Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Brief History Lesson

In 2006, a friend and I started what would become known as the Dorm Electricity Competition. The idea was simple; encourage students to conserve electricity by hosting a competition between dorms where the winner would receive $10,000 in energy efficient dorm improvements. The electricity savings resulting from the competition would be more than enough to pay for the dorm improvements, so MIT could benefit from lower electricity bills from both the competition AND more efficient dorms, while students in the winning dorm would benefit from infrastructure improvements. Everyone's a winner!

We held the first competition Spring of 2007 and, to our great surprise, saved 228 MWh of electricity. As with most first attempts, we learned a great deal from the experience:
  1. MIT LOVED the idea of spending $10,000 for $20,000 in electricity savings. After the first year, Karen Nilsson of MIT's Division of Student Life added the funding for our project as a line item in their annual budget. 
  2. Shockingly enough, MIT students don't think dorm infrastructure improvements are an alluring enough prize to substantially change their electricity-consumption habits. They DO, however, like the idea of a friendly competition between dorms.
  3. At the time, the technology simply wasn't there to collect electricity consumption information on a daily, let alone continuous basis. We knew that in order for real progress to be made, students would have to have better information than the week-to-week reports about building-level energy consumption.
  4. Finally, the measurement and verification ("M&V" as they say in the industry) is a tough nut to crack. We spent many late nights poring over spreadsheets of historical energy usage just to establish a fair baseline for each dorm. We would later use much more sophisticated methods to quantify savings precisely, like regressing per capita energy usage to population in order to isolate electrical loads under user control from building loads. 
So that brings us to where we are today: a lot of lessons learned, but thanks to our new involvement with the MIT-NSTAR Efficiency Forward campaign, we have more or less a blank slate to work with. 

I'll update a little later with more or less what I presented to the MIT Walk the Talk Task Force by way of schedule for 2011-2012. 

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