Home » University of Kentucky’s Empowered program allows community to discern energy use

University of Kentucky’s Empowered program allows community to discern energy use

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 19, 2012) — Are you an Energy Hog? With the recent launch of Empowered™ every individual in the University of Kentucky community will be able to discern exactly how much energy they use every day – from an energy-efficient desk lamp to an energy-guzzling mini refrigerator.

Accessible through touch-screen kiosks located around campus, a public website, and a mobile version for smartphones and tablets, Empowered is an interactive, user-friendly educational resource, featuring a web-based, real-time campus energy dashboard that measures energy consumption in residence halls, classrooms and labs, as well as offices and public spaces. While the stated mission of the program is to elevate the energy IQ of the campus community, a secondary but no less important role is to inspire individuals to participate in a culture of conservation.

“We are the only university that has taken these steps to deploy a program on such a broad level, serving such a large community. Through the deployment of these kiosks and the launch of the Empowered website, UK will be the model by which other campus programs around the country are measured,” said UK President Eli Capilouto.

In terms of its comprehensive layers of interactive programs, including virtual rooms, a video library, and a behavior-based incentive program, Empowered is a one-of-a-kind resource for UK students, staff, faculty and researchers. There’s quite simply nothing like it anywhere in the country; it was developed by UK for UK. While the UK Office of Sustainability, Ameresco, and Yonder Interactive Neighborhoods were the primary creators and implementers of Empowered, the initiative is the result of collaborative efforts by many programs, departments and agencies, including: The President’s Sustainability Advisory Council, the Office of the Vice President for Facilities Management, the Office of University Capital Projects, Greenthumb (a students’ club), the Student Sustainability Council, the Center for Applied Energy Research, UK Energy Club (a students’ club), Kentucky Geological Survey, the College of Engineering, and the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment.

“We live in a world primarily powered by finite resources,” Capilouto said. “Our planet has limits. But our faculty researchers in research centers find new ways to work within these parameters and utilize our assets to maximize, in a responsible and respectful manner, the impact of these resources.”

“The Empowered Program exemplifies the university’s continued commitment to being a responsible consumer of our energy resources and a respectful neighbor in the city of Lexington. At the heart of the matter, responsible behavior requires education and awareness. These new tools provide a fun, interactive resource for our students, faculty and staff to see the impact they have on the energy footprint of our campus,” said Capilouto, who has had the opportunity this past week to work with an Empowered kiosk temporarily located in his office suite.

“Most people want to save money and to reduce their negative impact on the environment,” UK Sustainability Coordinator Shane Tedder said. “Empowered makes this easy to do by visualizing the impact that our daily decisions have on our wallets and our planet.”

Empowered provides real-time energy usage from across the campus as well as an archive with data on historical energy usage and comparisons that put the numbers into perspective. While it can be used for friendly ‘Who’s the Energy Hog’ contests between individuals or residence halls or office buildings, Empowered is also loaded with conservation tips, videos, and a glossary of sustainability terms.

“I am excited to see how Empowered will allow the campus community to learn how their individual actions affect the energy use at this university. Empowered will allow us to educate ourselves so that we may become better at protecting our resources,” said UK Student Body President Micah Fielden.

“Empowered will be essential in aiding UK students as they learn about how our resources are used and an invaluable tool as we work together to modify our behavior so that we become more environmentally friendly and work hard to reduce waste,” he added.

Just two years ago, UK embarked on an ambitious, some may have even said risky, plan to dramatically reduce its energy usage. The Board of Trustees on Dec. 1, 2009, approved the initiation of an energy savings performance contract with Ameresco, an energy service company based in Louisville, Ky.

An energy service company (ESCO), such as Ameresco, provides comprehensive energy and water management analysis plans as well as energy and water-related capital improvement services. Enabled by Kentucky Revised Statute 56.774, energy savings performance contracting is a cost-effective process for energy upgrades. Energy service companies guarantee that utility savings generated by facility upgrades are sufficient to pay back the capital investment over a set period (generally 11 to 12 years). If the project does not provide these returns on the investment, the ESCO is responsible for the difference.

The first phase of the project encompassed a yearlong, energy-savings retrofit of 61 campus buildings, which dramatically decreased the university’s carbon footprint, an annual emissions reduction of about 23,291 tons of CO2. That is roughly the equivalent of taking 45,755 cars off the road or planting 62,257 acres of trees or powering 5,251 homes — each and every year. In addition, about 13,987,779 kilowatt hours and 37,673,020 gallons of water were saved.

Vice President for Facilities Management Bob Wiseman said, “Empowered is an exciting addition to our campus. It provides a very visible public interface to our recent centralized on-going, energy-saving initiatives and projects. It encourages individuals to make personal choices and assume individual responsibility that will save more energy and money on campus. I believe that as faculty, staff and students are given specific energy information and suggestions on conservation, they will do their part.”