Report: Illinois shows smart grid consumer education begins at school

Illinois smart grid for schools report
The smart grid schools programme in Illinois allows children to stage an outage on a table-top power grid

In the US, the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation (ISEIF), an independent smart grid consumer education fund, has released a review of its programme to engage school children with grid modernisation and increase energy literacy.

ISEIF said the purpose of the report – Smart Grid for Schools: To Reach Parents, Teach Children – is to share what the foundation has learned about energy literacy programs that target youth both as the intended primary audience and as an avenue to reach parents.

The initiative has trained 208 teachers to date, many of whom are in low-income neighbourhoods where energy savings can equal substantial cost savings.

Teachers interviewed in the report said students find the interactive displays fun and engaging, althought the tracability of using a curriculum for children to reach their parents is a challenge.

Staging an electricity outage

The centerpiece of the curriculum is a set of mobile displays in which students can plug in appliances and view usage and pricing data, stage an outage on a table-top power grid and view how the smart grid detects it, and follow electricity from generation to distribution.

The report remarks that students instantly play the role of energy consumer when they interact with the displays and make decisions about when to use energy and how much it will cost.

In its second year of the project, the Illinois State University plans to improve the displays with touchscreens.

The displays may also become smaller to accommodate easy transport to schools.

In December 2013, ISEIF funded the Illinois State University’s program to develop Smart Grid for Schools, a K-12 curriculum to further understanding of the smart electricity grid, support increased energy literacy, and incorporate STEM objectives.

ISEIF was formed as a part of the Illinois Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act of 2011 (EIMA), or, the Smart Grid Law, which mandated the creation of a US$50 million fund (US$5 million per year over ten years) to ensure consumers understand and have access to the benefits of the new smart grid and enhanced energy literacy.

The EIMA statute requires a 30% allocation of total grants toward hard-to-reach populations such as low income and seniors.