Campus Energy Monitoring Project Idea Help

Discussion in 'The Projects Forum' started by mwarre25, Jul 13, 2011.

  1. mwarre25

    Thread Starter New Member

    Mar 22, 2011
    Hey everyody,

    I would like some suggestions/critiques/etc on a project I am doing for school.

    My school has an initiative where they use a dollar from each student's tuition to go into a pool of money that is used to finance student-led "green" or "sustainable" projects.

    The student organization I am in wanted to create a simple project centered around energy monitoring in dorms and discover if having a non-invasive, personal energy monitoring device (meaning it plugs into an outlet then you plug devices into the monitoring device, like a Kill-A-Watt) in a dorm room would be effective in energy reduction and/or creating behavioral change regarding energy consumption among student residents. Even though its not a real technical project, we wanted our younger members to get some research experience.

    In short, we got funding for the project based on the idea that we would install two of these devices in a participant's room, instruct them to plug all of the devices they would normally plug into a common outlet into these devices(and keep them there), and then track the consumption for a baseline period(two weeks). We would then instruct the participants to use the 'energy saving plan' feature of the device to create a plan to reduce their consumption by a particular percentage from the baseline value (i.e. if Participant X's baseline total energy consumption was 10 Watts a 20 percent reduction would be 8 Watts.) We would then track the weekly total energy consumption for 8 more weeks.

    Things we would be able to measure would be the time that the participant spends on the devices user interface, the type of savings plan they created, and as stated before the weekly total energy consumption to everything plugged into the device.

    The problem my team is having is that we are trying to figure out if this is enough data to show any substantial result. What we have hypothesized is that what this would show would be that the more a participant uses the device, the higher energy reduction value they would obtain (or atleast they would achieve whatever reduction plan they set in the device).

    But we were thinking is this enough? Can we do more?

    Other questions we had were what would we need to have a control group to help answer the question of how much more reduction could be achieved with a monitoring device as opposed to having no device at all?

    One suggestion was that we make a "common energy usage profile" of a hypothetical student in the dorm by using past energy usage data (monthly usage of the building from the past 5 yrs in KWH and the cost per month) along with the number of students in the residence hall. An issue we had with doing this was that the profile would include the lighting of the building and other energy using equipment that wouldn't be factored into the data we collect from the participants use of the monitoring devices.

    Also we figured to have a real control group(and not a profile) would mean that we'd have to monitor their usage with some sort of device. But that raised a concern about accuracy of the control group's data knowing that their energy would be monitored.

    I know this is kind of alot of stuff but I am looking for opinions. The main issues we want to address are:

    -Can monitoring devices work(help reduce energy) in a dorm room
    -If they can, by how much? How can they work better?

    Thanks for reading

  2. KJ6EAD

    Senior Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    No, not by themselves. Obviously, a study participant can bypass the device easily to create unlogged usage. Assuming that the dorm residents are paying a flat rate for their electric power, a monitoring device is only effective as an educational tool.

    10-20% initially based on participant social motivation but negligible long term effect partially because of room turnover.

    By making the monitoring device impossible to circumvent, giving the residents an incentive to care i.e. individually metered billing, and informing them of ways to save.
  3. mwarre25

    Thread Starter New Member

    Mar 22, 2011
    Thanks for the response.

    Yea unlogged usage is a huge issue and with our current funding we cant even get enough of the devices we have chosen to use to use on all of the outlets in a room in our first test site.

    10-20% is a number we've seen for these devices so thats what we were aiming for.

    Another question im trying to answer I guess is with what we've got (which is not enough devices to cover an entire room and no current authorization to drill the devices into the wall) what would be a viable experiment that could show the impact(pos., neg. or none) of a device like this?

    As for incentive, we were thinking about having a raffle for participants(weak i know, due to funding). Eventually we want to have some type of energy saving challenge with the hopes that the competition aspect will provide incentive.

    This project would be simple in an apartment complex where the bill is there but i guess were trying to make something out of very little and at least tighten up the idea
  4. wayneh


    Sep 9, 2010
    To save any resource, the first need is to understand where it's going. It's just like watching calories; the point is to uncover big items that were unknown or surprising, and that maybe we can do without at times. The low-hanging fruit strategy.

    Another savings with electricity comes from a big effect of timing. Rather than saving on overall consumption, reducing peak demand also has a big impact. So it's great to be able to time-shift one's usage based on instantaneous rate information. We have a smart meter that bills us at a rate that changes hourly, and we can look up online the current rate. We've saved quite a lot as a result. Without that incentive, I'd have no reason to time-shift.

    IMHO, getting college students to alter their behavior without an incentive is going to be quite a challenge. You should read the book "Nudge", about how people can be encouraged to the right thing even without monetary reward.
  5. KJ6EAD

    Senior Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    In regard to getting the data you want or enough devices to gather it yourself, two other strategies come to mind. One; perhaps the makers of Kill A Watt have done such a study or know of one and you could use their data. Two; they or your local electric utility may be willing to supply enough of the devices for your project either permanently or on loan.
  6. mwarre25

    Thread Starter New Member

    Mar 22, 2011
    Thanks wayneh and KJ6EAD for the input,

    I will definitely take the advice and read "Nudge."

    KJ6EAD: Good idea with investigating Kill-A-Watt's past studies(if they have them)

    We took these concerns to our advisor who is an anthropology professor and she assured us that regardless of the amount of data we receive (even though more is better) seeing the reduction is what we want.

    Basically we are continuing to refine our study parameters and I'll post them as they get finalized, adding the peak demand factor sounds like a good idea and I will run that by my team