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Lights! Water! Action!

A worksheet about energy use and a hand filling it out

Students turn learning into energy savings

Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) is a public-private partnership staffed by four organizations in Minnesota, with the majority of staff working as part of University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

With a little help from a CERTs seed grant, Youth Eco Solutions (YES!) teamed up with staff from local utilities — and CERTs — to help 48 students save energy and water in their homes with a “Lights! Water! Action!” kit.

Hands-on experience during distance learning

When YES! was thinking about how students might learn about reducing energy and water use, they knew they wanted it to be hands-on.

“Due to distance learning, we wanted a project that students could do at home,” says Shelli-Kae Foster, YES! director. “The students learned about how energy is used in their home, and they had the tools and knowledge to reduce their energy impact.”

Area utilities — Great River Energy, Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, and Runestone Electric Association — provided materials for each kit: 9 LED light bulbs, a faucet aerator, a water flow test bag, and leak detector tablets.

A 19-point survey was created to help students conduct their own home energy assessments. The survey covered water heating, showers and baths, laundry, HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning), refrigerator/freezers, lighting, utility bills, and more. “This is what Extension thrives at: combining research-based education with meaningful action,” says CERTs co-director Joel Haskard, an Extension energy program leader.

Real results

Utility staff Ryan Rooney and Dan Tepfer hosted online workshops to share their expertise on energy-saving techniques. Jacob Selseth provided details on how to install the devices in the kits, as well as on tips for filling out the survey. He also helped students understand how these seemingly small measures have a big impact: “Time can be your biggest multiplier in saving energy,” he says. “There are 8,760 hours in a year: find the most savings with items being used the most amount of time.”

Forty-eight students from the New London-Spicer school district and WIN Academy in the Minnewaska Public school district participated in the project. The estimated energy savings add up to over 25,000 kilowatt hours.

Inspiring action

According to Foster, it was important to value students’ time, so each student completing the project received a $30 installer fee. One student commented, “I think the money motivated the kids.” At the same time, a post-project survey found that over 90 percent of students “loved” or “liked” the project.

Extension’s energy work is supported by CERTs, which connects individuals and their communities to the resources they need to identify and implement community-based clean energy projects. Regional steering committees form the clean energy work group in each Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) region.

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