Lights Out – Senate and Department of Sustainability Challenge Dorms to Save Energy 

Screenshot of plnu.senate and sustainplnu's Instagram post announcing the Lights Out competition. Photo submitted by Sarah Gleason.

Point Loma Nazarene University Senate and the university’s Department of Sustainability collaborated to make sustainability accessible and fun with a dorm energy consumption competition, Lights Out. 

Students have been asking the senate for more sustainable student involvement according to fourth-year environmental studies major and chair of the sustainability committee in the senate, Becca Bullen. 

“This program was born out of seeing that students have a desire to be more involved and be more knowledgeable and be more conscientious of what they’re doing, and we want to provide that opportunity but in a super fun way that will also create community,” Bullen said. 

The senate’s sustainability committee partnered with the Department of Sustainability to create a competition between residence halls about how much they could reduce their energy usage during the month of February. All residence halls were included in the competition except for Flex and Colony. The organizers said in a reply to an Instagram comment that Flex has amenities that other residence halls do not, like full kitchens, that can make tracking energy per unit complicated. 

The goal of the university’s senate, according to Bullen, is to bring student ideas to life.

“The role of the Senate really is to take student concerns, and thoughts, and ideas and implement them by using our resources whether that’s faculty or the Board of Directors that we have a really good relationship with,” Bullen said. 

Katrina Cloyes, fourth-year psychology major and sustainability assistant in the Department of Sustainability, said the goal of the Lights Out program is not only to reduce energy consumption on campus, but also to create sustainable habits and empower students.

“People want to be sustainable, they just either don’t know how or they’re not doing it,” Cloyes said. 

One of the roadblocks, Bullen said, is that students don’t know where to start.

“I think that sustainability can be a really overwhelming concept for people who maybe don’t know a ton about it or don’t want to make massive changes in their day,” Bullen said, “but they want to help the planet or they want to do some good in that regard. I think this is a really easy way of providing opportunities for students to practice sustainable methods that’s super accessible and will make a big impact without being overwhelming or overbearing.”

For first-year social work major Veronica Estrada, the concept of mindfulness around energy consumption is nothing new. 

“I keep aware of how many cords are plugged in and for how long the lights are turned [on],” Estrada said. “I prefer natural light anyways.”

For others on campus who may feel confused about how to contribute to sustainable practices, this program could help them develop healthy habits, said Cloyes. 

“There’s a lot more to benefit from than just sheer reducing energy usage,” Cloyes said. “I think that students can benefit a lot from programs like this because the tips that they learn from saving energy now could be habits that they implement for the rest of their lives. So I see this partially as an awareness campaign as well.” 

The path toward reducing energy consumption included things like students turning off lights, unplugging technology and reducing the use of hot showers and hot laundry, which use energy to create heat. 

Cloyes said energy consumption can be overlooked in common spaces. 

“I think there’s this lack of accountability for public spaces,” Cloyes said. “When I was living in Finch last year, I would walk by the kitchen and the light would always be on. I would turn it off and then I would walk by like 20 minutes later and it would be on again.”

The results of the competition were announced on Tuesday with Young Hall coming in first place. They decreased their energy consumption by 40.1%. The remaining halls’ numbers are listed:

  • Nease Hall – 27.6% decrease
  • Klassen – 23.4% decrease
  • Wiley – 14.7% decrease
  • Finch – 11.4% decrease
  • Hendricks – 10% decrease
  • Goodwin – 1.8% decrease

Although the competition came to a close at the end of February, the results were not available to organizers Bullen and Cloyes until six to eight weeks later. 

Cloyes said the delay was due to an information lag in San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E)’s system. 

“SDG&E works differently on a university scale than it would on a residential scale,” Cloyes said. “Depending on the cycle of data collection, usage for the previous month is reported a few days into the following month. At the end of the billing period, the information is given to our vendor–Jadetrack–that does data analysis and completes a secondary check for our usage. There have been gaps in reporting where entire months have been missing from SDG&E, so outsourcing our data analysis is essential for the level that we are operating at.” 

The organizers used two other energy tracking and managing services, besides the data from SDG&E, to ensure accuracy. One program, JadeTrack, tracks energy usage because SDG&E can be unreliable, Bullen said. Additionally, because the university also employs solar energy, the organizers used the system Information and Energy Services (IES) to account for solar energy usage. 

Cloyes also noted that the results may be unusual considering the weather this winter. 

“We had colder weather than was expected in February and confounding variables such as this are not something we can anticipate beforehand,” Cloyes said. 

The competition was designed to be fun and community building, Bullen said, but it has meaningful roots. 

“I think that as an institution that is so close to the ocean, and that is Christian, we have a responsibility to do what we can to reduce our negative impact on the planet,” Bullen said. 

The organizers are excited for the competition to continue to evolve in the years to come. 

“We hope that in the future the competition will last longer than a month but, with the lag in the data report, we were simply unable to make that a reality for this semester,” Bullen said. “Our hope is that this competition becomes something that students are familiar with, that they get excited about, and that the habits they form by trying to reduce electricity consumption continue after this competition, after their time at Loma, and become habits that they perform throughout their entire lives.”