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Student Competition to Encourage Energy Reduction in Residence Hall

Dashboard of energy consumption in a residence hall

Utility Utopia will see students compete to decrease their energy consumption. Gonzalez will track the energy usage using the University’s energy management system.

Nicolas Gonzalez is energy wise. He wants his peers to take the stairs instead of the elevator and turn lights off when they leave the room. To encourage sustainable habits, Gonzalez, an environmental science and policy senior at USF St. Petersburg, has created a competition that will see residents of Pelican Hall, formerly known as Residence Hall One, compete to see which floor can use the least amount of energy over a three-week span. Students on top-performing floors will have a chance to win prizes. 

Gonzalez’s competition, which he has dubbed Utility Utopia and goes from February 21-March 13, was inspired by a documentary he saw in high school about how competitions can help incentivize people to adopt more sustainable practices. 

“I’ve kept thinking about that idea,” he said. “When I needed to come up with a research project for my senior year, I decided this would be perfect.” 

USF St. Petersburg uses an energy management system to monitor the energy usage of buildings across campus. Pelican Hall has the added benefit of sub-metering, which tracks the energy usage of each individual floor. 

Gonzalez developed a website to display each floor’s results on a weekly basis, including total kilowatt hours and equivalencies to everyday activities, such as charging phones and driving cars. These equivalences are designed to help students grasp the real world impact of their energy habits. Beginning Friday, February 21, Pelican Hall residents can check their floor stats and status compared to other floors via the website.

Beyond bragging rights and being a good steward of resources, Gonzalez has arranged for a number of local businesses to provide merchandise, gift cards and vouchers to encourage camaraderie and competition amongst the students. Residents of winning floors will be entered into a raffle to receive the prizes. 

Gonzalez’s adviser Madhu Pandey, visiting assistant professor of chemistry, thinks the Utility Utopia competition addresses a key aspect of sustainability. 

“We often talk about energy harvesting and generation, but we need to think more about ways to conserve energy by using less,” she said. “We can do this by applying and implementing some changes in our habits to use electricity. I am very excited about this project and I’m confident it will help cut down on the electrical bills.”

By incentivizing sustainable energy habits, Gonzalez hopes he will help his peers consume less and become more connected with their individual environmental footprint. 

“I’m hoping students will walk away with a greater environmental literacy and have a better idea of how they can reduce their impact through small actions,” he said. “A lot of people think the world is so big that it’s hard to make a change. But if you make small changes on a local level, that can help us in the future.”

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