Project Switch Off

Project Switch Off

Project Switch Off

What

There is still at the time of writing, a lot of electrical wastage in UMS. Many lecture rooms  are left with their lights on and air-conditioners blasting away throughout the day, from Monday to Friday. Even when a lecture room has only one scheduled lecture on a given day,  the lights and air-conditioner would be kept on for the entire day and sometimes even for the entire night.

At this point one might think that the switches are hidden behind the whiteboard or perhaps locked in a camouflaged casing embedded in the wall. That is however not the case. The switches are right there, just as obvious as the door knob. For this reason, we see an opportunity to take action. It is a low-hanging fruit. The basic idea of this project is to get students to simply switch off everything before leaving the room.

Where

Since we are still a very young establishment, the plan is to start small. Thus we set the School of Science and Technology (SST) building as the venue for this pilot project.

School of Science and Technology (SST)

School of Science and Technology (SST). Quite pinkish huh.

Who

As a new group in the university starting from scratch, we are collaborating with the SST student body, Sciencetech, to carry out the project more efficiently. They are supporting us by acknowledging the project within the school and providing resources to publicize the project among SST’s community. Thankful we are to them.

Sciencetech logo

Sciencetech logo

Why

Many students think that:

1) somebody like a technician or security guard would do a night patrol and switch everything off at the end of the day

2) there is some sophisticated automated centralized mechanism that shuts down everything in the building at a certain time at the end of the day.

The truth is that it doesn’t really work that way. When we approached the technicians and the security guards to ask if they have such duties or if there is a centralized system, they told us that the lights and air-conditioner in the lecture rooms (Bilik Tutorial and Bilik Kuliah) are fully the responsibility of the students. This means that if a student does not switch off the electricity in a given room at the end of the day, NOBODY will bother to switch  it off and the  electricity will be ON THE ENTIRE NIGHT. Perhaps many are not aware of this. So we intend to create this awareness among students. It really makes sense though. Since we use it, we have the responsibility to turn it off before we leave. It is a simple thing but many assume that someone else will do it for them.

How

The plan is to have a Greenpulse representative planted in every course in SST who would announce to their fellow coursemates after every lecture reminding them to switch off all electrical equipment before leaving the room/hall. It is nothing sophisticated. We are spreading the message by word of mouth. We have also put up ‘switch off’ reminders at the exit of each lecture room.

The standard lecture room in SST. Guess where is the switch?

The standard lecture room in SST. Guess where is the switch?

The switch in the SST lecture rooms while being as exposed as the door knob, is not exactly very obvious at the same time. With reference to the photo above, as you exit the room you will not see the switches at all because they  are cleverly placed at the sides of the wall. What makes it trickier is that they are not always on the same side of the room – the switch’s location alternates by room. So we decided to make things easier for people to take notice of the switch’s location and to switch off before leaving.

Reminder (above) and lecture room schedule (below) placed at the door

Reminder (above) and lecture room schedule (below) placed at the door

The big arrow is to indicate the location of the switch in a given room.  This is to make it convenient for people to get it right the first time whenever they want to switch off the electricity.

A closer look at the reminder we put up at each exit.

A closer look at the reminder we put up at each exit.

Schedule of lectures in the room

Schedule of lectures in the room

We also made the effort to find out the schedule of each lecture room and to paste it at the door so that students are aware of the amount of wastage that ensues if they fail to perform the simple act of switching off as they leave the room. As you can see from the schedule above, there is only one lecture for each day of the week in this particular lecture room and Tuesdays are totally vacant. The average is actually two lectures a day for any given lecture room in SST, at most three, but rarely.  Yet, one observes the lights and air-conditioner to be on the entire day (and even overnight) in many of these rooms, even when they are empty.

The idea of this project is to get everybody on board to share a common goal. We believe that this will work because the students will be informed by a fellow course mate and not by some ‘outsider’. The knowledge of the fact that they will not be alone in this and that we are trying achieve this together would also help in gaining momentum for this effort. A simple act like switching off may seem insignificant at the individual level, but when people know that this will be a collective effort with the cooperation of all, they’d want to be a part of it. The cumulative impact will be very significant if the wave really catches on. The idea is getting people to realize that every little contribution counts.

It is important to note that this project is not just some random one-time campaign that goes about telling people to switch off, save energy, and that’s it. What makes this project meaningful is that we are keeping track of the electricity use in SST and it will be a long term project where we improve over time. This is a very important component of the project. We will be comparing electric consumption data before, during and after implementation of the project to see the savings achieved. We will then make known the achievement because when people see the results of their contribution – the numbers – they’d be more convinced of the impact that they can make with their everyday decisions.The progress thus far will be posted from time to time under the Project Switch Off category.

When

The project officially starts implementation on 1st September 2009. Electric meter readings has been taken weekly since mid-August 2009. Monitoring shall continue for as long as lectures are on throughout the semester. We hope to expand on this project and further improve it in the coming semesters. This is a pilot project in SST. If it turns out well, we may consider an improved model in other schools in the university sometime in future.

