Home ownership comes with all kinds of benefits: private space, property investing, reliable laundry access. Those conveniences also come with costs such as a mortgage and utility bills.
However, if you are a student living in a dormitory, you do not have many of those conveniences — and you also are not thinking about your energy bill, according to new study done for the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) and funded by a gift from a University of Illinois alumnus.
University of Illinois Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics Erica Myers, working with ACE Ph.D. Candidate Mateus Souza, tried to answer the questions: Are students thinking about their dormitory energy usage? And would they think about energy costs — and conservation — more if they were presented with detailed energy reports?
Currently, students’ housing fees are wrapped into a neat package; nothing outlines their energy consumption and costs. With help from Facilities & Services (F&S) and Housing staffers’ data and feedback, Myers and Souza focused on one U of I residence hall to conduct their research. Two-thirds of more than 400 participating students received Home Energy Reports (HERs) weekly (Figure 1). Sent via email, these reports gave students an opportunity to compare with their neighbors.
“Our HERs provided information about a student’s own energy usage, how that compares with neighbors’ usage, and some tips on how to conserve energy.” Myers reported. “In standard residential contexts, the reports have been shown to be remarkably cost-effective: a simple additional section to consumers’ monthly bills produces energy savings that range from 2% to 6%.”
The researchers found that the energy consumption reports had little impact on students’ behaviors during the semester.
Additional emails were sent out later, simply asking students to lower their thermostats before they left for breaks and periodically during the semester. Students turned down the thermostats before Winter Break (Figure 2) — but did not after subsequent requests while they were actually occupying the dorms.
“During a regular semester, however, we find that, without monetary incentives, students may not be willing to sacrifice thermal comfort in favor of energy conservation,” the report said.
Myers and Souza, with additional feedback from F&S, Housing, and U of I faculty, conducted this research as a part of the Levenick iSEE Fellows Program. The program is supported by a $500,000 gift from Illinois alumnus Stuart L. Levenick and his wife Nancy J. Levenick, both of Peoria. The funding contributes to iSEE’s mission of actionable research — that is, work that leads to lasting, real-world solutions to the world’s current and future sustainability-, energy- and environment-related issues.
This research has been submitted to an academic journal and is currently under review. A working paper version can be found here >>>
— Jordan Goebig, iSEE Communications Specialist