By Abigail W. Adams
As part of its commitment to sustainability, Chewonki Foundation semester students engaged in an energy challenge to see how much energy they could not use in their cabins. The boys of Ranch Cabin emerged victorious with only 0.2 kilowatt-hours of energy used over the week of April 27. (Photo courtesy Chewonki Foundation)
The 42 semester students at The Chewonki Foundation competed in a sustainability challenge the week of April 27 to determine how much energy they could collectively not use. The challenge, in its second year, was undertaken to give students an “off the grid” experience and raise awareness of energy consumption, Tom Twist, Chewonki’s sustainability officer, said.
Semester students at the Chewonki Foundation live in cabins on campus while completing their normal coursework, all of which has a naturalist and sustainability bent, Twist said. While students at Chewonki are already aware of and interested in environmental issues, they have been known to, at times, leave lights on, Twist said.
To create greater awareness of energy consumption, the energy challenge was developed through a grant from the Horizon Foundation, of Portland. Of the seven cabins on campus, one cabin was taken off the grid a couple of years ago, Twist said.
Wood stoves are the only source of heat in all the cabins on campus, Twist said. To create the experience of being “off the grid” without having to install expensive batteries and energy conversion equipment, the remaining six cabins were wired to feed off solar panels while remaining on the Central Maine Power Co. electrical network.
For a solid week, students monitored the energy consumption in their cabins to ensure their energy use fell within their “solar budget,” Twist said. Energy logs recorded how many kilowatt-hours of energy were used and the approximate cost of that energy.
“They really got into it,” Twist said. Some cabins taped over light switches so the lights could not be used.
Ranch cabin emerged victorious in the competition with only 0.2 kilowatt-hours of energy used over the entire week. The cabin that was the largest energy consumer used 0.45 kilowatt-hours of energy, Twist said. According to Twist, the office building on campus used 1,134 kilowatt-hours of energy in the same time period.
Despite the end of the challenge, energy consumption in the cabins remains incredibly low, Twist said. To continue monitoring energy usage at Chewonki, a student is considering using energy orbs, which monitor energy consumption, as part of an independent project.
“It’s not hard to conserve energy,” Twist said. “It’s just a matter of being aware of what you’re doing.”