As part of its attempt to become more energy-conscious, MIT has devised a competition among its undergraduate dormitories to determine which building can use the least electricity. Details of the competition are given at the MIT Dorm Electricity Competition Web site.
In many universities, the cost of electricity for dorm rooms is usually rolled into the rent, and MIT functions the same way. Students pay the same for utilities each month regardless of how little energy they use. Thus, there is little motivation in dorms to conserve energy because there is no financial benefit for the end consumer for doing so.
A few MIT dorms embrace a sub-culture that induces residents to act counter to the whims of the Institute. These facilities include East Campus and Senior House. The great irony of this competition is that it has caused students in these dorms to begin discussing ways to waste the most electricity possible. I happen to be on the discussion e-mail lists of both dorms, and I have been privy to the torrent of messages about ways to waste energy. Be warned, these comments are both sad and hilarious at the same time.
I power up that ancient 300 pound window AC unit (containing the magic of freon) to max, and then I open the door to the balcony to also enjoy a nice breeze on my face.
We need to leave the bathroom lights on 24-7 so I don’t accidentally miss in the middle of the night.
We should crank our space heaters up to maximum and hang them out the windows. It is very cold outside, and that’s the least we can do for all those freezing people out there.
My lab has this old electromagnet that draws about 10 kilowatts. Let’s plug it into the kitchen and use it to hold our clean silverware.
My 50’s era GE fridge is able to cool 10 cases of beer to just right in about 30 seconds. It is a key component to my quality of life.
We could run extension cords to the off-campus apartments and trade them our electricity in exchange for cigarettes.
To me these comments merely echo the real challenge facing widespread adoption of energy conservation. If the end user does not see substantial economic benefit, what incentive does he/she have to embrace renewable energy? At the moment green energy is more expensive than fossil energy across the board; so, adoption is very slow. The motivation to change will only come only from government taxes on dirty energy or innovations that drive the cost of renewables down.
So much for MIT’s effort to conserve electricity in its dorms.
To read more about government mandates driving adoption of new energy technologies, check out my blog post, “US Postal Service Pioneers Renewable Energy and Transport Tech”.