Friday, September 19, 2008

Too Many Refrigerators

I have spent the week researching the use of refrigerators in dorm rooms by Lasell College students and I have to say I have been blown away by the numbers. I've discovered that nearly all students bring their own refrigerator to campus. This is in stark contrast to my undergraduate experience when roommates all shared a refrigerator. Many Lasell students bring 1.7 cubic ft refrigerators while others bring larger models. Even students living in suites in which a refrigerator is provided still all bring their own. This means seven refrigerators for six people in one living space. Clearly we have identified an area to focus our attention to improve campus sustainability.

We do provide students with meal plans so my next question for students is what do they have in there? The only compelling answer I heard was milk to have cereal in the morning. Do they really all need a refrigerator? There was a lot of discussion about roommates leaving moldy milk or stealing food. Separate refrigerators is a way to avoid roommate conflicts.

I've been so engrossed in the 1 refrigerator/student phenomenon that I decided to run some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Let's assume 1000 of our students living in residence halls bring 1.7 cubic foot Kenmore refrigerator cubes to campus. During the academic year, those refrigerators will use 198,666 kWh of electricity. Now, let's implement a new policy. Only 1 refrigerator per two students will be allowed, but the refrigerator can be up to a 4.3 cubic foot Kenmore. This policy will reduce refrigerator electricity use by over 40%. Dorm refrigerators will now only use 114,000 kWh: a savings of 84,666 kWh per academic year, saving the college $10,160 and reducing our carbon footprint by over 125,000 lbs of CO2.

Larger refrigerators do not use much more electricity than cubes. For example, the 1.7 cubic foot Kenmore is rated at 298 kWh per year while the 4.3 cubic foot Kenmore is rated at 343 kWh per year. This means over double the space but not double the energy usage. The numbers certainly justify a stricter refrigerator policy. Residential life may have to handle a few more arguments over roommates stealing milk but learning how to resolve conflicts is part of the college experience.

What should we do with the extra $10,000 we have saved? One option is to give it to the creative professor who thought of the policy. Since that is unlikely, a second option is to create a pool of money to begin purchasing electricity that is generated by wind. NSTAR offers wind-generated electricity for an additional 1.396 cents per kWh. Whenever programs, policies, or behavioral changes result in reductions in energy costs, the money saved should make its way to this pool. Funneling the $10,000 towards the wind energy offered by NSTAR would mean 716,000 kWh of our electricity is coming from clean wind. The refrigerator policy reduced energy consumption by over 85,000 kWh and we can add to that the 716,000 kWh that we now get clean. Together, these two actions will reduce the carbon footprint of dorm room electricity use by over 35% and save over 1.2 million lbs of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. These two steps would reduce our total campus carbon footprint including Lasell Village by about 7%. That is a big step towards our goal of an 80% reduction by 2050.

I recognize that I have made several assumptions in these back-of-the-envelope calculations. I actually think I am a bit conservative in my estimates of electricity used by refrigerators on campus. I also recognize that upperclassmen will be up in arms if they are told they can't bring their refrigerator that they bought freshman year. Craigslist is a great resource, and there are plenty of college students in the Boston area looking for a refrigerator each fall. In fact, there will be over 500 new Lasell College students in the fall, HALF of whom will be looking for a refrigerator.

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