Captain Planet would be proud.

University officials said Tuesday that students living on campus have been saving energy faster than expected. Undergraduate housing consumed 17.3 percent less energy through January than in the same period in the 2004-’05 academic year.

As part of Yale’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy, the University has been pushing students to save more energy since fall 2005. Administrators and student environmental activists said they are optimistic that the University will still have at least a 15 percent reduction from benchmark 2004-’05 energy levels at year’s end, meeting the administration’s challenge to students a year ahead of schedule. But some students said environmental advocacy on campus is reaching a saturation point.

Thomas Downing, Yale’s energy manager, said the warm winter Connecticut experienced until this month contributed to some of the improved energy reduction over previous years. The University used less energy for heating, he said, but even accounting for the warmer winter, Yale students are conserving more energy than last year. Adjusting the numbers to allow for a comparison with last year’s energy savings through December, the residential colleges still reduced their energy consumption between 3 and 5 percent over 2005-06 levels.

Downing said he is optimistic that the colleges will continue to consume at least 15 percent less energy than 2004-’05 levels, a goal that was originally slated to be completed by the 2007-’08 academic year. Once that mark is achieved, the University will spend more money toward subsidizing the renewable energy market, but he said the current momentum will have to continue to meet the challenge.

“It’s going to come down to the wire,” Downing said. “We have a buffer, but we can’t slack off.”

Downing attributed this year’s energy savings to heightened student awareness, promoted by groups such as Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership, and facilities improvements, such as more efficient equipment in the colleges and motion sensors to automatically shut off lights in rooms that are not being used. He said that February, a colder month, will be a good test to see how much of the increase in energy savings could be attributed to the weather.

David Lyons ’08, STEP co-coordinator for Davenport College, said he is also optimistic that the 15 percent goal will be reached a year ahead of schedule. Besides replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs and increasing awareness of how to conserve energy, STEP has worked to reduce steam consumption by lowering average room temperatures in the colleges.

“Everyone was supportive of that [in Davenport],” Lyons said.

He said the temperature was lowered from 72 degrees to between 68 and 70 degrees. STEP’s efforts to lower average temperatures were successful in all but one or two colleges, he said.

Just as Downing said the current momentum has to continue if the University is to reach its goal ahead of schedule, Lyons said there continues to be a need for improved awareness.

“It’s something that constantly requires work,” he said.

But some students said STEP has already increased awareness enough — perhaps too much, in some cases. Nick Bayless ’10 said STEP representatives entered his suite to check his light bulbs even after he told them they were the energy-efficient type.

“They should be a little less pushy,” Bayless said.

Bayless said his suite prefers the brighter traditional light bulbs, but shuts them off whenever they are not being used.

Student interest in conservation efforts varies, Recycling Director C.J. May said. Some show no interest in saving energy because they see no direct incentive to do so, he said. But, May said, students who live off-campus, whose energy savings do not affect the University directly, tend to be more interested in Expert Thermal Imaging Services because they are directly responsible for their electricity bills.

Residential colleges reduced their energy use 10.2 percent over the course of the 2005-’06 academic year, a performance that led the University to offset two-thirds of residential college electricity use with renewable energy certificates. Yale subsidized 10,000 megawatt hours of wind energy from the Oklahoma Wind Energy Center, a renewable source of power that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The sum represented two-thirds of residential colleges’ electricity use for the 2005-’06 academic year. The electricity actually flowing at Yale remains homegrown, produced in Central Power Plant next to Payne Whitney Gymnasium or purchased off the local grid.

If the colleges reach the 15 percent goal this year, Yale will offset all the colleges’ electricity use with renewable energy certificates. 

The 10.2 percent reduction last year was in total energy use — as was the 17.3 percent reduction so far this year — but only electricity use will be offset with renewable energy certificates. Heating and cooling also contribute to Yale’s total energy consumption.