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Mizzou Dashboard empowers students to take control of their consumption

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  • Story by Karen Pojmann
  • Photos by Shane Epping and courtesy of Mizzou Dashboard
  • Published: April 23, 2009
Schurz hall

Mizzou Dashboard charts energy consumption in three MU residence halls through user-friendly online charts and graphs. Schurz residents won a recent competition designed to raise energy-use awareness among students.

A “ninja crew” of student environmentalists stormed three Mizzou residence halls in the wee hours of a recent Monday morning. Clad in black shirts and headbands, armed with sticky notes and flyers (on 100 percent recycled, 50 percent post-consumer-waste paper, natch), they delivered a message to their sleeping peers: “You Suck (energy).”

The stealth-marketing moment kicked off a weeklong competition among inhabitants of Schurz, Hatch and College Avenue halls. Members of the student environmentalist organization Sustain Mizzou challenged the 1,400 residents to conserve energy — to help save the planet “one thingamajig at a time,” as the flyers instructed — by using measurably less electricity than they had the previous week. Schurz won, reducing energy consumption by 3.4 percent to College Avenue’s 3.0 and Hatch’s 1.1. Together, the students conserved 1,283 kilowatt hours of energy in one week.   

How do they know? They kept tabs online using Mizzou Dashboard.

On the dash

Last spring biology major Ben Datema, a member and former president of Sustain Mizzou, heard about the MU Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund’s $25,000 grant for innovative new information-technology projects.

Always thinking green, Datema researched the California Lucid Design Group’s energy-monitoring software Building Dashboard and, in two “frantic, frenzied weeks,” assembled a proposal for hooking up the system on MU’s campus. With the dashboard in place, anyone can monitor, in real time, how much energy is being used in a building and how that energy translates into dollars, carbon-dioxide emissions and other measurement equivalencies.

The day Datema pitched the high-tech undertaking to the Information Technology Committee, technology, ironically, failed him. A 10-minute West Coast server glitch coincided with his oral proposal time, rendering his demonstration inaccessible until the last moment of his time slot. “I walked out the door and thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get this,’” he recalls. He was wrong; the committee voted in his favor.

With the green light to go green, Datema called on his friends in Sustain Mizzou and Environmental Studies, as well as experts in MU Energy Management and the Department of Residential Life, for logistical help. Following a series of jargon-laden discussions between Lucid and Residential Life’s information-technology staff, the energy entrance points to three residence halls were equipped with data loggers, and the software was set up to instantly translate the data into charts and graphs online.

Powered up

Ben Datema

MU student Ben Datema presents the Mizzou Dashboard project during the Missouri Energy Summit. Attention-grabbing flyers announced a student competition.

By many accounts, Mizzou already has established itself as a role model in environmentally and economically friendly use of energy.

Though campus space has grown by about 60 percent since 1990, energy use has dropped by 12 percent per square foot, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 104,000 tons each year. Currently the MU power plant blends 10 percent tire-derived fuel with coal — annually saving up to $300,000 in fuel costs — and by 2012 the plant will have installed a new boiler to burn 100 percent biomass fuel.

With improvements such as energy-efficient lighting, HVAC upgrades, underground water chilling and window film, the university has saved more than $4 million in utility costs annually — the equivalent of three degree programs.

“Energy Management is really cutting-edge,” Datema says. Human behavior, though, lags behind. “We can have all the efficient infrastructure that we want, but if people aren’t conscious of it and using it properly, we aren’t getting as much bang for our buck.”

The missing link

That’s where Mizzou Dashboard comes in. With constant online monitoring, students become instantly aware of how much energy they use from day to day and how their habits affect both the university and the planet.

"They can see the actual influence of their decisions on the system. It turns energy conservation into something more tangible," Datema says. “It’s an educational effort. Energy conservation is an issue that’s gaining prominence every day. I think it’s very important that students are aware of their usage.”

Currently the Mizzou Dashboard project has funds for putting a fourth building online; Memorial Union is among the proposed candidates. The dashboard is expandable, so even more buildings could be hooked up quickly, easily and at a price significantly lower than the startup cost.

If all goes well, Mizzou could see widespread monitoring of university energy use — and maybe some more healthy competition among residence halls. This year’s contest winners still await their promised prize: an enormous trophy made, of course, from recycled materials.

Read more in:  Agriculture & the EnvironmentScience & TechnologyOn CampusSpecial Features & Series

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012