Project Overview

The Shifting Energy Cultures Series is part of a multi-disciplinary research project funded by Drexel’s Institute for Energy and the Environment that explores the social ordering of choices, problems and practices that shape “energy cultures” in campus environments. We will use Drexel’s “smart grid” building system as a case study and living lab.  The project consists primarily of a campus survey to better understand how people understand and interact with energy and series of collaborative talks to explore technical and social issues around energy use and facilitate dialogue.


We will be conducting a short, anonymous survey in five Drexel buildings (Hagerty Library, LeBow Business Center, Bossone, Main, and Creese). The survey takes approximately 5 minutes and is being recorded by a team of Drexel graduate students.  This survey was also sent out to the campus via email.

The survey aims to understand how students, faculty, and staff interact with Drexel energy systems, how they understand energy technology (such as smart grids) and the energy market, and how energy efficient behaviors can be extended through improved interfaces and processes.

Talk Series

This series of talks invites students and others on campus to look more closely at our electricity systems, power usage, and how “smart” technologies are helping us to understand campus energy usage better. A group of invited speakers will help us to bring energy issues to the foreground, engaging in discussions of energy efficiency and informing us about what resources exist to manage energy demand on campus, locally in our city, in our region and beyond.

Each of the talks was video recorded and the Shifting Energy Cultures team has created a curated supplemental page for each, including highlights from the Q&A, further reading, important links, and questions for further discussion.

Get Smart: The Drexel Smart Campus – This inaugural session, held on February 11th, introduced Drexel’s own “smart grid” and examined its relation to the broader energy landscape in Philadelphia.

Building Energy Benchmarking  The second talk, on March 11th, examined Philadelphia’s Energy Benchmarking requirements and the infrastructure that drives it.

Get Innovative with Energy: Research and InnovationThe third session, held April 8th, considered research and innovation in efficient energy use and demand response and reduction.

Energy Wise: Citizen Scientists and Open Data – The fourth session, held on May 27th, looked at interactive technology like smart phone apps and energy dashboards that show us how much power individual buildings use and how these digital infrastructures fit into emerging ideas of citizen science.

Smart Grid and Energy System Information

With a smart grid infrastructure, the system is more robust to load spikes, and has a number of possible solutions.  These include distributed generation resources, energy storage systems, and controllable building load consumption. (From Paul Reed's slides.)
With a smart grid infrastructure, the system is more robust to load spikes, and has a number of possible solutions. These include distributed generation resources, energy storage systems, and controllable building load consumption. (From Chika Nwankpa’s slides.)


AMI: Advanced Metering Infrastructure – system of technologies (including smart meters, networking technologies, and data management tools) that facilitates multi-directional communication between utilities and users.

BMS: Building Management System – automated control system that communicates with both the grid and the building HVAC systems.  It takes external demand control input (from Viridity) and adjusts building load accordingly.

Citizen Science: Citizen Science has been conceptualized in a wide variety of ways, and there is no consensus as to which particular traits mark a project as citizen science, although they tend to have a social or environmental justice orientation, originate with lay-people, and disrupt traditional notions of hierarchical expertise.  See our curated supplemental page for the “Building Digital Infrastructures, Empowering Citizen Science” event for more on this discussion, or our “Citizen Science Projects” page for examples of citizen science.

Centralized Control: traditional grid control structure with predetermined generation and load resources, unidirectional communication, and with limited room to improve efficiency with extant tech.

CSP: Curtailment Service Provider – companies like Viridity that aid companies and institutions reduce their electricity use, and facilitate communication between the grid operators (like PJM) and the users.

DDC: Direct Digital Control – automated control of a system by computer.

Demand Response: changes in electricity use on the user end, usually in response to market forces.  These can include temporarily turning off an air conditioning unit on a hot day to reduce use and remove stress on the grid, while minimizing effect on the user experience.

Digital Infrastructure:  The “built networks that facilitate the flow of …ideas [and data/content] and allow for their exchange over space.” This includes all components required to support the use and communication of data or other content via digital means.  This broad category covers content management tools, data, hardware, software, and all other tools and mechanisms (such as institutions, networks, individuals, and organizations) that allow for access and flow of content.

Energy Benchmarking: Energy benchmarking is a practice that incentivizes building owners to self-report information about their building’s energy use and efficiency.  This information is used as a standardized metric of efficiency and performance to allow for reasonable comparison between buildings of similar types and can help encourage owners and managers to increase efficiency.  The City of Philadelphia currently requires large, non-residential buildings to report energy data, beginning in 2012 (the first data were reported in 2013).

Microgrid: a localized energy grid that can completely disconnect from the full grid and operate independently.

PJM: Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection – regional transmission organization that operates the electricity transmission grid; one of the largest electricity markets in the world.

Renewable Energy Certificate: tradable credit that represents proof that electricity was generated from a renewable source. In Philadelphia, most of this comes from wind farms in the PJM area and solar projects in Lancaster, PA.

Smart Grid: A smart grid is an electricity distribution grid that is characterized by multidirectional communication between generation and load resources in an effort improve efficiency and reliability.

Drexel and Energy

Energy Generation: As of 2013, Drexel purchases Renewable Energy Certificates equal to 100% of its total annual energy use (approximately 97,000 MWh annually – about 270 MWh per day).   While these mostly come from regional wind or solar, most of the electricity powering PJM comes from coal and natural gas.

Varied approaches: There are many different strategies for saving energy, including more technical and infrastructural approaches (e.g. smart meters) as well as more social and behavioral based approaches that seek to foreground these systems that are typically not visible.  Energy demand reduction can come from both changes to the technical system for from changes in practices, and these different methods carry different implications for shifting energy cultures.

Several buildings on campus are part of the smart grid system on campus,  though they serve different functions.
Several buildings on campus are part of the smart grid system on campus, though they serve different functions.

The event pages provide information, links, and questions to help explore energy use and demand reduction from many different perspectives, including:

  • The DEMAND Centre (Lancaster University)
  • The Rutgers Center for Green Building
  • The City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (and its Energy Benchmarking Report)
  • The Azavea Benchmarking Data Visualization tool
  • The Virginia Tech Center for Energy and the Global Environment
  • A personal carbon footprint calculator
  • Drexel Green and Drexel Smart Grid webpages

More information can be found at the Drexel Green Website, in particular the campus map of green projects.


PI Team: Alison Kenner and Mimi Sheller (CoAS); Karen Miu, Dagmar Niebur, Chika Nwankpa (ECE, CoE)

Graduate Assistant: Derek Parrott (CoAS – Center for STS)

Survey Team: Derek Parrott, Hined Rafeh, Kerri Yandrich (CoAS)