Empowering the next generation through energy efficiency education

Empowering the next generation through energy efficiency education
By Justin Mackovyak, Megan Lackay, and Jennifer Porter
Sep 5, 2023
Learn how one utility is engaging with its community to educate students about energy efficiency. 

In today's rapidly changing world, energy efficiency (EE) plays a vital role in ensuring a sustainable future. With escalating energy demands, conserving resources and minimizing our environmental impact is imperative. One key to such transformation lies in community education.

Utilities have long used stakeholder engagement to educate their customers about their energy choices, particularly how to save energy and save on bills. But what about reaching the next generation of energy consumers?

By bringing energy-saving lessons to schools, utilities can educate students about EE—inspiring enthusiasm for saving energy and fostering a culture of conservation.

The SMECO Schools Program

Our client, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), brought our team in to help with their Schools Program focused on EE. The program is designed to partner with schools to increase students’ awareness about energy-saving measures and help families lower their electricity bill.

The Schools Program features interactive lesson plans, activities, supplemental materials, and videos that provide students and teachers with a solid understanding of energy principles and how those principles directly impact their everyday lives. When students learn how small changes to their daily activities can equate to energy conservation—for example, turning off the lights when leaving a room or the house—they get excited to bring that knowledge home and share it with their families.

To date, this program has reached 15 schools, 25 teachers, and more than 1,900 students. It has been recognized with a Silver 2023 Telly Award in the category of General-Education & Training, as well as a 2023 Hermes Platinum award.

Elements of a successful energy efficiency education program

SMECO’s Schools Program is part of a holistic approach to engage with the community, support customers/members, and improve energy literacy.

The program incorporates several key design features, including:

  • Turnkey lesson plans customized for SMECO residents that meet Maryland education curriculum standards. These lesson plans are adaptable for various learning environments, including in-person, remote, home-school, or hybrid classes.
  • Incentives for teachers to help purchase classroom supplies for their students.
  • EE kits that allow students to put energy conservation into practice at home and immediately begin saving energy.
Sample lesson plan

Students also have an opportunity to conduct a group “energy audit” in their school and identify areas that could benefit from energy-savings upgrades. SMECO works with the school’s facility manager to install basic energy-efficient products or collaborate on incentives available for larger projects.

The benefits of community education

When done well, a school-based program’s benefits go beyond energy savings. An EE education program raises awareness about energy consumption and efficiency among students, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and tools to reduce their energy footprint.

The success of the Schools Program highlights the value of community education in promoting EE. By engaging with students and families, SMECO is encouraging energy-saving practices and fostering a conservationist mindset—and building energy-conscious habits from an early age.

By directly involving teachers, the Schools Program allows SMECO to promote EE within the education community. This approach empowers educators to integrate energy conservation concepts into their teaching, further broadening the program's impact.

Future sustainability with SMECO’s model

Looking ahead, there is potential for more utilities to realize the benefits of community education by partnering with the right organization and using programs like SMECO’s as a blueprint.

By following established state curriculum standards—and providing engaging and turnkey lesson plans, student activities, and handouts—utilities can effectively address educator challenges and encourage the adoption of energy-efficient practices for a brighter future.

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Meet the authors
  1. Justin Mackovyak, Vice President, Utility Program Implementation

    Justin leads program implementation and strategy for clients in the Mid-Atlantic region with more than 15 years’ experience. View bio

  2. Megan Lackay, Lead Energy Analyst
  3. Jennifer Porter, Senior Marketing Manager, Energy