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P3 Awards - People, Prosperity, and the PlanetP3 Team Scales New Heights

What would students do if they could immediately see the environmental effects of the personal choices that they make in their dormitories? 

Using funding from EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program, this question led a team of students at Oberlin College, Associate Professor John Petersen and Lucid Design Group to develop Oberlin College’s unique “Campus Resource Monitoring System” (CRMS) – an automated monitoring system and website that gathers, processes and displays information on energy use in dormitories (www.oberlin.edu/dormenergy exit EPA).  The idea is that by using real-time data on the environmental performance of buildings, students can be educated, motivated, and empowered to conserve resources. 

P3 Award Winner
The P3 team from Oberlin College was one of the original winners of EPA’s P3 Award in 2005.  Using funding from their award, the team was able to expand their project at Oberlin. Conservative estimates suggest the system will save Oberlin $66,000 per year in electricity costs, more than 100 lbs of CO2/dorm resident per year, and have a financial payback time of less than 2 years.  Student collaborators have co-authored professional talks (e.g., at AASHE and Greening the Campus) and peer-reviewed papers on this work.  

Three former students who worked on the P3 project formed Lucid Design Group, (www.luciddesigngroup.com exit EPA), a small business that is now implementing similar technologies on many other campuses. Clients now include Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC; EcoManor in Atlanta; Sierra Nevada College; the Zenergy Group and others. Future clients include the U.S. Capitol, Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey and many more. Lucid has been featured in Wired magazine, Fortune, and CNNMoney.com, and other green publications.

Encouraging Conservation
Students at most colleges and universities generally have no idea how much electricity they use in their dormitory rooms. Nor do they understand the environmental consequences of this resource use.  In the U.S., electricity consumption is responsible for 40% of total CO2 emissions.  At Oberlin College, greater than 90% of total CO2 emissions are attributable to activities that take place in buildings. Student behavior can substantially affect energy use in dormitories but, on many campuses, individual dormitory buildings are not sub-metered, so the institution does not know how much electricity each dormitory uses.  When meters are present, the collected information is almost never used for educational purposes. 

With the unveiling of the Campus Resource Monitoring System in April, Oberlin College is the first school in the country to implement a comprehensive system specifically designed to collect and translate the invisible flows of electricity in dorm rooms into a format that is easily accessible and interpretable to students.  The DormEnergy website (www.oberlin.edu/dormenergy exit EPA) allows visitors to express electricity consumption in economic and environmental currencies ranging from carbon dioxide emissions to miles driven in an SUV to veggie burgers.  The student team is collaborating with faculty in Psychology and Environmental Studies to assess the degree to which the CRMS changes environmental attitudes and behaviors.

News Highlights
From April 6 to April 20, the P3 team will run a Dormitory Energy competition.  Students in 18 monitored dorms will compete to see which dorm can reduce their electricity use by the largest percentage relative to baseline consumption.  The goal of the competition is to educate, motivate and empower students to develop attitudes, strategies and behaviors that lead to energy conservation.  The winning dorm will be announced on Earth Day.

In addition, the P3-funded system was one of eight national projects to win the National Wildlife Federation’s "Chill Out: Campus Solutions to Global Warming" contest.  The video of students interacting with the system will be broadcast during the April 18 “teach in.”

2004 P3 Project
From 2004-2005, a team of environmental studies and computer science students at Oberlin College was chosen to compete for EPA’s P3 Award.  Working with their faculty advisor, Dr. John Petersen, the team instrumented two older dormitories with sensors to monitor electricity and water used by residents.  Students were trained to read utility meters in dorms on campus and developed educational material describing the effects of campus resource use.  For an exciting two-week period in 2005, dormitories competed to see who could reduce their resource use by the largest percentage. The entire campus got involved, with over 80% of the Oberlin student body participating.  The results showed that:

  • On average, dorms reduced electricity use by 32% during the competition.  The two dorms with real-time feedback won with 56% reductions in electricity.
  • During the two-week competition, students conserved 68,000 kWh, saved $5,100 and reduced emissions by 150,000 lbs of CO2, 1,400 lbs of SO2 and 500 lbs of NOx.
  • In a post-competition survey, dormitory residents reported developing resource saving strategies that they intended to continue at Oberlin and elsewhere.

To learn more about the P3 Award competition and how to become involved, visit www.epa.gov/P3.

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