If you’ve ever wondered how much water you use when you shower or how much electricity you waste, you’re not alone. Measuring your resource consumption can be tricky. But, if you live in Clarkson’s Smart Housing project in Woodstock Village, you can actually calculate your usage thanks to technological innovation that Professor Stephen Bird is particularly passionate about.
Bird is a jazz musician turned energy policy expert who divides his time between teaching about environmental and energy policy and researching smart housing initiatives and microgrid governance.
“I'm a little bit unconventional because I spent my first 15 years working in the music and art world so I wasn't an academic to start,” says Bird, who used to work as professional musician playing electric bass. “I loved music and I loved working in the art world, but when I started doing work with environmental policy, I found it really compelling. It was not planned. It was a giant left turn.”
That left turn brought him to Clarkson University where he can put his energy research ideas into action. Bird is one of a team of Clarkson professors who spearheaded a unique living situation that uses feedback and monitoring systems to help students gauge their resource use and decrease their overall energy footprint. Conservation and sustainability are no longer buzzwords. Instead, they’re common ideas that many embrace, including those who live where a digital dashboard reveals their electric and water consumption in an effort to motivate Smart Housing residents to consume less and conserve more.
Some choose to use less energy because of financial savings while others may be more swayed to conserve based upon opinions in energy security or energy independence. Still, others may choose to conserve because of the association between resource use and health problems. For example, Bird points out that asthma is an epidemic in the U.S. and using fewer resources means creating fewer pollutants that cause it.
While the Smart Housing project encompasses much of Bird’s time, he is also involved in a microgrid project that would create a resilient underground energy system in Potsdam that would improve disaster response capability.
“Basically it means we’ll have electricity if there’s an ice storm or hurricane or flooding or anything else,” says Bird, who works with a team that recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to continue the microgrid project. He has both graduate and undergraduate students helping with this project by writing papers, conducting research, implementing server algorithms for data analytics and participating in meetings with key partners like National Grid and GE.
While Bird may have taken a break from his musical lifestyle, rest assured he’s still playing. “I gig regularly around the North Country,” says Bird, “playing jazz and experimental rock.”