Helping teachers and their students become smarter about the new "smart grid" technology is the goal of a program funded by a $450,000 grant to Illinois State University.
Smart grid technology includes "smart meters" that note not only how much electricity is used, but when it's used -- with lower prices for off-peak use. The new Smart Grid also will enable utilities to more quickly locate problems and restore power, said Willy Hunter, director of ISU's Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology.
Utilities will be introducing the smart grid across Illinois, starting in the Chicago area.
"Traditionally, we paid the same price for electricity, no matter when we use it," said Hunter, even though it is a commodity whose price varies based on supply and demand.
CeMaST, as the center is called, and the university's Center for Renewable Energy are teaming up on the project. The Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation awarded the grant to ISU.
About a dozen people are working on the project in jobs ranging from curriculum writing to construction of diorama and simulated rooms used in the training sessions.
There is a tabletop model town that shows how electricity is distributed from generating stations to homes and businesses. There also are seven large boxes used to create an "appliance store" and three "rooms" -- a kitchen, a bedroom/bathroom with a jaccuzzi and a utility room with a washer/dryer, power tools and electric vehicle charging station.
The exhibit is designed to be interactive for students as young as kindergarteners.
All the element can be loaded on a 24-foot trailer to take the show on the road.
Hunter said he expects the "town" and rooms to be set up in school auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums. He has even had inquiries for bringing the interactive display to street fairs.
"The most exciting thing is for students to learn where electricity comes from," said Lindsay Longstreth, project manager for the Smart Grid for Schools program.
"It removes the magic and gives them reality," Longstreth said. "It helps them make the connections between resources and energy."
The curriculum to be developed will incorporate Next Generation Science Standards, said Hunter, adding the idea is to teach students about energy use and concepts and the value of real-time pricing.
Items in the appliance store will have "Energy Star" tags like those in real stores, indicating an item's energy efficiency and the price.
Another part of the learning experience for children will be to calculate how long it takes to get back the cost of a higher priced item that costs less to operate because of its efficiency. That's one reason the model rooms include a jacuzzi and EV charger -- relatively large energy users compared to other electric devices -- so students can more readily see the savings of timing use for off-peak hours, Hunter said.
The appliances will be hooked up to computer monitors and meters in each "room" so students can see the energy used and its cost.
In the first phase of the project, starting in August, workshops will take place at ISU and a site in Oak Park for teachers. Later, the interactive, hands-on exhibits will visit individual schools.
"I'm really excited to actually see student interactions," said Longstreth, a former middle-school technology education teacher.
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