EnergyWISE Clubs Inspire Student-Led Energy Audits

05/30/2019 | By Janelle Penny

You may know everything there is about managing a school’s energy consumption, but do the students in your building?

EnergyWISE (Wisdom is Saving Energy and the Environment) clubs put students in your shoes by teaching them about energy efficiency. The hands-on experience they’ll gain is also a great way to give them an inside look at careers in facilities management.

This presentation was created by fifth- and sixth-graders at St. James Intermediate School in Horry County, SC
(This presentation was created by fifth- and sixth-graders at St. James Intermediate School in Horry County, SC)

“When we talk to the kids in the EnergyWISE clubs and ask them why we do this, they unanimously shout out ‘To save the planet.’ They’re going with the long view. That’s something we could all listen to a little better.” - Andrew LaRowe

Here’s how you can get involved.

What is EnergyWISE?

EnergyWISE is an energy efficiency education program developed by EduCon Energy, which adapted it from the Kenton County School District in Kentucky. It uses the participating schools as living laboratories to teach students how building systems work together.

Students who have an interest in energy efficiency or environmental advocacy must apply to join, ensuring that the final 5-10 team members will be likely to participate actively.

Created by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Myrtle Beach Middle School in Horry County, SC.
(Created by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Myrtle Beach Middle School in Horry County, SC.)

The students complete notebooks or PowerPoint presentations throughout the year to document their energy-saving activities, which include:

  • Energy awareness presentations to other students
  • Learning about alternative forms of energy, such as solar panels and geothermal wells
  • Counting the lights in classrooms and determining the cumulative wattage
  • Writing articles for school newsletters and local newspapers
  • Conducting a plug load study with a Kill-A-Watt meter
  • Giving tours to building visitors to demonstrate the school’s energy-saving practices

 Myrtle Beach Middle School - Certificate of recognition from HCS Board of Education for the achievements of the Myrtle Beach Middle School EnergyWise club.At the end of the year, the notebooks or slides are turned in to be scored for awards and recognition from the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED).

(Photo: Myrtle Beach Middle School, certificate of recognition from HCS Board of Education for the achievements of the Myrtle Beach Middle School EnergyWise club. Credit: EnergyWise Schools)

Why Implement EnergyWISE?

The program’s initial successes in South Carolina’s Horry County Schools underscore the importance of the program. EduCon implemented EnergyWISE at the district’s five new net-positive schools in Myrtle Beach.

Horry County Schools were already energy-conscious because of their net-positive status, which provided plenty of learning opportunities for the students.

[Related: Tips to Move Your Building Toward Net Zero]

“EduCon works with school districts to help them in their energy conservation programs,” explains Andrew LaRowe, president of EduCon Energy. “If they don’t already have an energy monitoring and tracking system, we implement it because it’s incredible for the kids to get information from the building.”

The program is customized to each school’s unique design. Horry County, for instance, already had sophisticated operational data tracking in place because of its net-positive status, which requires monitoring the energy production of the school’s renewables and selling some of the excess power back to the grid.

A professional videographer worked with the students to create instructional films about solar energy, the building envelope, energy data, HVAC and lighting systems, all informed by the students’ experiences in their own schools.

St. James Intermediate SchoolEnergy Data:


(February 14, 2018: Jerry Marshall with First Floor Energy Positive joins EnergyWise students at the new St. James Intermediate School to learn about energy data.)

Other districts are implementing new technologies with the club in mind—LaRowe cites a 2014 partnership with 18 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s rollout included a web-based dashboard with kid-friendly graphics that allowed students to track energy usage in real time.

[On topic: Solar Fabric Canopies: Energy-Generating Tenant Amenities]

“It was amazing to watch them interact with that,” LaRowe says. “They could pull it up and see if their energy-saving plan was working.”

Myrtle Beach Middle SchoolHVAC and Geothermal: 


(May 21, 2018: Brian Caffrel from Brady joins EnergyWise students from Myrtle Bach Middle School to learn about the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system in their new school including geothermal technology.)

How to Start an EnergyWISE Club

The EnergyWISE program in Horry County is customized to that district, but you can set up a similar student-based energy education program with the right resources, LaRowe explains.

Horry County Schools were already energy-conscious because of their net-positive status, which provided plenty of learning opportunities for the students.

Here are some ideas to make the launch easier:

1. Get buy-in.

Build relationships with district administrators who can help you identify funding sources. The club also needs at least one sponsoring teacher. The more teachers you can partner with, the better—they can help identify students who will be interested in the club, and some of them may be able to lead experiments and exercises with the students.

2. Develop the curriculum.

EduCon customizes its EnergyWISE programs to each school. You’ll want to do the same thing. LaRowe recommends reaching out to NEED to choose resources, lesson plans and kits.

Look at your existing energy management practices and pick activities that align with that. Students attending a school with on-site solar panels may benefit from a solar-related exercise, for example. Spread out the activities evenly over the school year.

3. Obtain funding.

Look into grants and other sources of money to fund supplies for the club. Some activities can be accomplished with just building data, but others may require a small investment in tools or kits. NEED’s building science kit, for example, includes infrared thermometers, a mini blower door, Kill-A-Watt plug load monitors and other materials that you can reuse every year.

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4. Launch the club.

The first year may be rocky, especially if your area has never had a program like this. Take notes about how you can improve the process next year. What worked? What didn’t work? Solicit additional ideas from the faculty sponsor and the club members.

Prepare for the launch by creating some metrics to measure success. That could include participation rates, engagement or even savings opportunities identified by students. The latter is not an uncommon discovery, notes Robbie Ferris, CEO of Firstfloor, a developer that specializes in turnkey solutions for educational institutions.

“A good energy manager can interface with the club more regularly and really have a profound impact on the ability of the club to optimize the buildings,” Ferris says. “For example, the kids at one school called us and asked if we could reprogram the lighting so the lights don’t get as bright as they’re currently getting. We welcome phone calls like that.”

 

Ideas like these can save the district money by finding savings opportunities that may not be readily apparent if you’re focusing on operational data. But LaRowe also cautions facilities managers considering an EnergyWISE proposal to look beyond the financial picture.

“When I’m working with school administrators and they question why they should do this, they always think in terms of dollars. How much money would it save the school district?” LaRowe explains. “When we talk to the kids in the EnergyWISE clubs and ask them why we do this, they unanimously shout out ‘To save the planet.’ They’re going with the long view. That’s something we could all listen to a little better.”

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