By Rob Mitchum

People at the University of Chicago study climate and energy from a variety of perspectives, including geophysics, computer modeling, law, economics, and molecular engineering. Yet the most immediate way to make a difference on climate change and sustainable energy is to look at our own campus, one of the largest consumers of energy in Chicago. Useful new solutions to reduce energy usage and cut cost could then be expanded to other universities and similar workplaces, a bottom-up contribution to complement larger-scale research.

That logic motivated the formation of the Campus as a Laboratory Initiative, a partnership between the Office of the Provost, the Office of Sustainability, the CI’s Center for Robust Decision Making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP), UChicago Student Government, and the Energy Policy Institute at University of Chicago (EPIC). These groups, as part of the Office of Sustainability Advisory Council (OSAC), organized the effort to connect UChicago faculty, students, and staff with Sustainability and Facilities personnel, providing opportunities to brainstorm and build new ways to look at and use data in campus energy decisions.

Campus as a Lab kicked off on May 20th with a Spring Hackathon, where a packed room in the Saieh Hall for Economics heard about UChicago’s current energy procedures and challenges, then split into small teams and worked with real data on campus buildings. The first piece of a year-long program including three hackathons and a grand challenge, the event prompted attendees to start exploring the data and thinking about potential solutions to reduce the university’s energy budget.

“We are one of the larger consumers in the city, so the your work can have a significant impact on energy consumption,” said Provost Eric Isaacs in his introductory remarks. “The amount we spend on energy is about $40 million a year. You will help us not only reduce greenhouse gases, you will help the University reinvest that money in the academic infrastructure…”

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