An App for Energy-Conscious Alaskan College Students

The extreme conditions and temperature swings in interior Alaska are legendary. Summer temperatures often exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit while the winter mercury drops off the scale on most thermometers to 40 below zero—and not just for a few days, but for weeks.

Heating an average home in Fairbanks, Alaska, can cost seven or eight hundred dollars a month from December through March.

Testing new technology and publicly measuring energy use is one way to help cut that cost. Even students can save money on utility bills. The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is starting an “app challenge” so that smartphone and tablet users on campus and in the broader community can see the innovative energy conservation and monitoring taking place at the school’s unique on-campus Sustainability Village. The project is funded by a $40,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation supporting more efficient management of energy.

The Sustainability Village at UAF started with the idea of bringing fuel-efficient sustainable student housing to campus. A student design competition in 2011 led to the creation of four four-bedroom units, completed in time for the fall 2012 semester. Today, students choosing to live in the village grow their own food and commit to reducing their personal carbon footprint.

The village has encouraged collaboration among students, the university community, non-profits, and the private sector via many dynamic partnerships. Soon students may use technology to monitor the generation of solar power as it warms the water used to heat the floor beneath their feet.

The app should be ready next spring and may help UAF connect to other campuses throughout the country improve energy management. But more importantly, it will encourage UAF students to engage with technology and help them develop skills that could jumpstart their careers.