How do you get eighth-graders to understand renewable energy? Relate it to their cellphones.
Eric Henry, president of the environmentally conscious Burlington T-shirt printing business tsdesigns, spoke to roughly 300 Western Middle School students on Wednesday, Sept. 13, about how he uses renewable energy at home and at work.
While Henry’s Snow Camp home is not completely “off the grid,” he and his wife have made adjustments, like super insulation and purchasing LED light bulbs to use less energy — both a higher cost in the short term, but a cost savings in the long term.
“I took over 5,000 watts of lighting in our house, and now we use 500 watts. … That LED is so much more efficient that it will pay for an incandescent bulb in probably two years. The other thing that’s cool about it is that that light bulb will last probably longer than I live, compared to an incandescent that needs replaced every one to two years. We’re talking light bulbs that last 20 or 30 years depending on how much you use them,” he said.
To further his energy savings, Henry purchased a biodiesel car in 2003, which he says has traveled 350,000 miles and still runs like new, getting 40 miles to a gallon. Modifications allow the car to run completely on store-purchased vegetable oil if needed.
But he’s recently upgraded to a fully electric Chevy Bolt, which gets more than 300 miles on a single charge (a process that can take 30 minutes to 24 hours depending on the type of charger you have) so long as you’re not blasting the air conditioning and driving 70 mph. In that case, it would be more like 200 miles.
Many of the students expressed concerns about not being able to find a charging station while traveling and getting stuck on the highway, but Henry told them it’s just like keeping your iPhone charged throughout the day: You think ahead about how long the charge will last, and make plans.
According to Henry, there are hundreds of electric car charging stations in North Carolina, but the kids wanted to know why they aren’t more numerous.
“The challenge that we have, and that you’ll realize as you get older, is that people kind of like to do what they’ve been doing. They don’t like to change, but we have to change for your future, your kids’ future, and your kids’ kids’ future,” he said.
Melaine Rickard, academically or intellectually gifted teacher at Western, says she asked Henry to speak because he has a personal tie to the subject and the county.
“We’re really working to start making science, technology and everything more relevant, trying to connect to the community and getting folks in and get the kids excited about it,” she said.
While the sustainability chapter is only a small part of the eighth-grade curriculum, Rickard says it’s something she wanted to emphasize.
Later in the week, the students will build a model hybrid vehicle, compare levels of energy use among different electrical items, wire solar panels to a motor, and try to power a virtual city with different kinds of power — all paid for by Rickard’s $175,000 Burroughs Wellcome grant for STEM technology, which she was awarded last year.
“I want them to start thinking about it because things are changing rapidly,” Rickard said. “Energy really is embedded in everything that we do and I think it’s one of the most relevant things that they’re going to learn about.”
Reporter Jessica Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 336-506-3046. Follow her on Twitter at @jessicawtn.