Measuring Energy in the Classroom

By LeAnne Harvey

Posted January 23, 2019

On a chilly morning last December, Green Building United sat down with a group of 4th graders at Lancashire Elementary School in Wilmington, DE to prepare them to become energy engineers for the day. With the help of Practical Energy Solutions (PES), they would be conducting an energy audit and identifying opportunities to reduce energy use in their school. When asked why conserving energy in our homes and schools is important, a young student wisely replied,

“Well, because we have almost 8 billion people on the planet and a limited amount of resources.”

The Delaware Pathways to Green Schools Program aims to help schools conserve valuable resources, whether it be energy, money, or time, by offering grants, support, and services. Through funding from Energize Delaware, the state’s sustainable energy utility, eligible new schools receive a free energy audit in their first year of the program. Since Pathways began in 2014, 27 schools have received an energy assessment resulting in over $2 million identified energy savings.

Throughout the fall, Green Building United and PES visited five schools across the state. With the help of a team of students at each school, PES’s engineers measured and documented the efficiency of the school’s heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and plug loads. After a complete analysis, PES will offer recommendations to reduce energy use and climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions that if implemented, will reduce energy-related costs for the schools.

In addition to potentially cutting costs and energy usage, the audits serve as hands-on educational experiences that teach students about building science, mechanics, climate change, and conservation. Additionally, the audits present students with exciting opportunities to get a behind the scenes look at their schools. After an eye-opening energy audit at The Independence School, a student from The Independence School remarked,

“I didn’t realize how many things go into powering this school. You don’t notice it but now I see there are things running behind the walls to make the building work.”

An 8th grader from First State Montessori echoed, “I thought the mechanical room was really cool. I didn’t know there were so many pipes going through the school.”

While visiting Sussex Technical High School, a group of HVAC students offered their expertise during the audit, applying concepts they have been learning throughout the year. One student expressed excitement to explore a commercial mechanical system. “I’ve never seen a system this large before. In class, we’re usually building residential HVAC systems.”

At each school, the students quickly picked up on the inefficiencies seen in their facilities. A common recommendation was to use natural daylighting instead of turning on all of the lights in a room. An 11th grader from The Tatnall School observed that when the lights were turned off in the main lobby, the amount of energy use dropped significantly, “and no one noticed, it was still just as bright!”

While exploring The Tatnall School, I asked Dean Goodwin, the lead Pathways teacher and founder of Delaware’s first 350.org affiliate group, why he joined the program.  

“With the latest climate report coming out and what could potentially happen in this country alone, it’s really important for us to educate everybody to understand their relationship to energy use and climate change. I want my students to take what they learn from this experience and apply it at home. We all need to become more accepting of the science of climate change”.

To tackle climate change in your school and learn more about the program, visit our Delaware Pathways to Green Schools page. To sign up, email lharvey@greenbuildingunited.org for more information.

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