Students from Heritage High School in Wake Forest recently learned valuable life lessons about energy conservation through an AP Environmental Science project in which their local electric cooperative, Wake Electric, took on an unexpected role.
Their teacher, Molly Bostic, assigned a personal home energy audit requiring students to monitor their electric usage for a 10 day-period and then determine their average daily electric use and cost. Students were also asked to evaluate their homes and consider areas where reduced consumption would result in monetary savings, as well as changes that could be made on a personal and household level that would be reflected on their energy bills.
Students whose families are Wake Electric members were able to utilize its new Monitor & Manage program to help track and evaluate their electric use. The Monitor & Manage program is an online energy monitoring system that utilizes Wake Electric’s “smart grid” communications network to collect monthly, daily and hourly energy data reports from each home. Students who are Wake Electric members could log in to their parents’ accounts and see firsthand the energy consumption at their houses, whereas students whose families get their power from other electric utility companies had to read their electric meter daily instead and record the values, making the project a little harder and not quite as accurate.
“It was exciting for us to hear that our new Monitor & Manage program was an unexpected tool in the classroom,” said Scott Poole, manager of customer service. “We are glad our latest technology was an aid in learning and we hope all of our members will use the program to measure their energy consumption and change their everyday energy habits to make a difference on their monthly electric bills.”
“The students in my class who used the Monitor & Manage program seemed to have a better, more comprehensive understanding of their energy usage, since there was more precision and accuracy when it came to calculating their daily energy usage,” said Bostic. “As I spoke to the students who used the Monitor & Manage program, they had a higher level of understanding of their energy usage, and their conclusions were deeper and more reflective.”
“I am not a Wake Electric member, so I had to read the meter on the outside of my house instead of using the online program some of my classmates used,” said Meredith Autry, a student in Bostic’s class. “I think it would have been much easier to monitor my energy consumption with the Monitor & Manage program because of all the graphs and data you get through the online program. ”
As part of the project, students also had to do a home inspection and report on items such as the amount, location and quality (type and R-value) of insulation, the amount of shade provided by trees and shrubs, the condition, composition and color of the roof, the tightness of the doors and windows, the color of outer walls and whether or not they absorb or reflect heat, and the amount of air circulation in an attic. During his home inspection, student Christian Hampton determined his attic had no air circulation, so he encouraged his to dad put a fan in the attic.
“My dad was not aware that air circulation in the attic could help the efficiency of the whole house,” said Hampton. “Now that we have a fan in our attic, I will continue to monitor the temperature of the attic to see if it affects our electric bill.”
“The aspects of the home inspection were good conversation starters to have with my students, who are 16 and 17 year-olds,” said Bostic. “In five or six years, these students will be making their own decisions when it comes to energy consumption and I hope they will take this lesson with them as they grow into adults.”
Students also had to make daily notes on the patterns of electric use in their household, particularly of large appliances, such as the usual settings for the air conditioner and water heater, the amount of cooking done, the type of lights used and the amount of laundry done. Students also had to monitor aspects of weather that may affect heating or cooling.
“Students that used the Monitor & Manage program for this project were able to go online the very next day and notice things such as, ‘Hey, we ran four loads of laundry yesterday, and look how many more kilowatt hours we used,’” said Bostic.
Wake Electric learned about this project when student Alisha Teresko contacted the co-op to ask about its energy portfolio. Part of the project required students to determine the amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide released by their electricity consumption each month, and to calculate that, students had to consult their local power utility to determine the fuel mix used to generate electricity in their area.
“We were thrilled when we learned local students were going to such great lengths to learn about energy consumption, energy conservation and the way in which electricity is generated,” said Poole. “We knew we had to get involved.”
Officials from Wake Electric met with students who recently completed the energy audit, and they were in awe of what the students learned through this assignment.
Bostic had no idea how much her students got out of the project until she heard them talking with Wake Electric officials. “I knew it was a good project, but to hear them talk about transforming their lives and how they had never thought about electricity before this project really hit home,” said Bostic.
“I never grew up thinking green or about how energy affects the environment,” said Hampton. “After this project, I am inspired to conserve electricity and to one day have an Energy Star home with Energy Star appliances.”
Hampton also praised Wake Electric’s Monitor & Manage program and how it puts electric consumption “in the faces of the customers” and how the customers can make a difference by “changing their personal energy habits.”
“That’s music to my ears,” said Poole of Wake Electric. “The energy usage data collected through the Monitor & Manage program will allow our members to make more informed decisions about energy usage, and it’s thrilling for these students to use the online program firsthand and understand the power behind this exciting new technology.”
Hampton took it one step further saying, “As an energy company, I think it’s important for you to keep informing everyone about energy usage. Hopefully other electric companies will follow suit and maybe it will even expand around the world.”
During their meeting with the students, Wake Electric officials also learned that Bostic was a Wake Electric member herself.
“Now that I know the Monitor & Manager program is available, I will use it myself at home on a personal level, especially as the seasons change and when monitoring my thermostat settings,” said Bostic. “It will help me see if my family can stand the thermostat to be one degree higher because at my home, that seems to have the greatest impact on my electric bill.”
Bostic also commented on how she liked the variety of graphs available through the Monitor & Manage program and how she could view energy usage by month, day or hour.
“On the old paper bill, I could only compare my electric usage month to month over a 12-month period, but through the Monitor & Manage program, I can get that information every single day.”
Bostic even spoke to the students who may become Wake Electric members themselves one day.
“Kids are dependent on real-time information and technology because it plays such an important and large role in their everyday lives,” said Bostic. “The Monitor & Manage program is a great tool to reach the younger generation because they like immediate feedback and real-time information.”
The project also encouraged students to think about further ways people can manage their electric consumption. During the interview with Wake Electric, Hampton said, “What if every person got a text message saying they spent $50 this week on energy? It would make people think, ‘Wow, I really need to watch my energy consumption next week and my goal is to just spend $20 worth.’ It would really make you think!”
To help members track their electric usage in this way, Wake Electric recently introduced the PowerUp with PrePay program, a pay-as-you-go billing option. Members participating in PowerUp are automatically notified via phone and email when their account gets low on funds and they can track through the Monitor & Manage program how much electricity they have used daily, weekly or monthly.
The co-op is in the process of upgrading existing electric meters to new electronic meters that use advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) technology that makes both the Monitor & Manage program and the PowerUp program possible.
The energy usage data collected through the Monitor & Manage program will be available to all residential members free of charge by the end of 2012, allowing them to make more informed decisions about energy usage. Currently, Wake Electric has upgraded more than 15,000 meters.