The Influence of Design, Operations, and Occupancy on Plug Loads in Student Housing
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Plug loads—traditionally viewed as behaviorally motivated and beyond the control of designers and operations—are now seen as an integral part of achieving low-energy building targets. Higher education institutions are increasingly recognizing the environmental impacts of campus facilities through holistic approaches to energy savings including energy efficient design and occupant engagement. Residence halls are a compelling example because students bring large numbers of electronics to their rooms and have unlimited access to power for an all-inclusive room rate and resource usage competitions and campaigns are commonplace. However, limited research exists on residence halls plug loads. This dissertation asked the following of residence halls: (1) What are the measured plug loads and how do they compare with design estimates? (2) What role do building design characteristics play in plug loads? (3) What are the specific occupant behaviors that could influence future design? (4) How can plug loads be better understood in terms of behavior, design, and operations? To answer these questions, a sequential mixed methods study included field measurements and student surveys in six residence halls on three Oregon campuses followed by 24 interviews with designers, operators, and students. Findings suggest that plug loads in occupied residence halls are higher and usage profiles differ from design predictions. Results do not show significant correlations between design characteristics and plug loads but suggest that some room/suite level features may play a somewhat stronger role. Survey responses indicated that students are doing more with fewer smart devices, which suggests opportunities for students sharing energy intensive devices. Lighting emerged as both a practical and a social consideration. Finally, the data revealed “balance of power” as a coherent process that explicates the relationships between design, operations, and behavior. Designers have the power to recommend plug load strategies and technologies but are limited by costs, maintenance, and political concerns; operations personnel have the power to impose limits on student power usage but are often reluctant to interfere with the overall living experience; and students have the power to use plug load electricity with few restrictions. This suggests that the balance may be skewed toward student behavior.