07/23/15 :

A Little Friendly Competition Amplifies Campus Energy Savings

PowerSave Campus students lead their schools in energy efficiency programs.

Part of the excitement of working in the field of energy efficiency is observing the consistently innovative strategies that are introduced, implemented and improved over time. Energy reduction competitions are still in their infancy and are an example of a strategy with plenty of potential; even the most established programs are just now hitting the five-year mark. Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN), a joint collaboration between the Alliance, Lucid Design Group, National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Green Building Council, celebrated its fifth year this past spring. CCN, which involved 125 schools in the 2015 competition, is the largest higher education energy reduction competition in the nation.

The Alliance’s PowerSave Campus Program was an early pioneer of college energy reduction competitions, helping influence additional engagement strategies. Most energy reduction competitions target easy behavior changes such as shortening the length of shower and sink use, keeping windows open at night to avoid use of air conditioning, unplugging unused electronics and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Alliance staff members helped organize 2015 group competitions among both the California State University and University of California schools, and campuses participating in the PowerSave Campus program have placed within the top 10 of energy reducers every year since CCN began.   

Campus energy reduction competitions are not alone — they are joined by reduction competitions among residential customers, small commercial buildings and large scale institutions. Other prominent competitions include the Cool California Challenge, the Kansas Take Charge Challenge, Cool Choices and the EPA’s ENERGY STAR National Building Competition. Researchers at the California Institute for Energy and the Environment (CIEE) recently published a report evaluating the effectiveness of energy reduction competitions. The report looks at literature, data and interviews for 20 competitions nationwide and tries to tease out best practices for utilities, campuses and program managers to learn from in the future. 

The study’s findings indicate that savings results are impressive, with an average of five percent energy usage reduction for participants across the competitions. The persistence of those results is less clear and has always been a concern of organizations considering starting a competition. Why run a competition when behaviors can revert immediately afterwards? In fact, anecdotal data collected in the CIEE study suggests that energy saving behaviors do persist. The report recommends collecting additional data on long term energy saving impacts of competitions like CCN — which sounds like an ideal future project for PowerSave participants!