption data readily accessible is important, Armitage added, because Yale students living on campus do not have to pay for the energy they use, nor have they seen an energy bill to see how much energy they have used.

Eleven other schools — including Colorado State University, Tufts University and the University of Vermont — were also awarded grants by the Rocky Mountain Institute to install energy monitors.

Comments