UN Goal: Clean Energy Learning to Save Energy

Wind turbine in clouds
Renewable energy sources generate only about three percent of the electricity produced in the state of Ohio. | Photo (detail): Klaus Ohlenschlger pictura alliance

The negative impact of our energy sources on the environment has been known for more than forty years. And yet progress has been slow. Shauni Nix from the Ohio Energy Project explains in an interview why education should not be neglected when it comes to sustainable energy supply.

By Benjamin Bergner, 1014

Mrs. Nix, in Ohio, how is the energy usage among residents and how could it be improved?

Sadly, Ohio is among the top ten states generating the most electricity and is one of the top five states in total electricity use. In 2019, Ohio’s natural gas-fired generation exceeded the amount of in-state electricity provided by coal-fired power plants for the first time. Renewable energy resources generated almost 3% of Ohio’s in-state electricity generation in 2019.

A significant step in improving Ohioans’ energy usage began in 2008, when Ohio lawmakers passed Senate Bill 221. This legislation required that utilities use more clean energy and invest in energy efficiency, putting people to work on weatherising homes, helping Ohio manufacturers and businesses reduce their energy costs, installing solar panels and making the pieces and parts that go into wind turbines. As a result, Ohio’s electric utilities began looking at how to incorporate energy efficiency education in Ohio’s schools.
The Ohio Energy Project (OEP) already had partnerships with many of the electric utilities in Ohio. As a result of the new regulations, OEP was able to take its programming to the next level. We worked diligently with AEP Ohio, Columbia Gas of Ohio, Dayton Power and Light, Vectren and Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives to develop and deliver the e3 (energy efficiency education) Smart programme. This innovative programme prepares educators to explore the science of energy efficiency in the classroom through hands-on labs and activities. Equipped with a kit of energy saving measures, participating students put their classroom learning to the test at home, connecting science content standards with real world experiences.

Tell us about the everyday work you do at the Ohio Energy Project.

Our amazing staff and Board of Trustees are passionate and committed to supporting teachers and students across Ohio with innovative science curriculum, materials, and programmes. All educational material is created in collaboration with classroom teachers and aligned to Ohio’s Learning Standards.

What I love most about OEP is that there is so much variety in the work that we do in serving teachers, students and families. Each season of the year brings a different aspect of OEP programming to life. In the fall and winter, OEP staff are engaged in delivering leadership summits and workshops. These student-driven programmes promote the OEP educational philosophy of “Kids Teaching Kids.” Middle and high school students from across the state are trained on leadership and energy and in turn, conduct an energy workshop for elementary students in their community or region. Springtime brings the opportunity for teachers and students in grades 7-12 to be introduced to careers in the energy industry through behind-the-scenes training sites. In addition, OEP staff deliver energy workshops in key school districts, impacting over 1,000 5th grade students.

Summertime is filled with amazing professional development opportunities for teachers in grades 3 – 12. Grade-level professional developments provide educators with tailored, hands-on activities to meet Ohio Learning Standards in science and energy.

The e3 Smart Programme prepares educators to explore the science of energy efficiency in the classroom through hands-on labs and activities. Equipped with a kit of energy saving measures, participating students put their classroom learning to the test at home, connecting science content standards with real world experiences – having distributed over 153,000 LED and CFL light bulbs, impacting more than 47,000 students.

In an ideal world, what would be done to achieve the UN goal of “modern, affordable, sustainable energy access for all”?

We strongly believe that modern, affordable, sustainable energy access (“MASEA”) must be a priority for Ohio and the rest of the world. OEP is working diligently to achieve the United Nation’s goal through education. Everything that we do with teachers and students helps them understand the importance of energy and its impact on the environment, economy and their lifestyle. With our funding partners, we provide the programmes and tools to bring these ideas to life in classrooms, homes and communities. Increasing the energy literacy of our students will have a lasting impact on their attitudes and behaviour regarding energy production and consumption. Our goal is to nurture energy conserving behaviour that our children will carry with them throughout their lifetime. If we leap forward one generation when today’s students are the decision-making adults, what would we see? That OEP has made a difference in how they make their energy decisions. Regardless of the characteristics of their lives - career, geographic location, or economic condition - the decisions they make about energy will be different from the decisions their parents made.

For more than forty years, we have been aware of the negative impacts of energy on the world. The impacts are enormous and have adverse effects on the most vulnerable, yet we still face these same issues as a society today. Still, we spend extreme amounts of money, political and social energy debating the need for a new energy conservation programme, or a need to accelerate the construction of low emissions generation plants, the list goes on and on.

If we spent even a fraction of that effort and money on educating our students about energy, we would avoid these issues and begin to solve the challenges. As our students become adults, they will be the decision makers and leaders, empowered to achieve MASEA and continue to innovate for a more sustainable path forward.

This interview was produced and first published by 1014 in New York City.
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