07/06/15 : Miguel Codinera

Education Partner Spotlight: Pacific Gas & Electric

In August 2014, the Alliance to Save Energy partnered with the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to bring the PowerSave Schools program to four Northern California schools: Fairmont Elementary, Lupine Elementary, Madera Elementary and Richmond High. Housed within the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD), the four schools built teams of students, teachers, custodians and administrators to learn about energy efficiency and to reduce energy waste. Local Project Leaders Jennifer Alvarez and David Younan-Montgomery assisted the schools in their energy-saving ventures.

Students in the district took part in Student Energy Audit Training (SEAT), a one-day workshop that provided climate change education and also introduced them to professional auditing tools. These resources enabled them to conduct their own energy audits and accurately measure energy usage. From measuring appliances with watt meters to operating infrared thermometers, students took tracking energy waste into their own hands.

Scouting Savings

With the tools and knowledge at their disposal, the PowerSave teams found multiple opportunities for energy savings. At Fairmont Elementary, students shut off library computer monitors and opened curtains for more natural lighting. Madera Elementary’s Mighty Morphin PowerSave students made similar strides by filling gaps in food storage, making sure that empty fridges and freezers were not wasting power.

Some recommendations even resulted in direct action from the school district. Students at Lupine Elementary suggested the use of more natural lighting in their upstairs hallway, resulting in WCCUSD allowing half of the hallway lights to be turned off. Richmond High’s PowerSave team also observed that their school’s hallway lights were over-lit. Eventually, the students’ call for more suitable lighting prompted the District Energy Conservation Manager, Julio Arroyo, to schedule an installation of lighting retrofits over the summer.

However, the PowerSave teams from WCCUSD did not stop with operational changes; they also made an effort to engage with peers and faculty. Students used their creativity to change behavior, designing posters to remind classrooms to turn off their lights when not in use. Richmond High sophomores Jacky Flores, Stephanie Villaseno and Gabi Cena worked with faculty to organize school-wide energy shutdowns for Thanksgiving and winter breaks. Thanks to the students’ initiative, the high school reduced its energy consumption by 20 percent over the course of winter break.

Semester Successes

As the fall semester came to a close, the action and leadership demonstrated by the students shined brighter than ever. At their mid-year meeting, students from Lupine Hills Elementary, Richmond High and Fairmont Elementary presented their PowerSave endeavors to teachers, administrators, the District Energy Conservation Manager and PG&E representatives Kathleen Miles and Jillian Rich.

By May, the four schools reduced their total energy consumption by over 13.4 percent, amassing a combined 204,846 kilowatt-hours in electric savings and $36,757 in monetary savings — that’s equivalent to taking 29 cars off the road for an entire year! Each school received 50 percent of their individual energy savings from the West Contra Costa school district in acknowledgment of the program’s success. With the participating schools seeing direct benefits from their efforts, the program proved to be a phenomenal success made possible with student empowerment.