Web site tracks campus buildings’ energy usage

Tempe residence halls use site for energy-saving competition

Published On:
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
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Tuesday night at 9:10 p.m., Hayden Hall East was using 116.7 kilowatts of electricity. At the same time, Hayden Hall West was using 35.2 kilowatts of electricity.

The disparity in energy use at these two neighboring residence halls could stem from structural differences between the two buildings, like offices or kitchen areas, said ASU research engineer Joby Carlson.

But the difference could also mean that more lights are on or appliances like televisions and computers are plugged in when not in use at Hayden East, he said.

This kind of energy-usage data is now provided for 13 buildings on the Tempe campus by the Campus Metabolism project, which aims to identify places where ASU can save energy.

The data will be shown on the Campus Metabolism Web site, which tracks and displays real-time and historical data on a building’s energy usage.

Carlson, an ASU research engineer at the National Center of Excellence on SMART Innovations, began the project as a graduate student for the student organization Engineers Without Borders.

“Basically we want to monitor and visualize resource use on campus,” Carlson said.

Even in the early stages, Campus Metabolism helped reduce energy consumption.

The first version of the site launched May 15 with the grand opening of the Global Institute of Sustainability building and only included information for that building.

During the initial setup of the Web site, Carlson and others working on the project noticed that electricity use on Sundays at the sustainability building was higher than it should be.

“Some of the automatic system controls were turning on the lights during the weekend, when no one was there,” Carlson said. “The only way we were able to know about that is to look at the data.”

Having the data and being aware of it will allow administrators to pinpoint areas where they can save energy, Carlson said
On Monday, data for 12 residence halls was added to the Web site.

Students living in residence halls on the Tempe campus can use Campus Metabolism in the Energy Wars competition, which began Oct. 8 and ends Dec. 15.

Political science sophomore Scott Tippett, a member of the planning committee for Energy Wars, said all of the Tempe campus’ residence halls will have their energy use monitored, either by Campus Metabolism or by analyzing the energy bill for that building.

The residence hall with the highest percentage of energy reduction from the previous fall semester will receive a new to-be-determined amenity.

“Energy Wars will help students [living in Tempe’s residence halls] understand what the impact of their energy use is,” Tippett said.
Both Tippett and Bonny Bentzin, manager of University Sustainability Business Practices at the Global Institute of Sustainability, said it’s hard for students to realize the impact of energy consumption because they don’t pay the bill.

“I call it NMBS: Not My Budget Syndrome,” Bentzin said. “If it doesn’t directly impact yourself, it’s harder to be aware. And you don’t have the information available.”

Whether or not the University adds the sensors that track energy consumption to more buildings will greatly impact the future of Campus Metabolism. The sensors are expensive to install, Carlson said, though energy reductions and subsequent savings from Campus Metabolism could offset the costs.

About 50 buildings on the Tempe campus already have the sensors in place. Bentzin said the Polytechnic campus has about three buildings with these sensors. Facilities with the sensors installed are easier to incorporate into Campus Metabolism, Carlson said.

Buildings undergoing renovation or construction, Bentzin said, are cheaper to install the sensors in. The new Barrett, the Honors College, residence hall will have sensors on all of its floors, which will allow Campus Metabolism to sort energy usage by floor.

Carlson said Campus Metabolism could expand to the other ASU campuses, provided the sensors are installed in the buildings.

Carlson and Bentzin said other universities, including NAU, are interested in ASU’s help to implement their own version of Campus Metabolism. He said he’d like to have intercollegiate competitions similar to Energy Wars if enough universities start tracking energy usage information.

Reach the reporter at cogino@asu.edu.