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Beginning yesterday, lights in different campus buildings began turning off, and not because of Hurricane Sandy.

The Power Down Challenge, which began at the beginning of this week, is an annual competition between college houses and campus buildings designed to lower energy usage over the span of three weeks. Awards are given to the college house and campus building that lowers its energy consumption the most.

The initiative, which began in 2009, is part of the University’s commitment to reduce energy use by 17 percent by 2014, as outlined in Penn’s Climate Action Plan.

Facilities and Real Estate Services, which organizes the challenge, said it has no specific target for energy reduction for this year’s challenge, but hopes to exceed last year’s results. Last year, the college house winner, the Quad, reduced its electricity consumption by more than 20 percent. The winning campus building, the Franklin Building, reduced energy consumption by more than 20 percent as well.

“Saving energy is an important achievement,” FRES Executive Director of Operations and Maintenance Ken Ogawa said. “But a greater achievement is getting more involvement and more awareness, which will result in a long-term benefit.”

A new tool that FRES is using this year is a “dashboard” located on its website. The dashboard visually shows the energy usage for different buildings and also includes options to make “commitments” to do things like turning off the lights and taking the stairs. Students can decide which commitments to virtually agree to by clicking on them, and these then appear on a student’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“Energy conservation can come across as parental, an ‘eat your peas’ approach,” Sustainability Student Outreach Associate Julian Goresko said. “This tool helps students communicate in a more fun way — it’s interactive and social.”

This year, the Power Down Challenge has expanded to a number of different campus buildings, including Huntsman Hall and Pottruck Health and Fitness Center.

“We are looking to get a good distribution of buildings,” Goresko said. “These buildings have totally different populations coming through … It crosses the student-faculty threshold.”

Engineering sophomore Sandhya Thiyagarajan, a member of the executive board of the Eco-Reps program, said that the Eco-Reps helped to promote the Power Down Challenge in each of the college houses and campus buildings through a variety of communication and education initiatives.

“I think once everyone gets into a routine thinking, ‘Oh, I would really like to win the challenge,’ they will take little steps and see how easy it is,” she said. “Hopefully they will continue this behavior into the future.”

Thiyagarajan was part of the Eco-Reps team that helped the Quad take the winning title last year. This year, she said, she will be more of a spectator.

“I am looking forward to seeing what events and initiatives each team puts into place,” Thiyagarajan said. “It will be very exciting.”

Goresko said that energy tracking after the challenge ended last year showed there had been a 5 to 10 percent reduction in energy usage weeks after the Power Down Challenge came to a close.

“It is important for people to understand that individual behavior, in aggregate, has the ability to drive down usage, reduce emissions and ultimately save University money,” he said. “I hope this challenge will show people that.”

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