How students influence energy consumption


“Desserts with Sonya” doesn’t have quite the ring that “Nutella with Pasquerella” had, but Nancy Apple, the director of environmental health, safety and sustainability, hopes that a chance to dine with the head of the college will motivate students to actively participate in this year’s War of the Watts.

Taking place until March 6, War of the Watts is an annual competition held by the Eco-Reps to see which dorm can lower its energy consumption the most over the course of two weeks. The Eco-Reps enlist Facilities Management workers to enter the boiler room of each of the 13 dorms on campus and read the electric and gas meters. This is done three times: once, before the competition starts, to get a base measurement for each dorm, and then after each week of competition. The dorm that shows the greatest difference between the base reading and competition readings wins the contest, bragging rights and, of course, a chance for face time with the president of the College.

Apple and the Eco-Reps also hope that students, whether they live in the winning dorm or not, take something else from the annual contest: a sense that they have some control over Mount Holyoke College’s total energy consumption. Eco-Rep Shannon Seigal ’19 explained, “Since Mount Holyoke is a residential campus, dorms use a lot of the energy used on campus, especially since most of the energy in academic buildings and the dining halls [is] off overnight and that’s when students are in their rooms using energy.”

According to data obtained from Facilities Management, the residential halls make up only 13 of the 68 buildings on campus, but they consume 40 percent of the electrical energy. The 39.9 million kilowatts per year that the College consumes as a whole are said to be sufficient to provide light for approximately 11,500 homes, meaning the dorms in turn could provide enough energy to light 4,600 homes.

Apple explained that much of the energy used on campus goes towards heating and lighting the buildings. Facilities Management has tried to be more energy efficient by installing occupancy sensors in bathrooms and common spaces, purchasing energy efficient equipment and cap insulating, insulating the attics of residence halls, preventing heat from escaping through the roof.

Apple said that the college would love to use alternative sources of energy such as solar on campus, but because South Hadley Electric is a municipal utility, the college is not allowed to buy power from any other company. The college also looked into using geothermal energy for powering the new centralized dining facility, but Apple said it was “cost-prohibitive,” meaning the payback would take too many years to be worth the initial cost

For now, what could have a considerable effect on the college’s energy costs is student consump- tion. “Just making sure that we’re turning stuff off” is a simple way that students can reduce the amount of energy that goes to waste, according to Apple. She also advised that students pay more attention to what they have plugged into the sockets. “Those mini-fridges are a big consumer of electricity. So the less of those we have the better,” she said, laughing.

Charger cables whether in use or not are also a common energy drainer. “Don’t plug your phone in over- night,” Seigal said. “It’s a hard habit to break, but in the last couple hours of the day when I’m doing homework in my room, I’ll just plug my phone in then and have it be fully charged.” Seigal pointed out that when you leave your phone to charge overnight, it is usually finished charging halfway through the night. Until you wake up and unplug it, the charger is drawing unnecessary energy — and harming your phone battery, too. Seigal admitted, “It’s kind of a tricky habit to break because you have to be really aware of it.”