Thirteen million students live in student housing in the United States where energy and resource waste stem from the ‘split incentive problem,’ in which the user of the resource does not pay for it. The Smart Housing Project uses a combination of real-time energy feedback (messaging, wall screens, and internet dashboards) with resource use education to help Clarkson students reduce their energy and resource consumption. With support from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority), IBM, BuildLab, and FLIR Corporation, this project can contribute to reduced energy, water, and heating use.
About the Project
The Smart Housing project in Woodstock village uses the following features for the purpose of energy conservation and future study in energy consumption:
Digital dashboard to show consumption data to Smart Housing occupants
Sensors to monitor electric and water usage
Measures of Air Quality and overall Environmental Comfort
What makes people use less energy?
For many, it’s the cost: economic, environmental or both. Costs are only made clear, though, in a monthly utility bill. And that’s something millions of Americans never see.
These are people who live in various types of housing where power is part of the rent. And this group includes the more than half a million New Yorkers that live in college residence halls. Across the U.S., student housing accommodates 13 million people for about nine months a year.
“That’s a lot of people who have access to a thermostat but never get a heating bill,” says Clarkson political science professor Stephen Bird. His work in energy policy includes in-depth research on the “split incentive” problem.
“Essentially,” he says, “it’s any situation where the benefits people receive aren’t in line with the amount of money they pay. But in this case, the students are drawing large amounts of energy which, in turn, loads the power grid and consumes natural resources expensively and inefficiently.”
The fix may be remarkably simple – and not too expensive, either.
“If we can show students how much energy they use,” Bird says, “if they see the impact of turning up the heat in winter or spending 15 minutes in the shower instead of five, we expect their behavior will change, dramatically.”
So, how can students see energy use? With a dashboard—a digital readout—showing the amount of electricity and water flowing into their living space. A panel like this requires large amounts of data from a variety of sensors—on pipes and wires—throughout the residence hall. As Woodstock Village residence halls go through extensive renovations, professors and students are now installing these sensors and other elements that are at the heart of Clarkson’s Smart Housing project.
Civil and environmental engineering professor Kerop Janoyan is helping students with the technical aspects. “Thanks to these sensors,” he says, “everyone will be able to tell at a glance how much water and electricity is being used in the residence hall. We can also measure air quality and overall environmental comfort in the building.”
Janoyan adds that this project gives Clarkson the distinction of being the first university to take an interdisciplinary look at how technology can change behavior around the daily use of water and power.
“There’s an enormous potential here to help people make more sustainable choices,” he says. “Because once you quantify energy usage, you start looking at renewable sources of energy.”
This is one reason why the project has garnered interest and support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Students are also looking forward to learning how simple behavioral changes can conserve energy and the environment.
Clarkson graduate student Mark Bayer is working on installing the sensors and setting up the digital dash board that will inform residents of their utility usage. “My main interest,” he says, “is in the level of metering we’ll have in the Smart Housing units. I’d like to live in one of these units, to pinpoint my exact energy usage and then see how much less I could use.”
Bayer’s ethic is not unique. He’s part of a generation that has taken a long and in-depth look at power and its impact on the environment, politics and other social institutions. This generation knows the costs of using energy. And thanks to Clarkson’s Smart Housing project, they’re about to find out just how much energy they use.
“We’re expecting profound changes,” Bayer says. “That’s the point.”
- Dr. Stephen Bird, Education/Behavior, Energy Policy; Political Science
- Dr. Phillip Hopke, Air Quality Specialist, Director: CARES, Institute for a Sustainable Environment
- Dr. Daqing Hou, Building Modeling, Software Engineering
- Dr. Kerop Janoyan, Building Modeling, Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Dr. Lisa Legault, Education/Behavior, Psychology
- Dr. Susan Powers, Education/Behavior; Building Modeling, Environmental Engineering; Associate Director, Institute for a Sustainable Environment
Funding Partners and Agencies
Graduate Student Researchers
- Mark Bayer (past), Systems Developer, Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Justin Marrott, Data Analyst; Energy Modeling, Environmental Science & Engineering
- Leila Nikdel, Data Analyst; Energy Modeling
- Alan E.S. Schay, Data Analyst, Building Modeling, Computer Science; Software Engineering
- Amanda Sherman, Energy Education, Psychology
- Patrick Wilbur (past), Systems Developer, Computer Science