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System offers peek inside University of Alaska Fairbanks energy, water use

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Posted: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 11:35 pm | Updated: 1:34 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The public can now take a detailed peek at energy and water use at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, thanks to a new system that displays consumption at 20 buildings across campus on the Internet.

The output of every extra-long shower or unmonitored space heater is recorded on a website dubbed the Building Dashboard, showing each kilowatt, Btu and gallon being used. The information is available online at http://build ingdashboard.net/uaf.

The system, recorded through a series of sensors at each building, is seen by the UAF Office of Sustainability as a way to boost awareness of resources being used on campus. It shows, for example, that the Moore Hall student dormitory drained more than 1 million gallons of water during the past three months, while the Irving Building has used about 700,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Garrett Evridge, a UAF economics major and project manager for the Building Dashboard, said the data is envisioned as a way to make UAF students and employees better understand the role they can play in saving campus resources. It can display usage in daily, yearly or customized periods of time.

He said the energy use statistics could fuel competitions between rival dorms or even other universities making similar efforts. The Building Dashboard site also includes a variety of tips for saving electricity and water.

“I think the majority of students don’t even think about it,” he said. “With awareness, I think there’s going to be a better chance of conservation.”

Installing the sensors for the Building Dashboard and posting it online will cost about $84,000 this year, Evridge said, with $5,000 additional dollars each year needed to maintain it. The funds came from the $20 fee UAF students are charged each semester for sustainability projects.

Evridge said the project is envisioned as a possible investment, capable of paying for itself over time through energy and water savings.

“Not only is this an educational tool, but we want to save money,” he said.

UAF currently spends about $8 million a year for energy on campus. That includes coal, diesel and natural gas for its power plant, which generates steam to make heat and electricity on campus. It also includes electricity purchased occasionally from Golden Valley Electric Association.

Cuts in electric use on campus don’t always translate directly into savings, however, since the steam used to generate electricity would be produced anyway to heat the campus in the coldest winter months.

UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said campus officials support the Building Dashboard effort, but aren’t expecting it to spur a huge cut in electric use.

Most things on campus that use lots of power, such as large freezers or ventilation systems, can’t be scaled back much with voluntary measures, she said. For example, the four biggest electricity users on campus are West Ridge research buildings, which house numerous energy-intensive projects.

The move, however, will give a higher profile to sustainability efforts at UAF, which has been an ongoing goal on campus.

“If nothing else, it gets people thinking more about it,” Grimes said.

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