Seven successful Kukui Cup challenges

2012 UH Kukui CUp

In 2011, we held the inaugural Kukui Cup at the Hale Aloha residence halls at the University of Hawaii.  Approximately 40% of the 1000+ residents participated, which is very high for voluntary energy challenges.  In 2012, we held three Kukui Cup challenges: at the University of Hawaii, the East-West Center, and Hawaii Pacific University.  Adoption results include about 35% overall at the University of Hawaii, while one residence hall at Hawaii Pacific University achieved 100% participation!   Details on the 2011 UH Kukui cup can be found here, and on the 2012 HPU Kukui Cup here. In 2013, we held three Kukui Cup challenges: at the University of Hawaii, at Hawaii Pacific University, and at Holy Nativity Elementary School. Student and staff feedback from all challenges has been very positive, with all sites interested in running Kukui Cup challenges in future.

Innovative technology and capabilities

We have developed two innovative open source software systems to support the Kukui Cup.

kukuicup-home-windowWattDepot is a system for enterprise-scale energy data collection, storage, analysis, and visualization.  WattDepot is useful not only as technology infrastructure for the Kukui Cup, but as infrastructure for other energy-related initiative such as the Smart Grid.

Makahiki is a “serious game engine for sustainability”.  It provides an open source, component-based, extensible environment for developing sustainability challenges such as the Kukui Cup and tailoring them to the needs of different organizations.

This combination provides the Kukui Cup  with unique capabilities compared to other sustainability challenges:


Evidence of increased energy knowledge

literacyWe performed an experiment during the 2011 Kukui Cup competition in which we tested the “energy literacy” of a randomly selected set of students living in the Hale Aloha residence halls before and after the Kukui Cup challenge.  We discovered that students who participated increased their energy knowledge compared to students who did not participate (p < 0.059).  These findings provide evidence that the Kukui Cup game mechanics succeed in motivating players to learn about energy issues.

Evidence of changes in energy behaviors

The same study discussed above asked students to self-report their energy behaviors both before and after the competition.  We found evidence that study participants had an increase in self-reported positive energy behaviors after the Kukui Cup challenge. Surprisingly, this was true for both those who participated in the Kukui Cup and those who did not participate in the Kukui Cup!  This indicates that there may be a “diffusion effect” in Kukui Cup challenges, where the presence of the Kukui Cup influences some of those who do not choose to actively play.

Short-term energy reductions

During both Hale Aloha challenges and the Hawaii Pacific University challenges, meter data indicated that some teams did reduce energy consumption by significant amounts (15 – 20%). The following chart shows a 20% drop in consumption by an HPU residence hall during its 2012 Kukui Cup:


Uncovering the baseline problem

One of the most significant findings so far from our research is the discovery that “best practices” for assessing the impact of energy challenges are often not methodologically sound.  In particular, we found that the typical manner in which “baselines” are calculated create many threats to the validity of the results, such as estimates of the energy savings produced by the challenge.

Our current research involves experimentation with novel ways to calculate baselines, as well as widening the scope of behavioral change to include “macro behavioral change” (i.e. voting, major purchases, choice of major, etc.) as well as “micro behavioral change” (i.e. turning off the lights, etc.)

Our paper, “Beyond kWh: Myths and Fixes for energy competition game design” (presented at Meaningful Play, 2012) provides more detail on this issues.

Educational contributions

As a result of the Kukui Cup, in  Spring, 2013 we taught both an undergraduate course in sustainability and a graduate level course in serious game design.


State, national, and international impact

Over the past two years, we have presented talks about the Kukui Cup both locally (Think Tech Hawaii, Wetware WednesdayByte Marks Cafe), nationally (multiple appearances at the annual Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference, Meaningful Play 2012), and internationally (Energy 2013ITC4S).  We have published a variety of articles about the Kukui Cup and its related technologies. See the Media page for more details.