For eight years, Bowdoin has run annual energy conservation contests, in which dorms compete to save the most energy. With the help of a new online tool, though, students are now able to track their green performance 24/7.
Bowdoin's Building Dashboard, designed and run by Lucid Design Group, lets anyone monitor hour-by-hour energy usage for 33 buildings on campus, including 12 residence halls. The site lets users compare buildings, explore historical data back to November, get energy-saving tips, and check the weather.
Administrators have access to additional tools for making sense of the data, and can now run their energy-saving competitions online.
"It's making something tangible that for so long has not been tangible," said Keisha Payson, Coordinator for a Sustainable Bowdoin.
Power for the bulk of Bowdoin buildings comes through two main meters; Payson had sub-meters installed when she arrived at Bowdoin almost ten years ago, enabling building-by-building usage tracking for the first time.
"The meter readings were basically an Excel spreadsheet for every different month. The data was just numbers; it never really told a story," said Payson. "If we suddenly start using a lot more [energy], it wasn't necessarily obvious. If we could come up with a way to graph it, it would become a lot more interesting."
Not all buildings are yet included on the Building Dashboard; all social houses, for instance, are metered individually and separately.
Payson and Facilities chose Lucid's Building Dashboard for its engaging interface, user friendliness and back-end monitoring features.
"It provides a very easy-to-use interface, but also has the behind-the-scenes capabilities for Facilities to identify potential issues we might be having that previously might have gone unnoticed for months or years," said Payson. "If a piece of equipment starts to malfunction, we'll catch onto that right away."
"The people I've talked to think it's a great idea," said Manager of Networking for Information Technology (IT) Jason Lavoie. Lavoie worked to build the system the lets Lucid's hosted site talk to Bowdoin's private environmental control systems.
"I think that we have a lot of this data and it's great to be able to expose that to the community in an easily consumable manner," Lavoie said.
"I think it's a really great resource for the College," said Sarah Pritzker '11, who serves on the President's Sustainability Committee and was an office assistant for Sustainable Bowdoin. "It's so much easier to do something about it when you know what you're trying to make a difference in."
"I like to check out the Buck Center, because that's a new building that's really efficient," said Pritzker. "You can see how modern building practices have really made a difference."
Sustainable Bowdoin, Facilities Management, curious students and planet Earth aren't the only ones who benefit.
"I know there are some faculty members who are interested in potentially incorporating this into classroom use in the future," Payson said.
Lucid Design Group has set up Building Dashboards for 75 to 100 educational institutions, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford, said Customer Programs Manager Andrew DeCoriolis. It has also worked with corporations like Yahoo and is exploring residential projects, but "our heart is in the educational sector," said deCoriolis.
Lucid was founded in 2004 by Oberlin College graduates, who began the work that led to Building Dashboard as students. Roughly half the company is comprised of Oberlin graduates, said deCoriolis, himself a graduate.
"It's been fun working with friends again," he said, citing an almost "cultish" atmosphere.
The company is hard at work on upgrades, including ones for inter-college competitions. While it remains to be seen if Bowdoin will be among the best on a national energy-saving battleground, it can at least lay claim to being among the first; deCoriolis said Bowdoin's was the longest-running competition he had heard of.