RHA entices community to reduce campus energy usage

In order to improve conservation, the Resident Hall Association (RHA) has installed monitors to better manage energy consumption. Teaming up with Students Organizing for Sustainability (SOS), the Environmental Alliance at Georgia Tech (EAGT) and Facilities, RHA upped its efforts to improve sustainability.

In order to do this, RHA has started the Wasted Watts competition, which began Feb. 23 and will run until today. This competition includes all of the residence halls on campus and is designed to promote the reduction in energy use.

Originally, RHA had planned to host a water conservation competition last spring during the drought but abandoned the idea when it was found that water consumption in the different residence halls could not be accurately measured.

The same problem was found in measuring energy usage per resident; however, over the past year Housing and Auxiliary Services have made a concentrated effort to improve electricity metering in the buildings, making a competition possible.

“Right now, about half of the residence buildings have digital meters, which take a reading every 15 minutes. With the old outdated analog meters, you had to physically go out and record the measurements,” said Elliot Mork, executive president of RHA.

RHA funded and organized the competition. This left SOS was in charge of the education efforts, which consisted of informing students about sustainability and teaching residents how to reduce their energy usage. Taking up the last responsibility, EAGT collected the actual readings from the meters.

Weekly measurements of energy usage have been taken during the competition period and are posted on RHA’s website. The website also includes tips to cut energy use, such as unplugging electronic devices when not in use to potentially decrease power usage by 10 to 30 percent.

“This phantom power that’s just wasted can add up very quickly, though the actual amount saved is not huge in perspective,” said Molly Mclaughlin, third-year CHBE and member of SOS. “The important thing is that we raise awareness and continue the work we’re doing now.”

According to Mork, students generally believe that energy reduction needs to come from an infrastructure change initiated by the administration, whereas the administration sees the problem as one of behavior change among the students.

“What we’re trying to do with this competition is combine the two views,” he said. “On the one hand we are trying to bring about a behavior change, but we’re also trying to get better metering for the residence halls, which will cost about $5 million.”

Baseline measurements of energy usage in each residence hall were taken for the month prior to the start of the competition. The winning residence hall council will get a food party and aluminum sports water bottles for every resident.

“Tech students are naturally very competitive, so I think that having a competition is the most effective avenue to make people more aware of and concerned about sustainability,” Mclaughlin said.

Other colleges have also created energy reduction competitions. For example, at Oberlin College a 31 percent reduction in energy usage was achieved. However, the effect on Tech’s campus is expected to be less.

“I think that sustainability used to be a really important issue on campus during the Georgia drought but since conditions have improved somewhat, fewer people are now interested in continuing green practices,” said Olivia Cropper, second-year BME.

“Some people [try to reduce energy usage] for money, some do it to make Tech a ‘greener’ university and some simply care about the environment,” Mclaughlin said. “This way, everybody wins.”