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Penn Green held a caption competition on Facebook for a photo taken by Gregory Eco-Reps as part of the Power Down Challenge.

Credit: Courtesy of Penn Green

While Eco-Reps spent the month of February encouraging college house residents to reduce energy usage, consumption in fact increased for over half of the buildings during the Power Down Challenge.

This year marked the the sixth year of the challenge and the first time ever that over half of the participating college houses increased their electricity usage. Gregory and Harrison College Houses won, with Gregory achieving the largest percent reduction in electricity use — 1.67 percent — while Harrison saved the most gross electrical energy — 2518 kWh. They will each receive a catered Ben and Jerry’s ice cream reception.

The high rises did well overall in the challenge, populating three of the top four places, even though Harnwell went up by .1 percent in percent reduction of electricity.

But aside from Gregory, Harrison and Rodin, every other college house used more electrical energy than the baseline amount set for the Power Down Challenge. Du Bois College House experienced a 10 percent increase in electricity use, while Sansom Place used an additional 5071 kWh of electricity. The Quadrangle, Harnwell, Hill, Kings Court English and Stouffer College Houses all also saw an increase in percent and gross electricity use.

This was the second year that the challenge was held in February rather than November, since the Green Campus Partnership determined that the month was more stable and easier to measure because there is no daylight saving time.

“But there’s always fluctuation,” Environmental Sustainability Director Daniel Garofalo said in a February interview on the Climate Action Plan.

Facilities and Real Estate Services was unable to give energy-usage data for January or February of 2015 by the time of publication.

“It could have been that it was warmer in January when the baseline was taken,” Wharton junior Emily Wei, a member of the marketing team for the challenge, said. The average temperature for Philadelphia in January 2015 was recorded as 31 degrees Fahrenheit, and only 22.1 degrees Fahrenheit in February 2015, according to U.S. climate data. But the Power Down Challenge does not directly account for heating, because most of Penn’s heating is steam-powered. However, since electric pumps are used to send hot water through the building, temperature could have factored into the challenge by forcing the pumps to work harder.

Another factor is student involvement in the challenge.

“The whole point isn’t to get results, but to get people engaged,” she said. Wei’s team held a social media competition each week of the challenge, with the winners receiving gift cards to sustainable companies on campus like HubBub.

Still, some residents might not have been aware of the initiative.

“It might have taken a few weeks for students to get involved or to hear about the challenge,” Sustainability Strategic Planning Associate Sarah Fisher said in a February interview. “The challenge used to be three weeks long, and awareness could be raised during the first week of the month.”

For Gregory College House, Eco-Reps’ commitment to promoting engagement was a key factor to their success.

“Gregory was recently renovated, so our house is already pretty sustainable ... but we’re always trying to encourage sustainability and add environmental consciousness to all the events,” College sophomore and Eco-Rep Tabeen Hossain said.

Eco-Reps in the past years had already made “zero-waste” events, where house residents would bring their own silverware and cups to enjoy food.

“We change the house’s lifestyle in little ways; we try not to be too obtrusive,” Hossain said.

The Gregory Eco-Reps promoted the challenge at study breaks and Sunday brunch, where they made pancakes in shapes like power symbols, electric plugs and light bulbs. The Reps gave pledge stickers to Gregory residents to put on their doors, pledging to “power down” so they would be entered into a raffle.

“One thing we noticed was that at the beginning of the month we would go around and turn off the lights in the study rooms,” College sophomore and Eco-Rep Camilla Davila said, “but as the month went on people remembered to turn them off more and more.”

“We would give candy to students using the study rooms to reward them because using the lights in there uses less electricity than the lights in individual rooms,” College freshman and Eco-Rep Lydia Ramharack said. 

Gregory House Dean Christopher Donovan was very open to the Eco-Reps’ suggestions. “He let us hold all of our events in the dark, with the lights off,” Davila said, “using three electrical candles as the only sources of illumination.”

Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that the Power Down Challenge does not account for heating since the system is steam-powered. This article has been changed to clarify that the heating system is aided by electric pumps, which could affect the Power Down results. The article has also been updated to reflect that FRES was unable to give energy usage data by the time of publication.

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