By Eric Geller
Earlier this month, Kenyon’s Office of Sustainability announced that Watson Residence Hall had reduced its energy usage by 61.4 percent in December, topping all other dorms and winning the Office’s annual energy reduction contest.
Runners-up Gund and Caples Residence Halls reduced their energy usage by 55.6 and 54.8 percent, respectively, in the three weeks before winter break.
The Sustainability Office has hosted the contest to encourage energy conservation for over 16 years, said Sustainability Director Ed Neal, who facilitated the contest’s start. After a week-long usage measurement that serves as the base period, each dorm is compared to its base usage during the semester’s three final weeks.
Neal said the contest takes place in December because winter temperatures produce high energy needs and more people stay inside due to the lack of outdoor activities and thus use more energy. “We’re at some of our peak demand” in the month of December, he said.
The contest is much easier to conduct now that the majority of campus living spaces have installed and improved energy monitoring equipment. The monitors relay data to servers in Kentucky, where it is processed for display on Kenyon’s energy usage website, named “KEY” after its slogan “Kenyon. Energy. You.”
“It’s way easier to get the numbers, and the KEY has [them] update continuously,” said Sarah Oleisky ’16, who works with Neal as an intern in the Sustainability Office.
The announcement of the energy contest’s results comes as the College has stepped up its energy efficiency program. Two years ago, Maintenance installed smart thermostats in six residence halls to reduce wasteful energy use. Workers have also replaced over 11,000 fluorescent tubes and installed more efficient boiler systems to reduce energy loss during transit.
The entire sustainability project cost slightly more than $7 million. The College estimated that it would save $680,000 per year due to increased efficiency, but Neal said it is actually recouping its costs faster, putting it a year ahead of its payback schedule. Because the KEY energy monitors provide an almost real-time look at how different buildings use energy, they can be an effective tool for raising awareness of sustainability issues.
“All these meters, for us, are like a check-engine light,” Neal said. “If the meter starts running extremely high compared to where we normally would run, then we can start looking [at] what’s going on in that building.”
Oleisky added that the easy access to energy data made the idea of sustainability more personal. “Sometimes when information comes from the administration, it’s just like, ‘you should do this and you should do that,’ and people don’t necessarily want to listen,” she said. “They care more when it comes from a student.”
With the KEY website, “you can look at what’s been used in a week’s time, what’s been used in a month, what’s been used by hour,” Neal said. “That’s a good tool. It’s an awareness tool, to let people know what the impact is.”
Oleisky compared the website to previous sustainability outreach efforts: “I think people are more responsive to it,” she said.
Administrators have also been more responsive to the benefits of energy conservation and the dorms’ unusually strong performance last month. “We just had our Sustainability Council meeting,” Oleisky said, “and they were like, ‘oh my goodness!’”
Neal praised the student body for reducing their energy usage and expressed optimism about the effects of the new monitoring technology. “Using these awareness tools helps us make a good impact, and it protects our environment,” he said. “In the long run, it’s energy that we’re not wasting.”