First-Year Students at University of Virginia Cut Electric Use

February 18, 2009

February 18, 2009 — Small, simple things, such as turning off lights, can add up to significant energy savings.

First-year residence houses at the University of Virginia reduced electricity consumption by more than 12 percent last fall during a two-month conservation contest pitting the "old dorms" on McCormick Road against the "new dorms" on Alderman Road.

During a two-month contest period, total electric consumption fell by 122,424 kilowatt hours compared to the same months the previous year, a 12.34 percent decrease. The winning McCormick Road resident houses decreased their per capita electricity use by 19 percent during the contest compared to the same time period last year.

"The students came up with real good ideas," said Lindsey Daniels, sustainability outreach coordinator for Facilities Management. "Some of them focused on things that we never think about. My personal favorite was to take the stairs instead of the elevator."

Among the other ideas behind which the students rallied were: turn off the computer or unplug it when it is done recharging; turn out the lights; immediately report any leaking hot water faucet; don't use the television and the computer simultaneously; and unplug things when they are not in use. Daniels said even idle appliances may draw electricity if they remain plugged into the wall socket.

Daniels said the competition was divided into two 4-week segments. In the second stretch, the dorms competed against themselves, comparing their electric use to their own totals in the first four weeks.

"It is a great contest because people can really take it to heart," Daniels said. "When someone is just reminding them to turn off their lights, it comes across as nagging, but if there is a contest involved, there is a certain level of pride."

The dorms further decreased their energy use in the second half of the contest. The older dorms decreased their daily per capita energy use by 42 percent compared to the previous year.

Electric use in the residence houses will be measured again this spring to see if the energy-saving techniques became habits.

— By Matt Kelly