Borrow a Kill a Watt

The push for sustainability on campus is getting a boost from a new gadget that is now available for checkout at Bird Library’s Technology Support and Loan desk. The iPod-sized apparatus, known as Kill A Watt, displays power usage and cost for individual household appliances. While utility meters installed by power supply companies show overall household energy usage, the Kill A Watt allows consumers to see how much an individual appliance contributes to energy costs.

Syracuse University’s Sustainability Division is promoting the Kill A Watt system as a way to spur awareness of household energy consumption and hopefully alter wasteful practices. Richard Martin, a sustainability analyst for the Sustainability Division, believes the system has real potential to increase energy awareness. “Users of the system will understand what aspects of their current behavior are using the most energy,” said Martin. “Those are the aspects I hope they will rethink.”

The system is easy to use, and for anyone who can set a digital kitchen timer, setting up the Kill A Watt is just as simple. Simply unplug an appliance, plug the Kill A Watt into the vacant socket and reconnect the appliance to the Kill A Watt. After entering the cost of energy, the system begins tallying usage and cost. The Kill A Watt will also project the appliances’ power consumption and energy cost up to one year.

To ensure the most accurate reading and prediction, Martin suggests measuring the usage of a single appliance for seven days. “In terms of filtering out variability due to our behavioral patterns,” said Martin, “a week is good representative time slice.” This means that during the two-week checkout time from the Bird Library, students and faculty can accurately measure the usage and cost of two appliances.

“There are definitely a lot of people who are thinking about the future, thinking about energy use,” said Ted Traver, a project coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group. He sees a definite intellectual market for the Kill A Watt on campus. “To gain a cost awareness and have an environmental impact – people would love that.”

Even though household appliances are usually marked with power ratings, it’s difficult to monitor power consumption without a meter like the Kill A Watt. Appliances like toasters, microwaves and light bulbs are typically marked with the maximum possible power consumption, although that’s not always the amount being used. Gauging is also difficult for automatic appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators because the amount of daily run time is not recorded. Items like cell phone chargers and computer cords draw power even when disconnected. The Kill A Watt mediates all of these issues.

“All the stuff that you don’t even realize takes energy – it does,” said Traver. “And it’s really good to have a system in place to monitor how much energy you’re actually using.”

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