Electric vehicles (EVs) hold a lot of promise for greening the transportation sector, and could do even more if the electricity that powers them comes from the sun. To encourage the next generation of consumers to think about automotive innovation, SMUD sponsors an annual Solar Car Race for high school students.
More than 300 high school students competed in this year’s event, held at Cosumnes River College on April 19, as part of Earth Week. The competition is open to any high school in SMUD’s service territory.
Community comes together The race took place in the college’s quad, and the construction department designed and built the wooden race track used by the racers. The event also gives students an excellent opportunity to visit a community college campus and experience what it has to offer.
The Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association and EV owners were also on hand to exhibit many models of available EVs and to discuss the technology and benefits of driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
Tools for students, teachers SMUD provides each school registered with up to six solar car kits, which contain a 12-watt solar module from PITSCO and car accessories from Solar Made. Using the same solar panels, motors and gear sets as a jumping-off point, the students choose their own materials and design the car they are going to race. The entries compete for not only the fastest car, but also for best design, most sustainable, best engineering and most creative design. Each participating student receives an event t-shirt, also provided by SMUD.
In addition to the kits, SMUD also offers professional development workshops for teachers interested in using the solar-powered cars in their science or physics curriculums. A variety of workshops and training, exhibits and online resources are available to both teachers and students through SMUD’s Energy Education & Technology Center.
Racing toward future Participation in the solar car race has doubled since it began 13 years ago, which is not surprising in a territory that has around 8,000 electric vehicles. The Solar Car Race is loosely based on the Department of Energy’s Junior Solar Sprint, a classroom-based national competition of solar-powered model cars for students, grades six through eight.
As a community-owned, not-for-profit utility, SMUD is focused on balancing its commitment to low rates with the goal of supporting regional vitality, and education is central to that effort. Through events like the race, the Solar Regatta and an Energy Fair, SMUD gives back to its community, while helping to develop the professionals who will create the energy solutions of the future.
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 (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.
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, 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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.