The following piece was written by Will Fessenden, Provider Power’s director of content & media, and was published in the November edition of Bangor Metro Magazine’s “Energy Section”.
Where does electricity come from and how is it produced? What is the difference between a utility and a supply company? What drives the cost of electricity? How much energy do you use in a day, month, or year? If you can answer those questions, you are ahead of the curve.
A survey conducted by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF) found that only 12% of young adults could pass a basic energy quiz. The same survey revealed that most of us overestimate our knowledge of energy.
Few would disagree that everything revolves around energy. Look around you. Our ability to produce the stuff we buy—the food we eat, the water and oil we take from the ground, the computer screen you are reading this on, all of these require energy.
In spite of its importance, few of us truly understand energy; many American’s don’t even care. According to a University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll conducted in March of 2014, less than 70% of Americans “consider energy issues important.”
Fortunately there are efforts underway to reverse course. This involves education and engagement. The United States Department of Energy has developed an energy literacy framework. Parents and educators can access tools, lesson plans, and resources focused on 7 “essential principals” of energy.
The Department of Energy defines an energy literate person as someone who can: trace energy flows, knows how much energy they use (and where the energy comes from), can assess the credibility of information about energy and communicate about energy use in meaningful ways.
Closer to home there is a much more hands-on approach to educating about energy.
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s “PowerHouse” program includes working with smart electrical meters (already available in some Maine households) to enable Maine students and their families to investigate and manage home electricity use. Students review their household electricity use on an hourly, daily, monthly and yearly basis. They then participate in family discussion about energy use at home.
This premise is a very simple one. Use technology to measure and document energy use, and make desired changes based on available data.
The energy crisis of the 1970’s led to a School House Rock cartoon titled “Electricity-Electricity.”
You may remember the lyrics, “Burning fuel and using steam, they generate electricity-electricity. Turn that generator by any means…You’re making, uh…electricity, electricity.”
Some of the nation’s leading energy researchers have called for a greater investment in educating, or at least engaging young people about energy.
President Obama sought the assistance of Hollywood a advertising agency to produce a series of YouTube-style videos designed to highlight the role energy plays in our everyday lives. The project failed to get enough support.
In order to make informed decisions about energy efficiency, renewable energy solutions, energy production and research, we need a higher level of energy literacy.
Without a greater understanding of energy and electricity, history is bound to repeat itself. Few of us want a repeat of the 1970’s with an energy shortage. Greater energy literacy means we will be better suited to respond to fluctuations in the market and how to mitigate the effects of those changes.
Hopefully we will not need what they called for in the School House Rock video, “if we only had a superhero who could stand here and turn the generator real fast, then we wouldn’t need to burn so much fuel to make . . . electricity.”