Penn Powers Down: University-Wide Effort Nets 21 Percent Reduction in Electricity Use

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Media Contact:Julie S. McWilliams | | 215-898-1422 June 25, 2010

PHILADELPHIA –- The University of Pennsylvania reduced its electricity usage by some 13 megawatt hours during last week’s hour-long Power Down Challenge.  This is equivalent to a nearly 21 percent reduction in the typical campus electrical load at this time of year, yielding substantial cost savings.

“This was obviously a success and exceeded our expectations,” Anne Papageorge, vice president of facilities and real estate services, said.  “We knew we could reduce by three megawatt hours but were cautiously hoping for a five to six megawatt reduction.”

Instead, Penn’s efforts saved more than three times the estimates, an amount that could service an estimated 10,000 households -- nearly 60 percent of the homes in University City -- with an hour of electricity use.

The event, conducted by Penn’s Green Campus Partnership in collaboration with the University’s Division of Facilities Services, was held in cooperation with the regional electric grid operator PJM, which conducts a test of its emergency electricity load shedding system annually. 

When electricity use is very high, such as on hot, humid summer afternoons, the grid operator asks Penn and other large power consumers to reduce their electricity consumption, ensuring that enough is available to meet the regional demand and to avoid the need to turn on inefficient power plants.

“While a significant part of this energy reduction came from operations, such as turning off the campus chiller plants and shutting down air handlers on a rolling basis,” Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance, said, “much of the conservation was due to simple behavior changes in the Penn community.”

Many departments participated in the Challenge by turning off lights and powering down electrical devices, in efforts led by Penn’s Staff and Faculty Eco-Reps, a group of more than 100 employee volunteers who train their co-workers to help Penn meet its sustainability goals.  

“The Power Down Challenge showcased opportunities for the University community to conserve energy, enact behavior change on a regular basis and support Penn’s commitment to reduce energy use by 17 percent by 2014, as outlined in our Climate Action Plan,” Papageorge said. 

A portion of the financial savings from this energy test will be invested into Penn’s Green Fund, which provides grants for innovative sustainability ideas from faculty, students and staff that can help the University meet its sustainability goals through policy development and operations. 

Additional information on Penn’s Green Campus Partnership is available at


Penn’s Power Down Challenge results have been the topic of an editorial and a story in the Daily Pennsylvanian.