The next time you switch off the lights or shut down your computer you may be scoring points for your college in the Spring 2004 Energy Competition.

The contest, which is sponsored by the Student Task force for Environmental Partnership and the Yale Utilities Department, pits the residential colleges and Old Campus dormitories against each other in a battle of energy conservation. Beginning this week, each residential building’s electricity use will be compared with last year’s to determine the building with the greatest percentage reduction in electricity consumption. The winner will receive a monetary prize that STEP student director Dawn Lippert ’06 said they hope will go towards a “green” purchase or community-building activity.

“We can find out exactly how much was used for ‘building X’ yesterday,” said Thomas Downing, the Yale Utilities energy manager who is calculating the results for the competition. “Whoever does the best against their own baseline last year will be the winner for that week.”

Electricity use was chosen as the standard for comparison because it is the main aspect of energy consumption that students control, Downing explained. The power used by any machine or device plugged into an electrical outlet makes up a building’s electricity use. It is incredibly easy to save electricity by turning off the lights in empty rooms or making sure televisions and radios are not left on unnecessarily, Lippert said.

“But it actually makes a huge difference in greenhouse gas emissions and how much money the University is spending,” Lippert said. “It’s a really effective way for us to show how easy change is — it’s a pretty concrete measure of our progress.”

STEP hopes to increase awareness about electricity consumption and inspire students to modify their behavior to be more energy efficient, Lippert said. But ultimately, she added, decreased energy consumption is about greenhouse gas emissions.

As an example, Downing explained that turning off 100 laptop computers every night for one year would decrease the amount of greenhouse gases power plants emit into the air each year by 7,000 pounds.

The results of the competition will be calculated on a weekly basis and used to determine a winner for each of the next four weeks. The weekly winner will receive a $100 prize, and the college or building with the greatest overall percentage reduction in electricity consumption will receive a $500 prize.

This contest is one of many STEP projects on campus designed to increase environmental stewardship, STEP program director Maren Haus said. She said the organization evolved out of the Green Cup competition by expanding the scope of environmental education through a $37,590 grant from the Yale Green Fund.

STEP, which first became active this past January, is made up of two to three student coordinators from each residential college and advised by a steering committee comprised of faculty members, staff and administrators. The student coordinators will work within their colleges to promote sustainable behavior and specific STEP programs, such as Green Cup competitions and this energy competition, Lippert said.

While the Spring 2004 Energy Competition only lasts until Earth Day, April 22, Lippert and Haus said they hope it will succeed in permanently changing student behavior and they would be interested in sponsoring the competition again in the future.

“We would definitely like to continue it, and the energy and facility department is really excited about continuing it,” Lippert said. “Ideally, with demonstrated results we would definitely continue the competition next year.”