EmPowering Students at Home | Alliance to Save Energy
04/17/20 : Scott Thach

EmPowering Students at Home

Alliance blog

Several months ago, Jared Wall, an energy auditor from Donnelly Energy, arrived at Mt. Arlington Elementary in New Jersey to perform an audit as part of New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program. He was there to get an inventory of lighting and HVAC equipment and assess their run hours. To his surprise, he was greeted by a group of 10 sixth graders, Mt. Arlington’s PowerSave team.

The PowerSave team took Jared on a tour of the campus, showing him how they were saving energy, and where their own energy audits had identified opportunities for more savings. The students explained that the school had already started doing LED upgrades, took him to the rooms with the highest energy use, and helped him identify areas with persistent HVAC problems. They’d even prepared a cost analysis of savings from potential energy efficiency projects.

When Jared asked probing questions, he was surprised by the students’ deep understanding and data-based approached to analyzing the school’s energy use. He was also struck by their confidence—they were well-spoken and looked him in the eye as they answered his questions. He left the school impressed. News of the exchange made it all the way to the district’s superintendent, Monica Rowland, who commented, “I continue to be impressed by the depth of knowledge they have developed and the passion with which they approach the real-world issues they are studying. We cannot wait to see the new ideas and innovations they develop as their work continues.”

Just a few months later, that moment feels a world away. The COVID-19 crisis brought about social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and school closures, upending the routines of everyday life. The Alliance’s PowerSave Schools program, which teaches K-12 students how to champion energy efficiency within their schools, seems suddenly irrelevant. Students can no longer use their auditing tools in their classrooms, communicate their findings to staff and students, or design efficiency competitions within their schools. But the skills the students are learning through the PowerSave Schools program aren’t just relevant at school – they are tools students can use at home, too.

In response, the Alliance’s education team adapted the PowerSave program materials to focus on household energy use, providing remote access through the EmPowered Schools platform. Thanks to these tools, the Alliance quickly launched “EmPowered at Home” program.  Instead of presenting energy-saving recommendations to their school staff, students are presenting them to their families. They identify the types of lightbulbs in their homes and calculate the savings from reducing use or switching to more efficient bulbs. They help their families understand their own HVAC systems and how to use them more efficiently. These lessons benefit all families during the current economic crisis, and can reduce financial pressure for the growing number of budget-constrained homes.

Students are driving the new program. Carolyn Tagmire, a teacher and the PowerSave team lead at Winslow Township High School in New Jersey, said, “I didn't know if the kids would take to this or not, but they had a blast and so did their families...the message of saving energy was definitely heard.” Dozens of students have completed the new activities, reducing energy waste and helping their families identify new ways to save.

EmPowered at Home is also helping teachers and students stay engaged in STEM learning as they work remotely. And the tools developed for the new program will benefit students and their families well after the current crisis, through increased efficiency in homes and more flexible approaches to helping students learn – and lead – beyond their classrooms.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have disrupted our daily lives, but it hasn’t stopped enthusiastic students and teachers from sharing the everyday benefits of energy efficiency.

If your children would like to give the EmPowered at Home program a try, you can find our Energy Audit Benchmark lesson and activities here. If you are a principal or teacher interested in joining the program or an organization that would like to offer it to schools in your area, please contact Scott Thach, VP, Education Programs (sthach@ase.org).