The Collegian
Saturday, December 10, 2022

Energy use to be monitored in residence halls next year

A campus-wide push toward environmental sustainability has been boosted by a $100,000 donation from The Dominion Foundation, granted to pay for installing energy monitoring systems in 14 residence halls.

The system is an Internet-based technology that will provide data detailing the amount of energy used by each student as well as dorm-by-dorm energy consumption. The information will be displayed on three large screens in public areas on campus.

The technology will be designed and installed by Lucid Design Group, a company based in California, by fall 2009, and will also indicate how much money is spent on electricity and the pollution created from wasting it. Students will be able to compare their current use with what they've used in the past.

"It will empower college students to take an interest in their electricity use," said David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power. "By learning about and caring about energy usage at a younger age, it begins to foster a mindset of change when it comes to conservation."

The University of Richmond paid Dominion $2.09 million in fiscal year 2007 and $2.3 million in 2008, an increase of about 9 percent, according to university records. The school consumes more than 40 million kilowatt hours annually, and costs are projected to be about $3.1 million this year, according to university engineer George Souleret.

"To this date, there really hasn't been anything to help you see what you're consuming," said Gavin Platt, a co-founder of Lucid Design. "The most we have a once-per-month utility bill. It's worthless if you want to tweak your behavior."

The project launched in 2006 when Jason Levinn, then the president of Richmond Environmental Network for Economic Willpower, submitted a 1,000-signature petition to President Edward Ayers calling for improved environmental sustainability. Ayers later signed the Presidents' Climate Commitment in November 2007.

A specific estimate of the project's cost was not immediately available, but school officials acknowledged the $100,000 grant would not cover all expenses.

The grant donation comes at a time of surging electricity costs nationwide, blamed largely for a worldwide increase in energy demand and elevated costs of fuel, including natural gas and coal, the latter of which provides half of the nation's electricity, according to the federal Electricity Information Administration.

Rates for commercial customers of Dominion Virginia Power, including the university, rose roughly 31 percent on July 1, the largest increase in at least three decades. State law stipulates that Dominion and other utility companies not make a profit from the rate hikes and merely recoup the cost of fuel.

Dominion expects its energy demand to increase by 4,000 megawatts over the next decade, a figure the company has recognized cannot be met solely by building additional power plants. In response, Dominion has also expanded its conservation programs during the last few years, Botkins said.

"This contribution will help the University tap the ingenuity of its students and harness their commitment to using energy wisely to help reduce costs across the campus," said William C. Hall Jr., Dominion vice president of Corporate Communications, president of the Dominion Foundation, and a university alumni. "This program fits well with Dominion's aggressive energy conservation initiatives."

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The university has recently taken an increasing interest in bolstering its commitment to environmental sustainability. Dining services is planning to introduce "trayless" Fridays, in an effort to reduce food waste at the dining hall, and purchase more foods locally, a strategy designed to reduce payment for transporting goods long distances with high fuel costs hovering just below $4 a gallon.

Meanwhile, a new university-wide policy solidified this summer requires that all new on-campus buildings and renovations meet certification for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

About 20 other universities use the building dashboard, said Platt, the Lucid Design co-founder. They include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Harvard University, St. Mary's College of California, the University of Florida, the University of Pennsylvania, Hamilton College, Elon University and Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin's system, the first in the nation, monitors 26 buildings and tracks per-building and per-floor energy consumption.

Dorms at Oberlin annually compete in a two-week competition that challenges residents to reduce their energy use by the largest amount. A 2005 study of the competition suggested that offering real-time energy feedback could help reduce energy and water use in dormitories. In the study, dorms without the monitors during the competition reduced electricity use by 32 percent, while dorms with instant feedback reduced their electricity use by 56 percent.

"Making resource use visible on campus has not only brought environmental issues to the forefront of student interests, it has also brought a lot of publicity to the college," Alex Totoiu, a student at Oberlin involved in the dashboard project, said in an e-mail.

RENEW member Carly Vendenga-Ramirez said that the group was excited about the monitors, but disappointed they weren't going to be online sooner. The group is focusing this semester on encouraging energy conservation in dorms.

With customers in 11 states, Dominion is one of the nation's largest producers of energy.

Contact staff writer Dan Petty at dan.petty@richmond.edu

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