Luther College Chips

Center for Sustainable Communities introduces new energy tracker

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Quinton Griffith ('18) and Erik Nelson ('18) use the new web app at “The Appening.

Quinton Griffith ('18) and Erik Nelson ('18) use the new web app at “The Appening."

Forrest Stewart (‘19) | Chips

Forrest Stewart (‘19) | Chips

Quinton Griffith ('18) and Erik Nelson ('18) use the new web app at “The Appening."

Forrest Stewart, Staff Writer

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The Center for Sustainable Communities hosted an event called “The Appening” to unveil the new web application “Energy Genius” for Baker Village residents on Feb. 20.

The web app allows Baker residents to track their electricity usage in real-time and compare their unit’s usage with other units. The app’s data collection and development was funded by a Margaret A. Cargill Foundation Grant as well as Luther College’s Climate Action Fund.

Fifteen students attended “The Appening” event to learn about the web app, but all Baker Residents are included in the system and have access to their unit’s data. When students log on to the web app they will see their own unit’s usage as a red line and all other units displayed anonymously as grey lines. They can also look specifically at the last 20 minutes of usage.

The web app is designed to give students immediate feedback on how their behaviors affect their electricity consumption, something that Energy Educator Nathan Campbell (’18) says is often difficult to achieve.

“When you recycle something you get a certain amount of positive feedback from doing that action, but when you take a shorter shower you have to acknowledge in your mind that the shorter shower is using less water and less energy to heat that water,” Campbell said. “[The web app] gives people the same kind of tangible feedback for their behaviors that something like recycling does.”

Assistant Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities Maren Beard (’08) says there is evidence to suggest that this practice will work.

“There’s some research out there about electricity bills where when people get a smiley face versus a frowny face they are more likely to conserve electricity,” Beard said.

Baker resident Emily Starman (’18) says she thinks the web app will have an impact on her own personal electricity usage and sees connections between the program and Luther’s larger mission.

“I think [the web app] is really cool,” Starman said. “It plays into a lot of Luther’s ideals about becoming more knowledgeable about what kind of citizen you are and becoming a responsible citizen of the world.”

According to Beard, the information has already led to savings.

“This fall there was a huge spike in one unit where they were using astronomical amounts of electricity and that pointed to an issue that facilities was able to address,” Beard said. “It’s good to have better data in order to pinpoint problems and save money there too.”

Local technology consultant Scott Bassford developed and designed the web app. Bassford shared his goals for the impact of the web app.

“I really want to get some kind of result out of it,” Bassford said. “We’re definitely going to have some good [energy] savings on it even if the students do nothing. But hopefully they will [use it].”

Beard shares Bassford’s optimism.

“I really hope we see a 20 percent, 30 percent, or even 40 percent reduction in energy usage,” Beard said. “It’s hard to say what that could look like but I think there could be some really good outcomes.”

Beard added that she hopes the web app helps students in their transition to post-collegiate life.

“I really see it as important for us to equip students for a changing world and also for the world after Luther,” Beard said. “I think Baker is a great place for this to start because soon our students are going to be leaving and renting apartments or buying houses and having to pay these bills.”

While there are complications involved in expanding the web app to include students in other residence halls, Beard said that options are being weighed.

“We would love to [extend the program to other residence halls],” Beard said. “It just depends on the infrastructure and the cost. I think it would be really cool for every student to have access to that information in real-time.”

The website can be found at https://luther.energygenius.com/google/.

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