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Sept. 29, 2010 Volume 32, No. 6

Kilowatt counting by the Dashboard light


Energy monitoring to expand to nine buildings

Earlier this year, Jarod Abel and Dave Guinta had an idea: what if there was a way to monitor energy consumption that would motivate building occupants to cut down on utility use?  The two University of Missouri students came up with a plan and submitted a grant proposal to the MU Student Sustainable Initiative Fund.

It turned out, however, that a computerized system, called Dashboard, was already in place in three MU residence halls. That was the bad news.

The good news was that an expansion of Dashboard was in the works and it needed student leadership. Abel and Guinta didn’t hesitate to sign on.

“My ultimate goal,” says Abel, a senior geography major, “is to have every building on campus equipped with Dashboard.”

If all goes as planned, Dashboard will be installed in the Dogwood, Galena and Hawthorn residence halls by Nov. 1, bringing the total number of buildings using the program to nine.

A product of Lucid Design Group, based in Oakland, Calif., Dashboard is a computer software program that clocks real-time energy usage. Once installed, a box similar to a utility meter sends information to the Dashboard system, which charts the usage on a website.

The first devices were installed at MU in 2009, after Ben Datema, former president of Sustain Mizzou, a student organization, was awarded a $25,000 grant by the MU Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund. Datema, who graduated earlier this year and is now the sustainability adviser for Student Life, said he’s happy to see the program grow.

“Before Dashboard came along, much of the ‘green’ focus on campus was in making buildings more efficient,” Datema says. “Those are important improvements, but this program allows building occupants to track their behavior. It’s a way for students to see their direct impact on the environment.”

Abel and Guinta are gearing up for a nationwide competition of Dashboard users in November. Campus Conservation Nationals 2010 pits 40 universities from across the nation as they track reductions in energy consumption using the software program.

“We are going up against schools that have a much more extensive network than we do,” says Guinta, a student in chemical engineering. “If everyone in our Dashboard facilities participates, we have a great shot at doing well.”

In April, students in Hatch, Schurz, and College Avenue residence halls competed in a local energy-reduction competition. Usage in those buildings dropped an average of 6 percent, with the winner — Schurz Hall — reducing its energy use by more than 11 percent.

An anonymous donor is funding the Dashboard expansion. Abel and Guinta say the installation cost — a few thousand dollars per building — is worth the expense. “I think awareness is key,” Abel says. “I want to talk about Dashboard to whoever will listen. I want everyone to know it exists, and I want everyone to know how to use it. That’s how we’re going to grow this program.”

Abel and Guinta plan on promoting the national competition with a series of events. Last year, the university agreed to dim the lights on several buildings during the Blackout football game. Abel and Guinta hope the same will happen with this year’s game on Nov. 13.

“We’d like to get lights on top of Jesse Hall turned off,” Guinta says.

For more information, visit

— David Wietlispach