Creighton Facilities, Creighton Residence Life, Omaha Public Power District and Optimized Systems are currently running a residence hall energy competition.
Optimized Systems, an energy auditing company, has been working with Creighton Facilities to install energy usage monitoring devices in all buildings on campus.
Currently, the residence halls on campus consume about 17% of Creighton’s total electrical energy usage.
These buildings are the focus of this competition as these are the places where the energy usage depends heavily on people’s choices and behaviors. While the event is a competition, the residence halls are not competing against each other but rather against their own energy baseline set on Sept. 16, the day the competition started.
Dr. Andrew Baruth, associate professor of physics and energy technology at Creighton, said that they are still figuring out ways to compare the different buildings on a standard level.
For instance, all the residence halls rely on steam and chilled water to heat their buildings except for Opus and Davis. Those two residence halls have their own thermostats which run solely on electrical energy, giving them more control over their usage than other halls – whether this helps or hinders their energy levels depends on their choices.
Additionally, the state of the weather plays a role in energy usage. Nice weather means that the A/C isn’t running on high, while hot weather has it cooling at full capacity.
But as of day two of the competition, the residence halls as a whole began saving electrical energy.
“The winner is the planet,” said Baruth.
Displayed on the monitors in the residence halls and in the Skutt Student Center are graphics that show electrical energy usage in the residence halls.
Updated every 15 minutes, the graph displays the current usage of that time compared to the Sept. 16 baseline set for that exact same time.
If the graph is negative that would mean that the current usage is lower, whereas a positive graph would mean that the current usage is higher.
The gauge or meter shows live electrical energy usage. The needle moves in real time as people increase or reduce their energy in the halls. The yellow area represents the average energy usage for that hall, and the green area is for levels below the average usage. The red area is for levels above the average usage.
The number at the end of the meter is the highest usage that a building has ever experienced.
This data provides valuable information about students’ energy behaviors and habits and allows them to visually see the effect their choices have on energy usage.
“What’s hard to change is behaviors,” said OPPD stakeholder and community outreach manager Laurie Zagurski. “If you can tighten up the windows and the caulking and look at your HVAC system, that’s good and effective, but people sometimes forget about the simple things.”
OPPD’s website provides some simple, no-cost ways students can reduce their electrical energy usage, including turning off lights and fans, unplugging electronics when not in use, closing windows coverings in warm weather and opening them in cold weather.
Additionally, while a lot of the tips involve choices out of residence hall students’ control, there are also other simple household tips that are impactful.
For example, setting the water thermostat to 120 degrees could cut energy usage by 3-5%.
Sealing air leaks in windows can also prevent consumers from wasting money and energy.
“By actively participating in the competition, we get to practice being sustainable stewards, learn that sustainability does not necessarily mean sacrifice, and we also get to better prepare ourselves for life after college,” said College of Arts and Sciences senior Colin Thomas. “Living on campus can make us ignorant to the fact that our energy is not free. Once we move out, and begin paying for our own energy usage, some of the tips that are given during the competition may seem much more helpful.”
The competition ends on Oct. 4 with the Feast of St. Francis celebration. At that event, the result numbers will be revealed, including the halls that reduced their usage the most and the overall energy savings that resulted from the competition.
Baruth hopes that this will become an annual event that gets the whole campus involved so that students, faculty and staff will all contribute to caring for our common home.