Check out Direct Current podcast from DOE

The Department of Energy recently launched Direct Current, a monthly podcast that seeks to present the human side of everything electricity.directcurrent350

Hosts Matt Dozier and Allison Lantero explore such topics as the electric grid, the “soft” costs of solar power, fighting climate change on a bicycle and what happens when a hurricane knocks out the power to whole cities. Fans of National Public Radio will recognize the friendly, conversational style of storytelling. The first episode even parodies This American Life with a skit called This American Lightbulb. The host is named—what else?—Ira Fiberglass.

The September installment, “The Future of Cool,” looks at how new air-conditioning technologies—personal robots!—will keep us comfortable, lower energy costs and fight climate change.

Most episodes clock in at around 20 to 25 minutes and offer a great starting point for classroom discussions. You can subscribe to Direct Current through iTunes or another podcatcher. Also, by subscribing to Updates, you will receive a notice when a new episode is available.

Source: Department of Energy, 9/1/16

Silicon Valley Power responds to electric utility worker shortage with local scholarship awards

Deadline: Nov. 3, 2015

The utility industry is plagued by an aging workforce and by the challenge of finding employees qualified to replace those headed for retirement. In an effort to build its local pool of skilled electrical workers, Silicon Valley Power You are leaving Western's site. (SVP) in Santa Clara, California, is investing in the engineers and technicians of tomorrow.

Kara Johnson, 2009 Silicon Valley Power Scholarship recipient and Santa Clara High School graduate, works on a prototype circuit for a sensor used in her alternative biofuel research. Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate at U.C. San Diego after earning degrees in genetics and biological systems at U.C. Davis. (Photo by Silicon Valley Power)
Kara Johnson, 2009 Silicon Valley Power Scholarship recipient and Santa Clara High School graduate, works on a prototype circuit for a sensor used in her alternative biofuel research. Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate at U.C. San Diego after earning degrees in genetics and biological systems at U.C. Davis. (Photo by Silicon Valley Power)

College and technical school students living in Santa Clara and pursuing careers related to the electric utility industry may be eligible to receive scholarships or tuition grants from the city and SVP. The city is offering $5,000 scholarships to new and continuing college students and $2,000 to trade school trainees who will be enrolled by October 2016 for the 2016-17 school year. Students must apply by Nov. 3, 2015.

Career opportunities and salaries are on the rise for engineers, technicians and power line workers in the industry. SVP, Santa Clara’s municipal electric utility, wants to encourage students to explore those options. “Like SVP, utilities all over the country are looking for qualified workers to be part of the exciting new world of the smart grid,” said John Roukema, Director of SVP. “Satisfying and lucrative career opportunities abound for students completing courses that prepare them for work in the many fields of the electric utility industry.”

The program has awarded 30 college scholarships and six technical school grants totaling $162,000 since it started in 2006.

Applicants studying energy services, electric utilities, or fields associated with the power industry in general may download the application, or call 408-261-5036 for more information. Santa Clara residents have until Nov. 3, 2015 to submit applications for the SVP Scholarship Awards program.

Western salutes our customer Silicon Valley Power for taking a proactive approach to workforce development.

Source: Silicon Valley Power, 10/9/15

Equipment Loan tools educate, inspire next generation

The Science, Engineering, Arts and Math Expo drew hundreds of attendees to Alexandria Area High School this spring. (Photo by ALP Utilities)
The Science, Engineering, Arts and Math Expo drew hundreds of attendees to Alexandria Area High School this spring. (Photo by ALP Utilities)

Educational kits available from Western’s Equipment Loan Program do not diagnose equipment failures or energy losses, yet they are among our most popular loan items.

Following in the footsteps of Gunnison County Electric Association and Southeast Electric Cooperative, ALP Utilities You are leaving in Alexandria, Minnesota, recently borrowed a demonstration kit to teach their future customers about the science behind electricity.

Show and tell
Western’s fuel cell kit and infrared camera made an appearance at the first STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) Expo hosted by Alexandria Area High School March 26. ALP and its power wholesaler Missouri River Energy Services You are leaving (MRES) helped sponsor the event with School District 206 and other community partners. The event featured hands-on demonstrations and learning exhibits by the sponsoring partners, as well as students’ projects in STEAM subjects.