Common Misconception 1: The air-conditioning in SST is centralized and students have no control.

Many students are not aware that the lecture rooms (Bilik Tutorial and Bilik Kuliah) in SST are actually using separate , individual air-conditioner units and that the thermostat (or air-conditioner switch) is located right next to the light switches in each of these rooms. This is because many think that the air-conditioning system in these rooms is centralized.

One can switch off the lights AND air-conditioner at the same time

Students have a tendency to only switch off the lights and leave the air-conditioner running even when the switches are right next to each other.

From the preliminary week-long survey that we carried out, an average of 14 rooms had their air-conditioner left on at the end of the day as opposed to an average of only 7 rooms that had their lights left on at the end of the day.  There was a trend to it. All rooms with their lights left on at the end  of the day also had their air-conditioner running, 100% of the time. However, for rooms with their air-conditioner left running at the end of the day, the lights were not necessarily on at the same time. This means that students have a tendency to only switch off the lights and leave the air-conditioner running. There can only be two reasons for this:

1) Students are not aware that the air-conditioner can actually be switched off because they think air-conditioning is centralized in SST.

There are two general types of air-conditioning in SST. One is called Air Handling Unit (AHU)  and the other is called Fan Coil Unit (FCU). AHU refers to centralized air-conditioning, and in SST centralized air-conditioning is only used in the laboratories, computer labs, program coordinator rooms (Bilik Ketua Program) and in the little library (the Bilik Pusat Sumber filled with thesis). AHU air-conditioning is used for large spaces and consumes much more energy than FCU. For centralized systems like AHU, only technicians can operate the switch.  Each lab or room that uses AHU has a separate room adjacent to it called an AHU Room (Bilik AHU) which houses the switch.  Other than the aforementioned places, everywhere else, including all lecture rooms (Bilik Tutorial & Bilik Kuliah), offices (Pejabat Am SST, SPU, SPL), and every lecturer room on the highest floor uses FCU for air-conditioning. And it is important to note here that FCU is non-centralized. For every room using FCU there is a thermostat where you can adjust the temperature of the air-conditioner and actually switch it on/off.

FCU Thermostat for each individual room. It is used to adjust the A/C temperature or to switch the A/C on or off.

FCU thermostat for each individual room. It is used to adjust the A/C temperature or to switch the A/C on or off.

Yes, every lecturer room on the highest floor uses FCU and they each have a thermostat. So this project actually requires the cooperation of not only the students, the lecturers too play a crucial role. In fact, we’ll need everyone in SST to be on board including office staff, technicians, and the security guards as well because in the end we are assessing electricity consumption throughout the entire SST building.

2) Students think that by leaving the air-conditioner on it will save more energy than to switch it off and on again.

For this, see Common Misconception 2 directly below.

Common Misconception 2: Turning it off and on again consumes more energy than just leaving it on the whole time.

There is a common misconception that it uses more energy to switch something on again after switching it off, rather than leaving it on the whole time. Especially for air-conditioners. But that is NOT true. There is reliable explanation from experts on this:

Cited from Michael Bluejay’s website:

Question: Which uses less electricity?

  1. Keeping the AC on constantly.
  2. Having the AC on during the day, then turning it off and opening the windows instead in the evening when it’s cool, then turning the AC back on when we go to bed.

The reason I ask is that my roommates think it takes more electricity to turn the AC off and then turn it back on later.— Julia Van Voorhies, Sept. 2004

Answer: There is no such thing as a household device needing “extra” electricity when it’s turned on. So the answer is as simple as you would expect: The less you use the AC, the less electricity you use. When the AC is running you’re paying for it. When it’s off you’re not. So whenever you turn it off, you save money. It’s that simple. Maybe your roommates are thinking that in the evening when you open the windows it’s still a little warmer outside than inside, so you’re making the inside air warmer, so the AC will have to run longer to remove the extra heat when you do turn it back on. If so, what they’re failing to consider is that your house is having heat added to it even if you didn’t open the windows. That’s because people and light bulbs generate heat, and because the heat from the warm air outside will slowly migrate into your house even with the windows closed. This means that when you leave the AC on it’s constantly working to remove that heat. And it definitely takes more energy to remove that heat constantly rather than removing it just once when you turn the AC back on later. End. (More detailed information in the cited website)

It is the same for lights too, and for any electrical appliances in fact. Even the electrical technician at SST agrees that every time we switch off we save. This project is to clear many misconceptions that people have and at the same time raise awareness about the great impact we can create together. So, even if the next lecture is just an hour away, it always saves to switch off rather than to leave it running. For every second that the air-conditioner (or any electrical appliance) is running, it is using energy = burning fossil fuel = screwing the planet. Again we must emphasize that every time you switch off, you save. Even though the next person would have to turn it on again and feel a little discomfort before the air-conditioner cools the room, that little discomfort means a lot for the environment and for future generations. It is about realizing what really matters in the big picture, and in the long run. How each individual can make a difference. How every little thing counts.

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