HANOVER, N.H. (AP) – An animated polar bear is helping remind Dartmouth College students to conserve power.

In the morning, the monitor displayed in a dormitory hallway shows the bear happy and asleep. But as students start their day, along with their hair dryers, computers and music players, the “ice” around the bear cracks and he ends up floundering in the water.

The goal is to get students to reduce their energy usage, particularly the “phantom” standby energy used by devices such as charges for cell phones and laptop computers.

Lorie Loeb, an associate professor of computer science, created the animation as part of a pilot project to measure the energy usage on four floors of Dartmouth’s newest dormitory cluster. She likens the effect to how drivers respond to speed monitors that police place along roads.

“You instantly adjust your speed,” she said.

Loeb said she’d love to see the idea translated into something that people could use in their homes.

“I can just picture it: ‘Mommy, we can’t leave the house; the polar bear’s not happy,”‘ she said.

John Spradling, a freshman from Houston, said he checks the polar bear’s status frequently. “It’s sort of depressing,” he said. “He’s usually drowning.”

At the University of New Hampshire, students have competed to reduce energy use during the month leading up to their Thanksgiving break, in large part by reducing their phantom loads. In 2007, the university saved $22,721 during the challenge, said Brett Pasinella from the UNH Office of Sustainability.

College students are prime candidates for reducing phantom loads, he said.

“Students typically have a computer, a cell phone, an i-Pod, a television, a refrigerator, all of those appliances,” he said. “They just unplug their chargers when they’re not in use, and they put things on power strips.”


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