If you entered residence halls during the week of April 17, you likely walked into a dark lobby, dark hallway and even dark bathroom.
No, it wasn’t a power outage. Castleton students were competing in the annual Electricity Reduction Competition, sponsored by the university’s Green Campus Working Group, EcoReps and the Sustainability Club, as part of an Earth Week effort to see which residence hall could reduce its electricity usage the most.
After a close week of competition, Adams Hall came out victorious, reducing electricity usage by 23.3 percent compared to the baseline, or “average” week. Their efforts have won them a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream party for their building.
“We unplugged everything possible,” said Adams resident Brianna Belleville. “We went in the basement and unplugged the washers, the vending machines, the dryers – and we kept the bathroom light off as much as possible.”
Adams residents went as far as asking the community advisor on duty to work with lights off.
“We turned off all the lights we could,” said Christian McMillan, a CA in Adams. “I think once we got the email that we were ahead, everyone was really excited.”
McMillan explained it was the residents who encouraged each other to conserve energy.
“A lot of it was through our building Facebook page,” he said. “I wasn’t the one who shut the lights off on duty – residents came to me, and really influenced each other to work together.”
“Me and my entire suite unplugged our Christmas lights, unplugged our fans,” said Serena Imiere, who lives on the fourth floor of Adams. “We also painted our nails in complete darkness. It was fun. It was like camping.”
Two weeks before April break, Natural Sciences Professor Andy Vermilyea recorded a baseline of average energy usage for each building, using sensors installed by SGA almost a decade ago.
He then compared the electricity usage in each building during competition week to the baseline, to determine percent difference every day.
Castleton Hall, for instance, used 12.8 percent more electricity during competition week, than the “average” week, while Audet House reduced electricity use by 13.2 percent.
“Some of the halls also take on some of the outside lights, so they’re not perfect,” Vermilyea said. “Everything is relative to a baseline. It’s a percent reduction compared to a baseline week.”
Vermilyea has access to a dashboard, which shows the real time energy usage in almost building on campus. He hopes one day this information will be available to everyone, making it possible for CAs to do programming about energy usage and making students more aware every day of the year, not just during competition week.
Wheeler Hall came in a close second place in the competition with a reduction of 22.1 percent. Like Adams, Wheeler residents shut off lights in the hallways, lobby and suite bathrooms.
“I discovered that peeing in the dark is not that difficult,” said Wheeler resident Jasmine Keefer. “I didn’t think we used that much electricity to begin with, but seeing how much things as little as turning off the suite lights and not leaving the fan running all day can do.”
Being neck and neck with Adams nearly the entire week, it was a hard loss for Wheeler residents.
“I kept on checking my email, like ‘We are so close with Adams, let’s keep doing it,’” said Brooke Knudson, who lives on the third floor of Wheeler.
“I was so bummed!” Keefer exclaimed when asked what her reaction was when she found out Wheeler had lost. “I was so frustrated.”
Vermilyea said Adams and Wheeler residents reduced electricity usage about as low as it can go.
“There are a lot of baseline things that can’t be controlled, like the HVAC system pushing air,” he said. “You saw the biggest reductions, about 25 percent, and that’s almost as high as you can get without shutting down the circuit breaker. Even if you tried really hard, you couldn’t get down to 50 percent, because you’d have to turn off the infrastructure of the building.”
The week showed students it isn’t too difficult to reduce their electricity use.
“If we did that all the time we’d save a lot of money,” said Adams resident Morgan Demers. “It’s not that hard to shut the lights off during the day.”
Vermilyea encourages students to be aware of what is plugged in. When students go home for the weekend they could unplug their chargers, or unplug their refrigerators when they contain nothing perishable: something Vermilyea does in his office.
Vermilyea calculated that Castleton Hall used 15 to 20 percent less energy during the week of April break than during the competition week, but added if students unplugged refrigerators and shut off all lights during every break, they could reduce even more while not on campus.
He emphasizes that every action has a sustainability component, and encourages students to be mindful of what they have plugged in and how their daily actions, including transportation affect energy consumption.
Professor of Chemistry and Physics Tim Thibodeau teaches a variety of energy related experiments with his classes from testing lightbulbs to measure energy consumption to assembling an electrical circuit to understand how electricity works.
“One of my favorite activities is to have students complete their own energy analysis,” Thibodeau said. “By using a Kill-A-Watt meter, students can learn about how much energy they use, and which devices consume a large amount of energy.”
The Kill-A-Watt meters are available for students to check out to measure how much electricity their devices use.
Although alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power are helpful, there is still a cost associated with them–financial or otherwise–which does not make them entirely free.
“We aren’t likely to find a cheap, sustainable energy source that will allow us to be wasteful with energy,” Thibodeau said. “As a result, we need to carefully consume the energy we need to have a comfortable life, but be responsible with this energy.”