Tracking Energy Use
Energy feedback system wins $75,000 grant
while pushing resource conservation
by Tim Tibbitts
Oberlin students and faculty traveled to Washington, DC, in May to exhibit projects in the EPA’s P3 Student Design Competition. One of the teams created a mobile biodiesel processor, found in this truck, which transforms waste vegetable oil into a low-cost fuel.
John Petersen has a theory: Allow people to monitor their use of energy, and they will be motivated to conserve it.
Such was the premise of Oberlin’s Dorm Energy Competition, a two-week contest
in March in which students in all 25 residence halls went to great lengths to
curb their use of electricity and water. In Dascomb, students agreed to forego
showers and leave hall lights off for the 48 hours before Spring Break. Students
in Burton unplugged the power strips in the dorm’s 25-unit computer center.
In Fairchild, residents unplugged all vending machines and disconnected the light
sensors in the common areas, which were actually supplying more light than what
Although the 2005 contest wasn’t new to Oberlin, one of its key elements was: a real-time, floor-by-floor feedback system that allowed students in two halls—Harkness and Fairchild—to regularly monitor their use of electricity and water.
Developed by Vladislav Shunturov ’05, an environmental studies and computer science major from Bulgaria, and Associate Professor John Petersen, his honors thesis advisor, the feedback system proved so effective that in May the team landed
a $75,000 award in the Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 Student Design Competition for Sustainability. (P3 stands for People, Prosperity, and Planet.)
A second Oberlin team, led by Assis-tant Professor of Environmental Studies Katy Janda, earned honorable mention for its creation of a mobile biodiesel processor, which converts waste vegetable oil into a clean, low-cost fuel. Both groups took part in an exhibition of projects in May on the National Mall in Washington, DC, which showcased ideas for sustainability in agriculture, eco-systems, and energy. Among the 50 competing schools, Oberlin was the only liberal arts college to win one of the six $75,000 grants.
Associate Professor of Environmental Studies John Petersen ’88 (left), along with students Vladislav Shunturov ’05 and Gavin Platt ’06, took home a winning grant after demonstrating their energy feedback system.
Just to get to that stage, both Oberlin groups competed
last year to win P3 grants of $10,000. Shunturov and Petersen bought
wireless water-and energy-flow sensors, plus data-logging hardware.
Once adapted, the equipment collected a nearly continuous stream
of data from the dorms, offering reports on electricity and water
usage every 20 seconds. Students could track their water and energy
use on public display monitors in the dorm lobbies and via a web
For the two-week period in March, every residence hall was encouraged to reduce its resource consumption. Only residents of Harkness and Fairchild had real-time feedback; the others had it only once. The immediacy allowed users to learn by trial and error what energy-saving choices were the most effective.
“You can turn off the lights, or you can turn off the air conditioner, which you’ll see saves as much energy as not running lights for a day or two,” Shunturov says.
By all accounts, the results were phenomenal. Harkness and Fairchild each reduced electricity consumption by more than 50 percent; campus-wide, the mean reduction was 13 percent. The results translated into an energy savings of 68,500 kilowatt hours—a cost savings of $5,120.
Petersen underscores the importance of how much people can conserve simply by being mindful: “The premise of our research is that easily accessible feedback on resource use increases awareness and motivation to act in ways that change attitudes, minimize resource use, and save money.”
Oberlin’s mobile biodiesel project will be featured in a future issue of OAM.
Board of Trustees Names Robert Lemle as New Chair
Robert S. Lemle ’75 has been named chair of the Oberlin College Board of Trustees. A member of the Board since 1996, Lemle, who served as acting chair during the last year, takes over the post from Thomas J. Klutznick ’61.
As vice chair of the Board from 2001 to 2005, Lemle most recently served on its executive, nominations, and budget and finance committees. He serves as co-chair, along with President Nancy Dye, of the Strategic Planning Task Force, initiated in 2003 to ensure Oberlin’s academic, artistic, and musical excellence and financial sustainability in the years ahead.
“The Strategic Plan charts a course that will strengthen Oberlin’s future, and Robert’s leadership was a key factor in its successful completion,” says Dye. “Robert’s vision and direction have been instrumental in the College’s success over the last few years. I look forward to working even more closely with him in the future.”
“I am honored to serve as Oberlin’s new Board chair,” says Lemle. “With approval of the Strategic Plan, we are poised to strengthen Oberlin’s reputation, to enhance the value of the education we offer, and to attain financial sustainability while honoring Oberlin’s history of racial and socioeconomic diversity.”
A lawyer, business executive, community leader, and philanthropist, Lemle served as Vice Chairman and General Coun- sel of Cablevision Systems Corporation, one of the nation’s leading telecommunications and entertainment companies, before retiring in 2002. He also served as a member of its board of directors and as Vice Chairman of Madison Square Garden, owner of the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers.
Lemle, together with his wife, Roni Kohen-Lemle ’76, are founders of the Long Island Children’s Museum. As the museum’s president, Lemle spearheaded its expansion and move to the historic airplane hangar at Mitchel Field on Long Island.
Obirin and Oberlin Tighten Ties
Oberlin President Nancy S. Dye accepted an honorary doctorate of letters from Obirin University this spring. Top: Dye with Obirin President Toyoshi Sato. Bottom left: Griff Dye and Keiji Nakayama, spouse of Yoko Endo Nakayama ’98, at an Oberlin reception in Tokyo. Bottom right: Mitsuro Donowaki ’56 and Morgan Gibson ’50.
President Nancy S. Dye traveled to Tokyo this spring to accept an honorary doctorate of letters from Obirin University and deliver the school’s 2005 commencement address.
That the two schools have such similar
names is no coincidence. Obirin, which translates to “beautiful
cherry orchard” in Japanese, was founded by Yasuzo Shimizu,
a 1926 graduate of Oberlin’s Graduate School of Theology. As
a missionary to China, Shimizu established a school for destitute
girls in Beijing, later creating the Obirin Gakuen, which expanded
to include the university in 1966.
“We are proud to know that your founders took inspiration from Oberlin’s commitment to educating men and women together and to educating students of all nationalities and backgrounds,” Dye told the audience, while praising current Obirin President Toyoshi Sato for his own advocacy of international education and the liberal arts.
The two colleges have maintained close ties over the decades, particularly through student and faculty exchanges supported by Oberlin Shansi. To honor the relationship, Dye presented to Obirin a proclamation of appreciation from Oberlin’s Board of Trustees.
As the first woman and first Oberlin president to receive an honorary degree from Obirin, Dye spoke to the 3,000-plus new graduates about her own college graduation at a time when few Americans had experience with the world outside the United States. She reinforced the global need for financial equality and environmental sustainability—challenges, she said, that cannot be solved by individual nations alone.
“How can we become citizens of the world?” she asked. “By paying close attention to world affairs; by reading widely in the world press; by taking advantage of the resources of the Internet; by studying and mastering a foreign language; and by making opportunities to work or study in another culture.”
While visiting Tokyo, Dye hosted a reception for local Oberlin alumni, prospective students, parents, and high school guidance counselors.
Next Page >>