NRG Games Offer Competitive Forum For Energy Awareness

The Boston College residence hall communities will soon go head to head as the annual NRG Games kick off this week. The event, coordinated by the Office of Sustainability, the EcoPledge student organization, and the BC Energy Department, pits the communities against one another for the next five weeks as they compete to reduce their energy usage.

“It’s an opportunity for students in Res Halls to be able to look at the way they’re using energy, power, electricity, and so on and see if there are ways in which they can do a better job at not using so much power,” said BC Sustainability Program Director Robert Pion.

The competition uses kilowatt hours, determining a baseline usage per community and comparing the various communities by these measurements. The winning residence community will have its name featured on a trophy, in addition to being awarded either a cash prize to be used for an end-of-year party or a public water-filling station.

A breakdown of the residence halls’ utility projections reveals a majority of the usage, about 60 percent, is electrical, the focus of the NRG Games’ competition. Electrical energy is not reduced to turning off the lights, though-it includes such appliances as a hot water heater for residents’ showers.

According to Pion, small changes can make a huge difference when it comes to conserving resources. In some cases, residents might be wasting energy without realizing it.

“If you’re taking extra long showers, if you’re leaving your personal devices plugged in and they don’t need to be, if you’re using an incandescent bulb instead of an LED bulb or a compact fluorescent bulb, you’re using up a lot more energy than you need to be,” he said. “If you’re leaving their TV on all day, just using it as background, can you just leave it off for a few hours?”

Sometimes problems with the building itself can result in wasted energy.

“If someone has an issue with it being too hot or too cold, put in a work order,” Pion said. “Have the facilities people come in and take a look at it to make sure the thermostat is working properly, and then we can make some adjustments if necessary.

“If people put in a work order, at least we can see if there is a pattern developing in a particular area or a particular building that really says, we should fix that. It’s a benefit for the student and a benefit for the University, we’re addressing problems that haven’t been addressed.”

The weekly results will be available on a live dashboard on the Office of Sustainability website, accessible through the BC page. The office will also post the weekly results on the website as well as on its Facebook page, so students will be able to see how their residential community stands in the competition.

Aside from an online presence, the NRG Games organizers have been working on promoting the event to an even greater extent this year.

“What we’re trying to do is to reach out to as many people as possible to let them know about the NRG Games,” Pion said.

They have also reached out to a variety of organizations as well as the residential communities themselves to promote the NRG Games.

“We have been working with other student organizations like EcoPledge and Eco Reps to have them publicize it,” said Varsha Ramesh, communications contact for the Office of Sustainability and A&S ’16. “Also we have reached out to RAs and RDs so that they can pass info along to their residents.”

They also credit student volunteers with helping to bring the event directly to residence halls.

“There are about six student volunteers who are responsible for sharing tips on how to save energy within their residence halls and motivating them to just participate in the games,” Ramesh said.

Ultimately, they hope that the NRG Games help to set a precedent for conservation.

“We all have to think about the ways in which we use our resources,” Pion said. “It’s something our parents have all told us: shut off the lights, don’t use so much hot water. We continue that here.”

By making conservation a competition, they hope students will be more inclined to take part.

“Our goal is mainly to make people more aware of simple ways to cut down our energy consumption,” Ramesh said. “By giving people a cash or prize incentive during these five weeks, we hope to help them realize that it’s not that hard to just save a little energy. If everyone pays attention to their usage it makes a big difference.”

Pion agreed. “It’s helping to raise awareness in a way that’s light,” he said. “It’s a fun experience. If we get people to think just a little differently about how they view electricity in their room, then I think that’s making some small gain toward people thinking what they can do and how they can contribute.”