Energy use monitoring program to be installed in residence halls

Thursday, January 29, 2009 | 9:57 p.m. CST; updated 10:23 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 29, 2009

COLUMBIA — In the coming months, some MU students will be able to see how leaving that desk lamp on all day adds up in energy consumption.

Those students who live in Schurz Hall will be getting the first look at Building Dashboard, a computer system that monitors a building's energy consumption and provides that data in real time. It can also compile the data and show historical trends for long-term energy evaluations.


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The system will debut in Schurz Hall on Tuesday.

It came about through the efforts of former president of the student environmental group Sustain Mizzou, Ben Datema. In July 2008, he was awarded a $25,000 student grant to implement an energy-monitoring program at MU.

Datema is working with MU's department of energy management, division of information technology, and Residential Life to get his project up and running.

When a student leaves the radio on, takes a long shower, or does anything that consumes energy, data-logging boxes that measure water and electric consumption will go into action. The system will record how much energy is used, and send that information to the central Building Dashboard hub via the Internet.

MU's system, however, will only monitor electricity consumption. Water monitoring may come in the future, Datema said, but that's wishful thinking at this point.

The information will be processed and presented as consumption data on the Building Dashboard site. Students will be able to change the consumption unit from kilowatt hours used to other units, like direct dollar cost or even miles driven in an automobile.

“I think it will do well, and students will be receptive to it,” said Datema, who is the director and coordinator of the Building Dashboard Project.

Lucid Design Group, the California-based clean technology software company that designed Building Dashboard, states on its Web site that the program is “designed to make resource use in academic buildings, student centers and residence halls visible and easily interpretable by students, residents, faculty and visitors.”

The newly renovated Schurz Hall, which reopened after renovationin fall 2008, has a maximum capacity of 506 residents. The program and monitoring devices will be installed in Hatch and College Avenue residence halls by mid-March. Hatch reopened after renovation in fall 2007 and houses 510 students; College Avenue opened in the fall of 2006 and houses 343 students.

A few thousand dollars from Residential Life will go into minor logistic components like conduit boxes. But most of the funding comes from Datema’s grant.

“We’re eager for it to be plugged in, and I think you’ll be surprised how well students respond,” said Frankie Minor, director of Residential Life.

Minor is enthusiastic about the new technology, but he said Residential Life is trying not to create too much hype about the project in case it doesn’t work as well as the department hopes. Residents and staff of the "test" residence halls have not been involved in the early planning.

But once the program is plugged in and working well, Residential Life and Energy Management will bring students into the project. Datema hopes to make the program's Web site the home page on all computers in the residence hall’s computer lab. He also hopes to display the building's energy consumption on information screens scattered throughout the hall.

“We’re really going to push it on (the students),” he said.

To get the program noticed, Datema is working on a plan to turn energy-saving into a competition between residence halls. The winning building will receive some sort of prize.

“The overall goal is to provide people the information and empower them to make a change,” Datema said.

A number of universities are ahead of MU in the energy-savings race. Elon University, Harvard, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, St. Mary’s of California and the University of Vermont have installed Building Dashboard into one or more buildings.

At Elon University in Elon, N.C., Building Dashboard has been installed in several residence halls across campus, and Elon students also turned it into a competition. Within weeks, according to Elon’s Web site, students saved 111,762 kilowatt hours of electricity. From an environmental standpoint, that translates into 45 tons of coal, 291 pounds of nitrogen oxide emissions or 726 pounds of sulfur dioxide emissions. The residential area winner had a 15.1 percent energy reduction.

"The program really helps promote our energy competition," said Elaine Durr, sustainability coordinator at Elon University. 

"Students can check the hour-to-hour or day-to-day change and see their impact," Durr said.

Elon University has had the building dashboard for about a year now, and Durr has received lots of positive feedback from students.

"Students really like the unit representation," Durr said. "It helps (the data) to become more tangible. Some people may not understand kilowatt hours, but pounds of coal and hamburgers consumed are things people can really relate to."

Datema is hoping for runaway success: students embracing energy savings, and MU saving on utility costs.

Minor said that if the pilot program at Schurz is a hit, then next two MU residence halls in line for renovation in MU's Master Plan — Hudson and Gillett — could be the next candidates to receive Building Dashboard.

How any energy savings will be funneled back into the Residential Life budget remains to be decided, Minor said. The money could go towards new energy conservation and awareness programs, or to lower room rates for students.

Residential Life recently removed phone land lines and saved around $400,000,  and $100,000 of that sum went into doubling the bandwidth in some residence halls.


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