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Sustainability dashboard tracks UB’s real-time power consumption

UB's new sustainability dashboard

The Sustainability Dashboard tracks real-time electricity use in more than 145 buildings on the North and South campuses.


Published April 24, 2014

“We want to engage the UB community and inspire people to find ways to make the university more sustainable.”
Ryan McPherson, chief sustainability officer

Question: Which UB residence hall, Fargo or Spaulding, consumed less electricity last week?

The answer, according to the new UB Sustainability Dashboard, is Fargo. But that could change if students in Spaulding turn off unused lights, power down their laptops at night and find other ways to use less electricity.

A partnership between UB’s divisions of Finance and Administration, and University Life and Services, the dashboard tracks real-time electricity use in more than 145 buildings on the North and South campuses. It also uploads monthly data on water consumption, solar-power generation, natural gas use and other information.

The latest in a series of new, eco-minded initiatives at UB, it is a key component to help the university achieve its aggressive commitment to become climate neutral by 2030.

“Whether building the nation’s most publicly accessible solar array or offering a bicycle-sharing program, UB is making steady progress toward achieving its promise to eliminate or offset its carbon footprint,” says Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services. “The sustainability dashboard is geared toward influencing behavior. It shows our students, faculty and staff how they can help UB become climate neutral.”

Ryan McPherson at sustainability dashboard event

The Office of Sustainability recreated "The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon" on Earth Day in the Student Union to promote the Sustainability Dashboard. "Fallon" interviews Ryan McPherson, chief sustainability officer, about the dashboard. Photo: Douglas Levere

A 2011 Stanford University study found that universities can reduce their energy bills by 20 percent if they successfully implement a program that centers on changing the institution’s energy-use culture.

Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration, says the dashboard is a practical and forward-leaning tool that will help the university reduce its utility costs.

“The sustainability dashboard empowers students, faculty and staff with real-time information that they can use to change how much power a building consumes, or how much material is recycled,” she says. “These are the types of activities that will help UB achieve its goal of being a more-efficient university.”

The dashboard tracks the performance of everything from Alumni Arena and the Statler Food Commissary to individual apartment buildings within residential communities like Flint and South Lake villages on the North Campus. The scope of the project — more than 145 buildings — makes it one of the most comprehensive systems in the country, notes Ryan McPherson, UB chief sustainability officer.

One of the dashboard’s more interesting features is the way energy use can be measured. It offers standard units of measure, such as kilowatt hours and British thermal units, but it also shows how they relate to money, food and other user-friendly comparisons.

For example, Greiner Hall, UB’s six-story sophomore dormitory, consumed 34,741 kilowatt hours of electricity last week. Dashboard users can change that to a dollar amount ($5,559), carbon dioxide emissions (31,510 pounds), the number of laptop hours (1,216) or equivalent hamburgers consumed (9,165).

The idea, McPherson says, is to stimulate friendly competitions among students, faculty and staff to be more sustainable. People then will behave like that every day, which when combined, can have a large impact university wide, he says.

“Tracking kilowatt hours might not resonate with everyone. These alternative comparisons help make the information user-friendly and give people the ability to visualize their use of electricity and other resources,” he says. “We want to engage the UB community and inspire people to find ways to make the university more sustainable.”

UB and National Grid are exploring a partnership to expand the dashboard concept with interactive kiosks. Placed across the university, the kiosks would provide another way to access real-time information and help UB achieve its climate neutrality goal.