Pitzer Surges to Victory in PowerDown Competition

For the first time since 2014, Pitzer College won the 5C PowerDown 2017, an annual competition to minimize energy usage between the residence halls of the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges. As a reward, Pitzer’s longest-standing environmental club, EcoCenter, will receive a $500 cash prize. The prize is available for EcoCenter members and the Pitzer student body as a whole to spend in an environmentally-related way.

From Monday, Feb. 13, to Monday, March 6, each college’s ranking fluctuated in correlation to the amount of kilowatts per hour (kWh) used or saved by each residence hall, with Pitzer ultimately taking the victory at a 7.7 percent energy reduction. Claremont McKenna College came in close behind at a 6.4 percent reduction, Harvey Mudd College with a 5.2 percent reduction, Pomona College with a 1.5 percent reduction, and Scripps College falling in last place with a .2 percent increase in kWh usage. 

According to the event’s Facebook page, PowerDown 2017 saved 33,170 kilowatt-hours of energy, which is “equivalent to powering 3 homes' electricity for a year.”

To keep students engaged and willing to participate, events were held on all five campuses to promote PowerDown2017. Students were urged to take the Power Down Pledge which, according to EcoCenter member and PowerDown representative Laurel Melton PZ '20, was “a pledge basically saying you would try to do a bunch of different things to reduce your power usage during the competition.”

EcoCenter member Haley Burger PZ '20 said that, among other events, “there was a silent disco, CMC did a hang-your-clothes-in-the quad-to-dry event, and Scripps did an outdoor field night where they had an astronomy teacher come.”

Energy increases and reductions during PowerDown 2017 were evaluated in comparison to a two-week data collection baseline period prior to the start of the three-week competition period, according to Pitzer Sustainability Manager Warren Biggins.

“The 5C PowerDown competition grew out of a national energy and water reduction competition that was sponsored by a group called Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN),” Biggins said.

According to its website, CCN is “the largest short-term electricity reduction competition in the world.”

Since its inception in 2013, the 5C PowerDown competition has been affiliated with CCN, but because CCN has been in limbo for the past two years, last year Pitzer spearheaded its own 5C version of the national competition.

For this year’s data collection process, Pomona and HMC contracted with a software company called Lucid, while Scripps, Pitzer, and CMC collected their own data reading the numbers on the electricity meters of each residence hall.

“It’s a very low-tech monitoring system,” said Biggins of Pitzer’s method. “I go around at the same time every day during the competition and read the meter, then I enter it into a spreadsheet that computes the usage of how much electricity was consumed over the course of a night or a weekend.” 

Not all campuses had the resources to collect data daily and instead collected information approximately every four days, after which a graphic would be released informing the student body which school was in the lead. 

According to the Pitzer College website, “the ultimate goal of the competition is to use a short-term challenge to change long-standing habits to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

Some examples of ongoing energy saving habits offered by Melton are to “always, when you leave your room, turn off your light and open the window.” She also stressed the importance of “trying to charge your phone and computer during the day versus at night, so that when it’s done you can just unplug the charger.” 

Haley suggested a few methods for saving energy: “drying your clothes because we live in southern California, not washing clothes more than is necessary, taking shorter showers, taking colder showers, and washing your clothes with cold water.”

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