Students Nolan Christenson (left) and Nathan Eck explain how a fuel cell makes electricity to a visitor to the ALP Utilities booth at the STEAM Expo. ALP borrowed the fuel cell kit and an infrared camera from Western’s Equipment Loan Program. (Photo by ALP Utilities)

At the ALP exhibit, visitors could learn where power comes from and how it gets to their homes. Two students from the school’s science academy helped at the ALP booth and showed visitors how the fuel cell produced electricity. “They were so excited to learn about the equipment,” said ALP Energy Services Representative Vicki Gesell, who coordinated ALP’s participation.  “I was really impressed with their ability to explain how fuel cells work and answer visitors’ questions.”

A working solar panel from MRES was also on display, as well as linemen gear and a length of underground cable, with a ratchet cutter so students could cut off a souvenir.

A lighting display featuring light-emitting diode, or LED, lighting showed how smart electrical energy choices save electricity, money and limited resources. Students surveyed their surroundings through the infrared camera and learned how to find heat loss and detect potential equipment failures. Gesell noted that kids loved seeing infrared images of themselves, confirming that the powerful diagnostic tool can also be a secret weapon for public outreach.

Hundreds of students and parents attended the expo, making it a great place to meet and chat with customers. “An event like this gives us the chance to be a part of the community, to talk to our customers in person about their needs and to remind them about the programs ALP offers,” Gesell observed.

Lots to discover
ALP offers residential customers plenty of ways to control and reduce their energy use. Customers can receive rebates on eight different Energy Star appliances and all-electric water heaters with 92-percent or greater efficiency factor. After installing a qualified water heater, ALP adds a load controller free of charge to cycle the unit for short durations during peak load times. The utility also has an off-peak heating program.

Through the MRES Bright Energy Solutions (BES) program You are leaving, ALP provides rebates on high-efficiency electric furnaces, heat pumps, air conditioners and lighting. “Now that LED products are coming down in price, customers are interested in making the switch to these longer lasting bulbs,” noted Gesell.

BES has an extensive list of rebates for commercial customers, too. Incentives are available for heating and cooling systems, manufacturing equipment, commercial food handling appliances, efficient lighting for new and existing buildings and custom measures. Another service  BES offers is a New Construction Design Review to help customers build efficiency into their new facilities and get incentives to help pay for the measures.

Building efficient future
The site of the STEAM Expo illustrates the benefits of planning for energy efficiency with the help of your power provider. Completed in 2014, Alexandria Area High School is expected to save more than $76,000 in energy costs each year.

Last December, ALP and MRES presented school officials with a check for $121,849 through Bright Energy Solutions. The rebate covered insulation in the school’s roof and walls, windows and sunshades, efficient heating and cooling system and lighting. Also, the school district purchased several ENERGY STAR appliances for the cafeteria, culinary arts and concession areas.

Nolan Christenson studies up on fuel cell operation. As a student in Alexandria High School's science academy, he is preparing for a future that may include working for ALP Utilities, or Western Area Power Administration (Photo by ALP Utilities)
Nolan Christenson studies up on fuel cell operation. A student in Alexandria High School’s science academy, Nolan’s future may include working for ALP Utilities, or Western Area Power Administration. (Photo by ALP Utilities)

Like participating in the STEAM Expo, offering incentives to improve energy efficiency in schools is more than just good customer relations—it is an investment in the future. Money the district saves on energy costs can be used to educate students in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. More students studying those disciplines today mean a better-prepared workforce tomorrow. ALP Utilities may one day hire some of those students to provide the community with reliable electricity and help more businesses manage their energy use.

If not quite the “Circle of Life,” you could call it a Circle of Sustainability, and Western is pleased to loan our customers educational displays to keep it going.

Around the web: The NEED Project


Utilities would have an easier job if consumers were better educated about energy use. Teachers are always on the lookout for comprehensive science materials to use in the classroom. The NEED Project You are leaving Western's site. bridges those interests with energy education curricula that can forge a strong partnership between utilities, students and teachers.

Far-reaching goals
The mission of the NEED Project is to promote an energy conscious and educated society by designing objective, multi-sided energy education programs. Energy companies, government agencies and organizations work with NEED to create timely and balanced curriculum materials that focus on easy-to-implement program modules and professional development opportunities for teachers. To deliver these programs, NEED builds networks of students, educators, business, government and community leaders.

Almost 35 years ago, the project began as National Energy Education Day, a one-day celebration of energy education. The fundamental principle of NEED programming is to encourage students to explore, experiment and engage, and encourage teachers to embrace student leadership in the classroom. NEED’s work in after-school programs, student clubs, scouting groups, and home school networks also continues to grow.

