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    University of Arizona Residence Life creates app to help students manage power usage

    The mailman just left, and the electric bill is here once again. You open it with dread—$200. There is no way you can afford that.

    In Arizona, where the summers are long and the air-conditioning runs cold, staying on budget with electricity can be a tough task. Now, with the click of a mouse, UA students and faculty can save energy and lessen the shock of their electric bill with EcoPower.

    Developed by the UA Green Fund and UA Residence Life, EcoPower is a free interactive application for your computer.

    “You can customize your energy usage habits and learn what impact that has over a month and what it costs,” said Jill Ramirez, the coordinator of sustainability education for Residence Life. “You can learn if everyone who lived off campus used energy the way you do, what that impact would be.”

    Using it is as easy as one, two, three

    Saving money with EcoPower is as easy as logging onto the website, customizing the electric appliances to your usage and then observing what your projected electricity bill will be. From there, you can adjust the appliances to see the impact of lowering the air-conditioning three degrees or doing two loads of laundry as opposed to four.

    The application has three virtual rooms: an office, a residence hall dorm and an apartment. Each room is modeled after a real place. Árbol de la Vida served as the inspiration for the dorm room, while the apartment room is from The Cadence, an off-campus complex.

    When customizing EcoPower, students and faculty can choose whether each of the appliances is on, off or unplugged. In addition, they can adjust how much they use each appliance. For things such as air-conditioning and heating, the temperature is also customizable.

    “The website is very easily personalized for different residences,” said Miranda Mann, an e-society sophomore. “It was very interesting to see the averages and compare how you stacked up.”

    One of Mann’s favorite features is the Carbon PawPrint. This feature shows the environmental impact if everyone on campus used the same amount of energy as the user. The PawPrint breaks down how many trees would have to be planted in order to balance out the energy usage.

    This and other energy comparisons help put the impact of our energy usage in context.

    “When you look at it and you’re like, ‘Oh, $18 worth of electricity, that’s not a big deal,’ ” Ramirez said. “But then when you realize this is only part of what you are actually using, … we’re talking something thousand trees that have to grow [in order to offset our electricity usage].”

    The evolution of EcoPower

    The application is Ramirez’s brainchild. After attending a presentation at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, she said she was inspired by an application the University of Kentucky had designed to help their students and faculty save energy.

    Developing the software involved several UA Residence Life departments, including technical support and marketing. The marketing team was tasked with creating an authentic feel in each of the rooms. They organized several photo shoots at each location and made sure everything down to the shadows were exactly right when the lighting was turned on. Residence Life technical support worked alongside a student programmer to ensure the site was simple to navigate and easy to update with changing energy prices.

    The UA is the fourth school in the nation to develop an application like EcoPower, and the first to add an off-campus option.

    The off-campus apartment feature evolved from the collaboration between Ramirez and Madeline Bynes, a junior studying political science and history.

    When Bynes was looking for sustainable off-campus housing, she became frustrated with the lack of options. She approached Ramirez to expand the program so all off-campus students would also have the tools to live more sustainably.

    As the program developed, Bynes was appointed the first off-campus sustainability coordinator for the UA. She educates students on ways to make sustainable living choices, with EcoPower being one of the programs she emphasizes.

    Why is EcoPower important?

    Both Ramirez and Bynes are active users of the program. Bynes has customized EcoPower within a few cents of her actual electric bill. From there, she can play around with ways to lower her bill even more.

    “If you are looking at [EcoPower], you can say, ‘OK, I’m going to unplug my coffee maker today when I’m done using it, and that can save me 10 cents,’” Bynes said. “That 10 cents adds up among all the appliances that you unplug. That t10 cents adds up among all the appliances you don’t use. Depending on what I’m doing, I can shave off between [$5] and [$20].”

    During the winter, Bynes lowered her electricity bill to just $20.

    As the off-campus sustainability coordinator, Bynes has found that students perk up when she brings up the cost benefits of using EcoPower.

    “This is probably the most well-received part of the program that I do because it can save students money directly,” Bynes said.

    EcoPower is a powerful budgeting tool that can serve cost-conscious students.

    “You can’t change how much you are paying in rent,” Bynes said. “A lot of times if you’re living off campus in an apartment complex, they pay for your water, trash and sewer, so you can’t change that either. You can change how much you are paying in electric.”

    Although there is no plan to expand the application, Bynes would like to see a house option added.

    “Obviously the energy usage in a house is going to differ from an apartment because [the apartment in the application is] not communal, but it’s still a good representation of what you can use,” Bynes said.

    Bynes commented on her mission as a campus liaison between sustainability initiatives and the student body.

    “Our job as sustainability leaders is to make people see the value on their own terms,” Bynes said. “EcoPower really does that.”

    So, next time you are looking to lower your energy consumption, log onto EcoPower and learn how to live more sustainably and economically, one watt at a time.  


    Follow Natalie Robbins on Twitter.


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