Check Out This Energy-tracking Device

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 12 | Dec.
4, 2008

By Glenn Drexhage

As energy usage continues to be a hot topic, UBC Library and the Sustainability Office are teaming up in a unique effort to cool consumption.

In November, the Library began lending devices that help people keep track of how much energy is used — and often wasted — by typical household items such as laptops, monitors, hair dryers and stereos.

The brick-sized devices, dubbed Kill A Watt electricity usage monitors, are easy to use. They simply plug into a wall outlet, and the plug of the component being tested is then inserted into the monitor, which has an LCD display that counts consumption by the kilowatt hour.

The idea is to make people more aware of their energy consumption habits — and in doing so, encourage them to take steps to curb usage and save money.

Leonora Crema, UBC Library’s Head of Borrower Services, tried a Kill A Watt device in her office and home for a few days. She tested her office monitor and printer overnight, and now flicks off that equipment when the day is done (the computer needs to stay on for ongoing backups and updates). She has also re-routed her home computer electronics to a power bar so they can be switched off more easily. “The Kill A Watt effort is all about raising awareness as individual power consumers,” she says.

Orion Henderson, Associate Director of Climate Change and Energy at UBC’s Sustainability Office, has a similar view. “The whole idea behind it is you cannot manage what you cannot measure,” he says. “You’re almost creating a bit of a game. You can really spark people’s interest.” Indeed, he adds that such “smart metering” practices can lead to as much as a 20 per cent reduction in energy consumption.

So far, 10 Kill A Watt units have been purchased for $36 apiece. Stickers fastened to the items feature a URL ( where users can find the instructions.

Each device is boxed and available for lending to card-carrying UBC Library users for two weeks. Koerner Library, Woodward Biomedical Library and the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre are participating in the project.

Crema adds that the Kill A Watt gadget will also be used to monitor energy consumption within the UBC Library system. “This helps raise individual awareness, and I think that will spread throughout the Library,” she says.

According to the Princeton Packet, a Princeton, New Jersey publication, that town’s public library will save about US $6,500 a year thanks to the Kill A Watt devices, which it also lends to patrons.

While some public libraries in Canada and the U.S. have been lending the tools, it appears that no university library in North America had undertaken such a project — until now.

While Henderson’s job focuses mainly on cutting consumption among staff, students and faculty at UBC, he’s pleased that community users of UBC Library can also take out the units for home use.

Crema, meanwhile, feels that libraries will continue to expand their lending services in the future. She notes that UBC Library already has a successful laptop-lending program, adding that camcorder loans are slated to begin in 2009.

“The role of libraries has always been to make different kinds of technologies more widely available,” she says.

The Kill A Watt program will run in its current form throughout the coming winter months. If it’s deemed to be a success, Henderson says more units may be purchased and UBC Library will expand its effort.