Power Down Challenge saves enough energy to power 10,000 homes

Power Down Results Top: Penn staffers play bocce ball outside of the Penn Museum. Bottom: WCIT staffers gather for an ice cream social. Photo credit: Top: Amy Ellsworth; Bottom: Dan Garofalo

During Penn’s Power Down Challenge on June 17, staff members helped to reduce the University’s electricity usage by nearly 13 megawatt hours, enough energy to power 10,000 homes for one hour.

Employees participated in the power-down by shutting off lights and electrical devices for one hour. The initiative was led by Penn’s Staff and Faculty Eco-Reps, the more than 100 volunteers who act as environmental ambassadors, training their co-workers to meet the University’s sustainability goals.

Carol Rosenfeld -- Penn’s sustainability consultant who conducts "Sustainability 101" sessions on campus -- says several offices and departments across campus came up with entertaining ways to encourage saving energy.

At Wharton Computing and Information Technology (WCIT), for example, WCIT Eco-Reps Joe Cruz and Karen Leary organized an ice cream social for staff during the power-down. Employees were asked to bring their own spoons and bowls in order to reduce waste, and green Rice Krispies Treats (decorated with an eco-message) were served.

Inspired by the Challenge results, Cruz and Leary say WCIT plans to turn off electrical devices when they gather for staff meetings in the future.

At the other end of campus, Penn Museum staff invited the University community to a garden party after powering down, complete with lemonade and bocce ball.

Information Systems & Computing got into the power-down spirit by compiling a list of everyday actions that conserve energy and the Business Services Division held a discussion on sustainability.

Penn participated in the challenge in cooperation with PJM, a regional electric grid operator that annually tests its emergency electricity load shedding system to determine how much large-power consumers like Penn can reduce energy consumption in an emergency, or during periods of high electricity use, such as periods of hot, humid weather.

Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance in facilities at PJM, says that while much of the reduction during the challenge hour was operational – the turning off of campus chiller plants and shutting down of air handlers – the balance was due to employees’ behavioral changes.

“The Challenge showcased opportunities for the campus community to conserve energy, enact behavior change and support Penn’s Climate Action Plan commitment to reduce energy use by 17 percent by 2014,” says Anne Papageorge, vice president of Facilities and Real Estate Services.

A portion of the financial savings from the power-down will be invested into Penn’s Green Fund, which provides one-time grants to members of the University community for creative and innovative projects to help reduce Penn’s carbon footprint.

To learn more about sustainability efforts through Penn’s Green Campus Partnership, visit www.upenn.edu/sustainability.

Originally published on July 1, 2010