Feature Stories


Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, May 2017


Smart Apartments: UCSF Housing Services Raises Awareness of Energy Use

UCSF students are busy learning how to create a healthier world:  classes, lectures, research, studying. In the background is UCSF’s ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2025. As health professional students, it is also important for UCSF students to see the connection between their energy usage and the impact on global community health by contributing to climate change. At UCSF, electricity use in buildings and facilities produce 19.5% of UCSF’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While many large energy efficiency projects are taking place, small, individual behavior changes are key to meeting UCSF’s goals.

UCSF Housing Services recently hosted an energy competition at UCSF’s four-bedroom units at Mission Bay (MB)  to raise awareness of opportunities to conserve energy at campus housing and to help UCSF health professional students see the connection between their energy usage and global community health. These units were selected because UCSF Housing pays utilities in these MB shared units, making it easy to track energy use. In addition, these units are similar in size and utility amenities. “The end goal was to raise awareness and educate tenants on the opportunities to reduce energy use,” explained Todd McGregor, Assistant Director, Housing Services.

Through a series of communications via emails and a newsletter, MB housing occupants were challenged to reduce energy. To date two competitions have been held, one last winter and the second January through March 2017. Each month, the top three “smart apartments” were recognized for their outstanding efforts.  From those top apartments, each tenant received a gift card and one tenant was randomly drawn each month to win a prize.

Competition Results
Energy use and related costs were tracked each month, revealing some striking trends. In Febuary 2017, the best performing unit used 154 kWh for the month, while the energy hog used 1,604, 10 times the use at the best performing unit. Last year, a series of audits were conducted at the biggest energy users to identify opportunities to reduce waste. Some of the biggest offenders were:

• Leaving electric heaters running when the apartment was not occupied;
• Leaving big computer systems on when not in use;
• Big TVs and gaming stations plugged-in when not in use;
• Use of micro-fridges (which are not permitted); and
• Multiple kitchen appliances left plugged in, such as coffee pots, when not in use;

Four Calls to Action
The Tenant Update newsletter and emails suggested a range of simple actions to reduce energy waste. Here are the top four:

1. Not Home? Turn it Down:  This is so obvious, it seems silly to mention. But turn the heater down when you are not at home.

2. Not Using it? Turn it Off/Unplug It: When your computer is turned on, but not in use; the coffee pot plugged in and not in use; or your call phone charger plugged in without your phone charging, these devices all continue to use energy. Known as vampire energy, there is a simple antidote:  unplug it when not in use.  The use of a power strip can make this easy to do for multiple devices.

3. Get Rid of It: Small micro-fridges are not allowed in campus housing; Housing Services provides full- sized, Energy-Star refrigerators for the group apartments. Use the larger, more efficient refrigerator.

4. Use LED lightbulbs: LED bulbs have gotten much more affordable, last much longer than a traditional bulb, and can reduce energy use. LEDs use 25%–30% of the energy and last 8 to 25 times longer than halogen incandescents. Next time you need to replace a bulb, use a LED.

And the Winner Is…

To maintain tenant privacy, names can’t be released, but the address of top three and three worst apartments was sent to all tenants with tips on what they could do to reduce energy use at home. The winners each received a $5 Bear Hug. The most efficient apartment spent $24 for the month, while the biggest energy user came in at $435. It isn’t easy to motivate a change in behavior when electricity is included in the rent, as it is at these units. And with so many variables, such as the north facing apartments getting less sunlight and thus using more heat, it is difficult to do a fair comparison. But the friendly competition was a success in raising awareness and highlighting a few key calls to action. Social science shows that making data like this available can trigger a “keeping up with the Jones’” phenomenon. If I know my neighbor is recycling, I am more likely to recycle. If I know my neighbor is using 10-time less energy than I am, I am more apt to conserve energy.

The top performers for the second month (February 2017) were:
1. 525 Nelson Rising Ln, #712 used only 154 KWH
2. 525 Nelson Rising Ln, #612 used only 175 KWH
3. 525 Nelson Rising Ln, #512 used only 198 KWH

Needs improvement / lowest performers:

1. 525 Nelson Rising Ln, #417 burned up an impressive 1,382 KWH
2. 550 Gene Friend Way, #525 burned up a whopping 1,407 KWH
3. 525 Nelson Rising Ln, #317 burned up a choking 1,604 KWH

Want to Learn More?

University of California, in partnership with Vox media, just launched a new six-part video series on climate change — Climate Lab.  Hosted by conservation scientist and UCLA Visiting Researcher Dr. M. Sanjayan, the videos explore the surprising elements of our lifestyle that can contribute to climate change and the groundbreaking work being done to mitigate its effects. The videos discuss everything from clean energy to food, religion to smartphones through interviews with experts, scientists, thought leaders and activists, including many researchers and experts in our UC community.

You can watch the first video - “Why humans are so bad at thinking about climate change” at: climate.universityofcalifornia.edu