"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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Livermore- Students Scour Campus to Find Energy-Saving Opportunities

By David Kligman

LIVERMORE — When Livermore High School set out to find ways to save energy at the 121-year-old school, officials relied on the people who ought to know most about the school—the students.

A group of six students on Thursday (Sept. 27) showed off the results of their two-month project as part of the school’s Green Engineering Academy, academic courses that introduce green technology, engineering and the environment.

As part of the Innovator Pilots program, students at Livermore High conducted energy audits and recommended replacing T12 lamps with more efficient T8 lighting. (Photos by David Kligman.)

The students were so dedicated that they spent part of their summer vacation on the project and even performed audits at other nearby schools.

“It was a great experience and something that will stay with me for a lifetime,” said Laila Hassen, a 17-year-old senior. “Each and every time we do these audits you learn something new. If you move the temperature on your thermostat just a few degrees up or down you can save a lot of money.”

In the main administrative building, the students recommended upgrading old T12 fluorescent lights with more energy-efficient T8 lamps. In the quad, they questioned why outdoor lamps were left on well into the night after classes were long over. And in a drafting classroom, they showed the benefits of programmable thermostats.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

In some cases, their recommendations included questioning whether lights even needed to be used, including one hallway that gets a lot of natural light.

“That’s another thing to consider,” said Duane Kubischta, a project engineer hired to assist the students. “Why are these lights even on in the first place?”

The audits were the result of a 2010 PG&E competitive funding program awarded to the Alameda County Office of Education. The program, known as Innovator Pilots, allows nonprofits and government entities to test their own ideas about how to improve energy efficiency. The goal of Alameda’s Innovator pilot is to save public schools money on their utility bills while giving students green jobs skills.

PG&E’s Jillian Rich helps project engineer Duane Kubischta determine the total potential energy savings from the students’ energy audit as student Natasha Moore looks on.

As part of the Innovator Pilots program with the Alameda County Office of Education, students also have conducted audits in Oakland, Pleasanton, San Leandro, San Lorenzo and Newark.

Andrea Schumer, a PG&E account manager who worked closely with the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, said this project was a perfect example of how the utility works with communities to reduce energy.

“My job is to help customers save energy,” she said. “I’m tasked with finding ways to uncover opportunities for saving energy and then making sure that the customer receives the incentives and rebates that are available.”

At the end of the tour, Kubischta revealed the students’ grand total of potential savings at the high school: more than 250,000 kilowatt hours a year.

“Where’s our mathematician?” PG&E program manager Jillian Rich said. After a brief calculation, she announced that’s equivalent to about $35,000 a year, prompting applause from the officials and students. Those savings don’t include any rebates and incentives offered by PG&E to offset the upgrades.

These six Livermore High School students volunteered their time, including their summer break, to perform energy audits as part of the Innovator Pilots program sponsored by PG&E.

What started as just a small project has blossomed into something much bigger, said Kelly Bowers, superintendent for the Livermore school district.

“Their enthusiasm has taken it to a level that we didn’t even anticipate,” she said.

While there was much talk about helping the planet, student Nicholas Sanchez said the real benefit is the cost savings during a time when school budgets are tight.

“Saving money on energy could mean spending more money on textbooks or hiring more teachers for our classrooms,” the 17-year-old said.

For the students, their work could lead to careers in energy efficiency. Bowers said a few companies have identified several of the students for internships.

The school district will next prioritize the recommendations to realize savings from the students’ audit.

Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.