Students as Ambassadors for Demand Response
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Students as Ambassadors for Demand Response
Summers have always served as a respite for young people. They can set aside the routines and crowded calendars of the school year and explore, learn, and just have fun. Summers have been a way to reinvigorate kids for the coming year. But for this generation — and those to come — summers are changing. Each is hotter than the next; each has more “once in a century” disasters. For Jadelyn Chang, a teacher at Foster City Elementary in San Mateo County, California, it’s personal. “Growing up and living in California, I see the local climate impacts on a daily basis, as do my students. Drought, extreme heat, wildfires – we can’t get away from it,” Chang said. These real-world changes are why students are particularly eager to drive action in the clean energy transformation.
Thankfully, student concerns provide a key engine for an effective public response. A sustainable energy future relies not just on government leadership and corporate investment, but in shifting the energy behaviors of millions of energy consumers in order to increase the efficiency of our energy system and support the uptake of more clean energy. For example, during extreme weather events, protecting the reliability of the grid requires strong collective response, asking millions to reduce their energy use as demand is peaking. Coordinating mass shifts in consumer behavior is notoriously difficult, but students are uniquely positioned to make it happen. Distributed across every community and eager to share their knowledge, students are ideal demand response ambassadors. In California, the Alliance partners with Energy Upgrade California (EUC) – a consortium of the state’s major utilities and regulators – to tap into student enthusiasm and make them agents of community response.
With most students back to in-person school this fall, they are participating in two programs: the EmPowered Time of Use Community Education Project, and the EmPowered Flex Our Power program. The first trains students to educate their peers, families, and community members about California’s new time-of-use utility rates, which provide pricing incentives for households to shift energy use away from peak demand hours of 4-9 p.m., helping to reduce strain on the grid and allow for the uptake of more renewable energy during off-peak hours. In the EmPowered Flex Our Power program, students raise awareness of the importance of statewide Flex Alerts during extreme peaks and help spread the alerts through their communities – particularly to grandparents and other hard-to-reach community members – protecting them from the dangers of brown- and black-outs during the hottest days of late summer and early fall.
Chang enrolled her school in both programs. As her students have engaged with the programs in a part of the state hard-hit by climate disasters, she’s seen multiple benefits. “Students love to teach others what they have learned and mine are no different. The EmPowered programs give them the ownership to educate their families. And they are developing leadership skills by taking their learning home. It’s a win-win,” she said. Engaging students in practical solutions can turn anxiety into agency and build pathways to leadership. Students learn the science of climate and the basis of energy policy, and how to communicate it in ways that make a real difference. These issues will be with today’s students for the rest of their lives. By giving them the tools to respond, they can help drive change today, and protect the promise of summer for generations to come.
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