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Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Students taking part in DOE 'biggest energy loser challenge'

Lessons about energy efficiency are hitting home through an online middle school pilot curriculum developed for students in Louisiana, Hawaii and Japan.

The Biggest Energy Loser Challenge, created through a partnership among the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Southern University, focuses on energy forms, usage and consumption. Student tasks include conducting a home energy audit in which they calculated the amount of electricity consumed by everything from clothes washers and dryers to personal computers, light bulbs and televisions.

This activity has been an eye opener for the students at Punahou School in Honolulu, Southern University Laboratory School in Baton Rouge and the University of the Ryukyus Junior High School in Okinawa.

"I am surprised that they are enjoying the chance to learn about energy saving," said Rika Heshiki, a teacher at the University of the Ryukyus. "I haven't experienced such an exchange program in the science education field with non-Japanese, so I appreciate such efforts and the unique opportunity."

Michael Okoye, special adviser to DOE, said: "This project further strengthens the unique bond between the people of the United States and Japan, and helps today's students become the next generation of energy leaders."

Students began by learning about renewable (solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal), non-renewable (oil, natural gas and coal) and nuclear energy as well as the types of energy used in buildings. They also learned that buildings account for 49 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. followed by transportation at 28 percent and industry at 23 percent.

Other lessons focused on energy consumption by sector in the U.S., China, India, Japan, Russia and the European Union. Included were breakdowns of each energy source and dependence on fossil fuel in each country, the retail prices in countries around the world and a unit on energy in buildings (radiant, thermal, motion, sound and electrical).

The curriculum also includes cultural information on energy use in homes and the differences between the three regions. Virtual communication between teachers, students and parents is part of the experience and organizers have encouraged cross-cultural collaboration.

Roderick Jackson of ORNL's Energy and Transportation Science Division was among several who developed the curriculum.

"Our focus in developing the curriculum and the Biggest Energy Loser Challenge was to generate excitement in the students about saving energy," Jackson said. "Once the students in the program were energized, they would spread their enthusiasm to their peers and parents. Based on the initial reception from the students and the teachers, I believe our goals will be met and the program will be a huge success."

After the first session, Yuzuki, a student at the University of Ryukyus observed: "In this class, I learned differences between Japan and U.S. energy consumption and the cost for fuel. I have never thought about energy cost at my home."

The course is also making an impression on Audrey, a student at Punahou, who wrote: "I've learned a lot about energy. I didn't know that the type of window made such a difference! I also didn't realize how much energy we used."

Classmate Leah wrote: "I had no idea that my family used so much electricity until I completed the energy audit. Now I'm making an effort to try to conserve energy by using my window instead of my air conditioner, and by turning the lights off more often."

In the grand finale, students competed to reduce energy costs in a model home representative of their region. The winners from each class will be announced live via Skype and recorded for later playback on the course Web site.


UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/