Students help schools with energy efficiency
The administrators of several area middle and high schools will soon be receiving advice on energy efficiency and cost savings from unlikely sources—their students.
In January, students at five schools in Reno and Sparks began their first lessons with Project Recharge, a program designed to teach students about energy efficiency by analyzing real-world data from their schools and then, in turn, having the students teach the administration how to reduce utility bills.
Using energy monitoring technology developed by a Reno-based tech startup called LoadIQ, students are able to monitor their school’s energy use in real time. LoadIQ sensors are sensitive enough to show the changes that occur when they turn a classroom light on and off, for example. Results are viewed on a website, in real time.
“They have the ability to monitor down to an outlet level,” said Vanessa Robertson of local non-profit Envirolution, who works as an education consultant for Project Recharge. “The kids can actually plug something into the outlet and see on real time data that spike, that jump.”
Project Recharge was developed through a partnership between Envirolution, Washoe County School District, LoadIQ, and the Raggio Research Center at University of Nevada, Reno. In 2014, the team received $1.2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, and piloted the program at O’Brien Middle School and Reed High School. This year, the program has expanded to include five new schools, for a total of seven schools. “That’s 20 new teachers, and we’re estimating about 1,800 to 2,000 students,” Robertson said.
Project Recharge curriculum is designed for middle and high school classes. First, students learn about energy basics, thermal systems and electrical systems. Next, students learn to use the LoadIQ software and act as “energy detectives,” analyzing the school’s energy use and energy bills. In the final unit of the program, students develop proposals for energy conservation and present them to school administrators.
At Reed High School, science teacher Leigh Metcalfe tested LoadIQ equipment and lesson plans with her environmental science club, the Eco-Warriors, during 2014 and 2015. By analyzing energy data from the sensors, students identified a way for the school to save energy and money by replacing existing bulbs with energy efficient LED lighting.
“The LoadIQ information came in handy because we could actually see how much energy the school was using in total, and we could also narrow it down to how much of that load was lighting related,” Metcalfe said.
The group sent a proposal for funding to the Governor’s Office of Energy, which provided a grant to replace all of Reed High School’s lighting with LED bulbs. The students estimated that this action would save the school $111,000 over the life of the bulbs.
“We do a lighting survey where they go home and count how many incandescent and CFL bulbs they have, then they do some analysis to figure out how much energy they’re using,” Metcalfe said. “The students, as they learn about it, they get excited. That’s where I think the ownership comes in—they can actually apply science at home to something they see in their real life.”