Island and Coastal Schools Reap Rewards of Energy-Savings Competition

By Island Institute | Dec 06, 2012

Rockland, MaineFor students in the 10 island and coastal schools competing in the Energy for ME 2012 Subpanel Showdown, November was all about winners and losers.  The winners were the strategies they found to reduce electricity use in one section of their school.  And the losers?  Those old habits getting in the way of realizing some real energy savings by powering down, turning off and unplugging switches, lights and other energy “hogs” that often go unnoticed.  The month-long competition was just one of the many ways that the Island Institute’s STEM education Energy for ME project is helping middle and high-school students, teachers and community members get excited about energy efficiency activities that benefit their communities.

Working with their school facility managers, each school’s team identified a subpanel being monitored by an eMonitor, which provides real-time circuit-level electricity data. Their challenge was to select the subpanel with the greatest potential for energy savings so that – through campaigns to change behaviors – they could show a reduction in kilowatt-hours for the month of November.

A total of $2,500 eBucks was at stake, and all schools were eligible to win a percentage of the award as long as they demonstrated some savings. Schools can cash in their eBucks, which are equivalent to dollars, to fund energy efficiency projects. When the results came in on December 5th, the competitors – regardless of their standings – were all surprised to see the impact of even small changes in the energy-use status quo.  The final tally for all 10 schools was an average energy savings of 22% for the month, 8,294 kilowatts saved (with an approximate value of $1,145 based on the average price per kilowatt hour) and over 60,000 pounds of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere.

North Haven Community School achieved a nearly 60% reduction in the electricity use measured at its chosen subpanel, focusing on simple strategies such as unplugging the laptop carts at night, and turning off a circuit that reduced every other hall light – there’s plenty of natural light pouring in through the school’s large windows. Louis Carrier, a North Haven teacher, stressed the importance of losing habits that waste energy. “The library has a vast amount of lights and half the day the only person in the library is the librarian sitting at her desk. We thus turn off the lights except the ones over her desk. When a class comes into the library, we then turn on the rest of the lights. It is simply a habit change that we are instituting.”

Across Penobscot Bay at Camden Hills Regional High School, where students achieved energy savings of more than 33%, the project focused on the school’s auditorium and powered down a circuit for the stage lights that was drawing large amounts of electricity even when the lights were turned off. This required a volunteer from the staff to climb up a ladder and into a small crawl space above the stage to turn a breaker on and off throughout the month. The students plan to use the data collected during the competition to make the case to the school board that installing a switch will make it easier (and safer) to shut this circuit down when not in use.  Teacher Margo Murphy was thrilled with the results, saying, “We’ve had some major savings and some results that we feel very happy about. More importantly, we can use this data to present to the school board and to make a case that we should spend $7,500 to put in a switch so that we can do this all the time.”

Energy for ME is a three-year energy education project funded through a competitive grant from the National Science Foundation.  For more information about the 2012 SUBPANEL SHOWDOWN, or any other aspect of the Energy for ME project, please visit or contact Brooks Winner, community energy associate at the Island Institute, at or 207-594-9209 x148.



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