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The Challenge

First, some background: Washington University in St. Louis spends a lot of money on energy. How much? About $40,000 a day.  Two-thirds of that energy is consumed by the laboratories on their campus. As a part of their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 27% by 2020 according to the 2010 Strategic Plan for Environmentally Sustainable Operations, Washington University in St. Louis has undertaken aggressive programs to reduce the energy consumed on campus.

As part of these efforts, the Department of Sustainability launched the GreenLabs project. After launching their website, and setting up real time energy consumption graphs for each of the labs, we were approached to build one more tool.

The challenge is that making labs more energy efficient has a lot to do with knowing how much energy lab devices consume and how often they are running.  It was generally possible to come up with some fuzzy ideas about the numbers around this problem, but having a calculator to figure out reduction and projected savings would make this task easier and much faster for those auditing the labs.

The Solution

We created the Energy Consumption Optimizer!

The solution was two fold.  First, gather lots of data.  A list of all the equipment in the labs had to be created.  Next, each of the devices was sampled to get a reading on how much electricity they consumed an hour (thanks to a team of interns for gathering that data).  The list of equipment, along with energy consumption data was then placed into a database.   We then determined the cost of relationships between energy to various metrics – dollars, coal, co2, and other real world metrics to create a relatable basis of comparison for the calculator users.

Part two was coding the calculator.  We wanted it to be easy to use and accessible to everyone.  The obvious choice was to make it a web application, and build it using javascript to prevent the page from having to refresh.  We simplified the interface over and over again until it was distilled down to the most basic elements.  The first thing the user does is enter a percent energy reduction goal.  As the user enters their equipments into the calculator, they add their ‘current hourly consumption’ in hours, along with their ‘estimated reduced hours’.  The statistics on the right hand side of the screen update in real time, allowing the user to tweak their numbers to reach their desired percent.  When everything is in place, and the numbers line up, they can press one button to generate a PDF report that outlines exactly the energy reduction hours for their lab equipment to reach their savings goal (down to the last calculator).  This tool, coupled with automated power regulating hardware leads to big savings.

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