For teachers
Because energy affects every aspect of our lives, NEED curriculum resources are available for all classrooms and grade levels, from kindergarten to high school and beyond. Students may explore the physics and chemistry of energy, calculate savings from energy-efficiency measures, write and perform plays about energy or discuss the impact of energy use on history and society.

Educators will find the curriculum guides grouped by grade level—primary, elementary, intermediate and secondary—topic or subject. A blueprint for success provides an outline of a basic energy curriculum unit and the NEED Graphics Library offers high-resolution graphics for classroom presentations and handouts.

Supporting material includes curriculum correlations to all state science content standards and national common core standards. Several of the most popular curriculum guides are available in Spanish. A current catalog provides book and kit pricing.

For students
To encourage students to take a greater interest in energy use, the NEED Project offers games, activities, recognition and study guides. The resources were created in collaboration with several partners, including Energy Kids, a program of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and Energy Quest You are leaving Western's site., from the California Energy Commission.

Energy Infobooks cover basic scientific concepts like motion and light, energy history, alternative and conventional energy resources and energy conservation. Students at all levels can find ideas for science fair projects in guides developed with a grant from the National Network of Energy and Environmental Education Professionals. Projects range from simple experiments with ice melt and changing colors to advanced explorations of technologies like waste-to-energy and cryogenics.

Students participating in NEED's National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement attend a national ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Students participating in NEED’s National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

For students who are inspired to take energy learning beyond the classroom, the NEED project holds an annual National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement. The program combines academic competition with recognition to acknowledge everyone involved in NEED during the year. Students and teachers set goals and objectives, and keep a record of their activities that students then combine into presentations and submit online each April. Participants attend a national ceremony in Washington, D.C., in June.

Missing links
Overall, the NEED Project is a rich resource for utilities and schools looking for ways to increase awareness about the importance of energy to our communities and lives. Unfortunately, the website has some significant oversights, including failing to provide a link to the science fair planning guide. The games and activities page is also incomplete, offering only certificates for participating in the games but no instructions or materials for the games.

Visitors can contact the NEED Project to request these materials or report other missing resources. Some states also have active NEED programs that teachers can contact for more information.

Webcast explores ‘Science of Science Communication’

The Science of 
Science Communication II
Sept. 23-24

The public conversation surrounding science-based issues is often overwhelmed by controversy and conflicting perceptions, hampering understanding and, ultimately, preventing action.

The continuing challenges facing scientists, professional communicators, and the interested public as they seek to exchange information about science has resulted in a growing area of research—the science of science communication.  Investigators are delving into such issues as:

  • The role of social networks in how information is disseminated and received
  • The formation of beliefs and attitudes leading to decisions and behaviors
  • Strategies for communicating science in a highly-charged, politicized environment

The second Sackler colloquium on this topic Redirecting to a non-government site to advance a national dialogue about science communication, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences,is sold out, but you can register for the live webcast Redirecting to a non-government site of the event Monday, Sept. 23 and Tuesday, Sept. 24.

The colloquium offers scientists, communication practitioners, and opinion leaders the opportunity to discuss issues of mutual concern, share successes and ongoing questions, and fine-tune their understanding of how lessons from research can drive effective communication of scientific topics.

There is no cost to participate, but registration is required.

Competition promotes STEM learning in schools

Public power providers often team up with local schools to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) talent in their communities. Now, a competition is offering utilities and schools the opportunity to share their experiences—and win prizes and recognition for their innovative programs.

Ashoka’s Changemakers is partnering with Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Opportunity Equation to unleash the talent of professionals in STEM-related fields to engage students, particularly our highest-need students, in rich STEM learning. Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science + Technology + Engineering + Math Education, an online collaborative competition, will spur creative ways for companies, universities and other organizations with expertise in the STEM fields to partner with the public schools that need their talent. Sponsors include the Jhumki Basu Foundation, Alcoa Foundation, Amgen Foundation, ExxonMobil Foundation, Google, The Mind Trust, AFT Innovation Fund and Noyce Foundation.

The competition is looking for program models that find new ways to bring STEM resources from the private and not-for-profit sectors into the classroom, promote mentorship and introduce students to opportunities in STEM industries. Winners are eligible for more than $150,000 in cash and in-kind prizes that could be used to expand an existing program or kick-start an initiative that has been sitting on the “drawing board.”  Submit your innovative solutions by 5PM EDT on August 3, 2011.

And don’t forget to tell Energy Services about your program while you are at it. We don’t offer prizes, but we would love to feature your program in the Energy Services Bulletin.