WCU faces off with ASU in ‘Battle of the Plug’ energy conservation contest

Monday marked the beginning of the “Battle of the Plug”, an energy conservation rivalry for three weeks between Western Carolina University and Appalachian State University.

The competition is part of the first annual Campus Conservation Nationals 2012, a nationwide campaign to conserve energy on college campuses. According to Campus Conservation Nationals, the competition hopes to save 1 gigawatt of power nationwide as a result.

During the competition, campus energy usage can be viewed on the “Building Dashboard”, accessible from www.buildingdashboard.net/wcu/. On this website, students can commit to energy-saving actions, including using desk lamps instead of overhead lights and making use of natural light, especially between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Building Dashboard website can also link to Facebook, enabling users to receive updated information on the competition.

Lauren Bishop, WCU’s energy manager, says that there are just over 150 schools signed up for Campus Conservation Nationals in 2012.

 “We had this idea about a ‘Battle of the Plug’ a few years ago, but we didn’t really have a platform to carry it out,” Bishop said. “The national competition gave us a platform to bring the idea to fruition.”

The winner of the “Battle of the Plug” will gain bragging rights for the year and have their information posted on the losing university’s website. Bishop hopes that there will be a student-designed trophy exchanged in the coming years.   

WCU’s Resident Student Association and Student Government encourage “Battle of the Plug” by planning  several activities for students, including “Power Out for Poverty”, a voluntary campus wide blackout day on Feb. 16. The event helps raise awareness about energy accessibility and its relationship with poverty. 

“There are 1.6 billion people out there that don’t have access to energy, and access to energy is a critical part of alleviating poverty,” Bishop said.

SGA will sponsor “Dancing in the Dark”, a free event at Illusions from 7-11 p.m. on Feb. 23. The dance will be held under blacklights, with attendees urged to wear white. Power 90.5 will broadcast from the dance that evening. 

Virginia Fowler, residential living’s assistant director of facilities, says Residential Living is encouraging live-in staff to spread the word and get RAs and Hall Councils involved. She says that the building that reduces its energy consumption by the largest percentage will receive a “Hydration Station”, a new type of water fountain with a separate nozzle for refilling water bottles.

“The buildings will really compete against themselves,” Fowler said. “We have a baseline we took over the course of two weeks, and the building that reduces their energy consumption the most over the period of the competition will be the winner.”

Bishop says that in overall energy performance, WCU has outpaced not only Appalachian State, but every other university in the UNC system as well.

“Every UNC system school was mandated to reduce their energy usage by 30 percent by the year 2015 from a 2002 baseline,” she said. “We met that goal in 2008, and we were the first school to meet it, and we are the only school to hold onto it.”

Residential Living’s energy cost now stands at $0.81 per square foot, and campus wide, it is $1.33 per square foot.

Energy costs for the UNC system is one of the largest line items on the North Carolina state budget, with last year’s costs totaling $226 million.

Bishops says that small steps can go a long way in saving energy on campus, including turning off unused devices. She stresses that some devices use energy when plugged in, even though they are not turned on. These individual phantom loads are small, but can add up to substantial amounts of wasted energy. Bishop says that the average DVD player will use more electricity annually just by being plugged in that it uses while playing movies. She recommends plugging electronic devices into a surge protector or power strip, then turning the power strip off when the devices aren’t in use.

Fowler also urges students to take simple steps such as taking shorter showers, turning off water while brushing teeth or shaving, using natural light when possible, and turning off lights when rooms are unoccupied.

For more information on how to participate, go to energy.wcu.edu