myPower goes live to help the campus save energy

Starting this week, everyone who works, teaches or studies at UC Berkeley can see exactly how much electricity their building is using right now, in real time, on their computer.

myPower at Berkeley went live on Tuesday at mypower.berkeley.edu, with active connections to 57 campus buildings. It’s part of the newest initiative in the campus’s ongoing energy management program, which aims to reduce energy use.

myPower logoOn the myPower site, you can click on your building by name, and a page opens to display the building’s “dashboard.” A jagged magenta line on a chart there shows the electricity your building is gobbling, and lets you make comparisons to a day, a week, a month or three months earlier. New data goes up every 15 minutes.

If you and other building denizens band together to make small changes — by turning off all computers at night, for example — the cumulative impact will be visible.  And that, it’s hoped, will stimulate more changes.

“Being able to see this real-time data is a powerful tool for people to understand energy use on campus — and to be able to do something about it,” says Erin Fenley, an energy management communications specialist in the office of the vice chancellor for administration.

“We are trying to target individual behavior and behavioral change through myPower,” she explains, “by giving people the tools to see how they can make a difference.”

Screen grab of myPower dashboard pageThe myPower site is user-friendly and fascinating. Open Stanley Hall’s dashboard, for instance, and up pops the chart showing the big lab building as a major power consumer, averaging about 1,300 to 2,000 kilowatts at any given time over the last month. That may not mean much to the average person. But the dashboard offers you more: you can see that the magenta line rises during daytime hours and falls a bit at night. You can the effects of spring break. You can compare Stanley’s use to the same time last week, or last month.

Clickable factoids at the bottom of the chart put Stanley’s use in perspective. The 1.2 million kilowatt hours used over the previous month would light the Golden Gate Bridge for 213 days or power the average home for 37,000 days — more than 100 years.

You can compare Stanley to other buildings, and eventually campus energy managers plan to stage competitions like the Green Campus “blackout battles” that have pitted the Unit 1-4 Residence Halls against one other in two-month energy-cutting contests.

Another link takes you to ideas and tips for saving energy.

The dashboards are the front end of software from the Pulse Energy company that makes complicated energy-use data simple to understand, according to Sara Shirazi, associate director of engineering and sustainability for the campus. A mechanical engineer herself, Shirazi led a team of Physical Plant-Campus Service (PP-CS) engineers in getting myPower up and running.

Digital meters capable of transmitting data had to be installed at all the buildings involved so far, which took 18 months. Installations continue as more campus buildings are prepared for myPower; another 45 are coming online this year, Shirazi says.

Energy monitoring is nothing new, she says — but the graphic interface has made it easier for her team at Physical Plant to spot usage spikes and dips that signal problems, anomalies and situations ripe for change. A new campus Energy Office in PP-CS will also use the data.

“You would not believe the crazy stuff we find,” she says. For example, the numbers for one lab would drop suddenly at night, and then come back up, an unusual pattern for a lab. After a little investigation, the problem turned out to be a cooling system that wasn’t supposed to be running at night. Problem solved.

“For us, having a graph is a huge help, even for our trained eyes,” she says. “We had the numbers but the patterns can be hard to see.”

Berkeley is among the first universities to turn to this kind of monitoring, according to Fenley. Oberlin and the University of British Columbia are also early adopters.

The addition of myPower brings a human-engagement element to Berkeley’s ongoing effort to reduce its energy use and carbon footprint as part of the CalCAP (Climate Action Partnership) and Strategic Energy Plan initiatives.

“Every little change in behavior makes a huge contribution in the end,” Shirazi says.