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Harvey Mudd Powers Up During PowerDown: Cold Weather Causes Surge In Energy Consumption

Graphic by Dominic Frempong

Harvey Mudd College placed last in this year’s annual PowerDown electricity reduction competition, not only failing to reduce its consumption, but actually increasing it by 15.7 percent.

The competition ran from Feb. 13 to Feb. 27. Pitzer College won for the second year in a row with a 10.2 percent reduction in electricity usage, Scripps College placed second with a 9.7 percent reduction, Pomona College third with a 6 percent reduction, and Claremont McKenna College fourth with a 5.1 percent reduction.

All but one Mudd residence hall had an increase in usage, led by Atwood Hall, which had an 65.7 percent increase.

Louis Spanias, the acting director for HMC’s Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design, said the primary reason for the electricity increase was likely the cold weather during the two-week period. He wrote in an email to TSL that electricity consumption was higher during the evening and early morning hours, when the heating systems would have been running.

“Many Mudd dorms, including Atwood, have individual AC/heating units for each dorm room and suite lounge,” added Kayla Yamada HM ’19, co-president of Engineers for a Sustainable World and Mudders Organizing for Sustainability Solutions. Individual units use more energy than regulated central heating for whole buildings, as the other four colleges use.

Spanias said insulation at HMC may have also have been poorer than at the other schools, but that increases “were common across the board.”

To determine energy reductions for PowerDown, each college takes baseline measurements of energy consumption in the two weeks leading up to the competition to calculate the electricity used. Yamada noted that the competition fails to reward students who are energy-conscious throughout the year.

Despite Mudd’s poor showing, Spanias believes PowerDown “has a noticeable and positive effect. … If you're talking about behavior, I think people do pay attention to the competition and participate — and I think people do take those lessons with them.”

For the competition organizers, that means highlighting ways to save electricity besides unplugging chargers and turning off lights, such as “putting away our computers and our phones and engaging in social activities outside, like through programs that students put on throughout the competition,” Spanias said.

Each college took turns hosting events to promote electricity reduction. Scripps, for example, hosted a potluck and kombucha brewing event in the student garden in partnership with the HMC Kombucha Club and the Pomona College Organic Farm, while EcoCenter members Sam Sjoberg PZ ’20 and Emily Tabb PZ ’19 hosted a PowerDown Sounds concert at the Shakedown.

Pitzer will receive $500 for winning this year’s competition. EcoCenter representative An Sasaki PZ ’18 said the group will look into funding travel to environmental conferences, getting a solar-powered outdoor speaker, or purchasing DivaCups for Pitzer students.

“We are excited to be able to have the money to implement these initiatives,” Sasaki wrote in an email to TSL. “We will hopefully see some of these come to fruition before the end of the semester.”

This year’s reductions set new records for the 5Cs. Pomona EcoRep Ellie Harris PO ’18 said Pomona saw the highest percentage reduction in the college’s history since the competition began.

For Pitzer, this year also showed “the highest reductions any school has achieved in my four PowerDown competitions,” Biggins said.

Alexis Reyes of Pomona’s Sustainability Office says that in total, the competition saved 18,834 kilowatt-hours, equivalent to about 1.6 times the energy used annually by the average U.S. household. They say last year’s competition, which ran a week longer, saved about 33,000 kilowatt-hours.

“[The results] give us a lot to think about as organizers, as we want to host an impactful and fun competition — one that students can get excited about, but at the same time, fosters positive habits around energy consumption,” Spanias said.

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