Sunday, January 1, 2012

Taking Ownership of Environmental Protection

A big part of this season’s holiday joy, for many, centers on family anecdotes from years past that are remembered as we write the stories for future generations to recall. For some reason this year I thought about how my dad – who coached my community sports teams – told us how to win. He said there were only two things that mattered: scoring more points than the other team and not letting them score more points than we did! Yes, it’s just that simple.

As many of us ponder likely familiar resolutions for 2012, I decided to build on my dad’s advice to plan my personal goals this year. I aim to do more things that are ‘good’ for myself and fewer things that are ‘bad’ for myself. The same trade-off works for this month’s blog post topic. Paraphrased in terms of sustainability, we simply need to use more alternative energy and not use as much from sources that negatively impact our economy, safety, and environment.

Unfortunately, it’s not such a simple task to actually implement either challenge. Need some energy? Just flip a switch and the lights come on, or the computer boots up, or the washing machine starts to run. Many students think that electricity comes from the wall; they do not consider what had to happen for that electricity to be produced and to get to that wall socket. Further, they have no idea about the amount of energy they are using. The summative Energy Watchers activity is all about making the abstract more concrete – and putting all of that into a personally-relevant context.

Yes, this activity was inspired by the Weight Watchers program success! From their homepage, “Weight Watchers works because it’s not a diet. You’ll learn how to eat right and live healthy.” Fortunately, quantifying energy consumption and production along with comprehensive cost-benefit analysis for each option is becoming a lot easier and far more interesting thanks to new technologies that have recently made it to market. Adding an increased awareness of the causes and effects of our pre-information revolution lifestyles to that growing knowledge base is catalyzing exciting collaborations that reach across the political and peculiar boundaries for positive change.

Instructor Notes: Many new homes are equipped with ‘smart meters’ that send electricity consumption data to the utility. Smart meters can also record the energy fed back into the distribution network from co-generation sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels. An internet search will also return ‘Home Energy Management Software’ apps to gain valuable insight into energy use. To gain a broader perspective, take a look at Chevron’s Energyville. While it’s called a game, it is a powerful simulation tool for controlling the energy mix of a virtual city. It can be played individually or as teams. You might set up class challenges! Even if you don’t use the gaming component, a wealth of information on energy sources and demands is nicely presented on the well-designed site.

Hoping to ‘score more points than the other team’, I am thrilled to be a part of the first community solar project in Colorado Springs. This innovative plan offers an affordable way for me to utilize solar energy – thanks to many people who worked together to figure it out. The city council unanimously approved the idea of a solar garden in September 2011. SunShare negotiated a working relationship with the local utility company to make it all possible. I leased my option in October to leverage attractive government incentives. The governor attended a groundbreaking ceremony when the first panels were installed in November. And I should see a credit for the energy piped into the local grid on my January 2012 electric bill! Perhaps someday soon I’ll need to map my CO to/from TX route on the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center site to make sure I can refuel my next vehicle as needed!

We all need to take ownership of environmental protection in whatever ways we can. Encourage your students to seek out other ways to reduce their environmental footprints today – at home, at school, in the garden, and in the community! The EPA’s Green Living page includes many great ideas and current information and a link to their Sustainability site. How will you measure your students’ success this year? It all adds up to a win-win for a healthier and happier future.

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