Schenectady County

Shaker High project teaching students a powerful lesson (with video)

Students in Jim Rodewald’s environmental science class and Chris Devendorf’s computer applications f
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Shaker High School seniors Brandon Souza and Elijah Force were playing a video game in environmental science class.

They weren’t goofing off, but testing out the electrical use of the video game system and television.

Students in Jim Rodewald’s environmental science class and Chris Devendorf’s computer applications for college mathematics class are undertaking a project to test the energy use of household appliances and electronic devices.

The goal of the project is not just to measure how much energy is used when the devices are turned on, but also the “phantom energy” — how much power they use when they are plugged in but the power is not on.

The project was funded through a $750 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which helped pay for some of the testing equipment. Rodewald said the school needed some specialized equipment that could measure electrical use down to the microamp — one-millionth of an amp.

“We were able to come up with a setup that can measure this stuff at very low usage levels,” he said.

Rodewald said he had been thinking about doing a project such as this for some time, so he decided to apply for the grant. It is a good opportunity to get students interested in energy conservation and show them how much it costs to keep items like cellphone chargers plugged in, he said.

“We’re going to be making Excel spreadsheets on how much it is going to cost over a period of time and how much pollution it is going to cause,” Rodewald said.

Souza, 17, of Latham, also tested out an egg beater and found that while off but plugged in, it still generated 0.005 milliamps of electricity.

He said he is excited about doing this project.

“My family tends to leave a lot of things plugged in even when they’re off. I can’t wait to see what our household is consuming,” he said. “I think it’s a cool project.”

Devendorf said Rodewald contacted him and it seemed like a good project to tie into both classes. The goal of the project is to finish all the data collection this month and complete the calculations in May.

In addition, students are going to test the energy levels of some devices that district staff members use every day, like walkie-talkies and small refrigerators.

Danielle Minnick, 17, of Latham, was checking out how much power her lava lamp is using when it’s off.

“I think it’s very interesting to see what we think of off isn’t necessarily off. I think we should be more aware of that,” she said.

Senior Tarek Menisy, 17, was testing out a phone charger. He said the amount of power used when it’s off is small, but adds up when you consider how many people have the same thing.

Devendorf said it is an eye-opening experience for students to see how much electricity is consumed — at a cost of roughly 9 cents per kilowatt hour.

“I think they’re going to realize the devices that they can leave off and unplugged to save money over time,” he said.

Devendorf said in his own life, he has already unplugged a stereo, paper shredder and electric pencil sharpener.

“They are things I don’t use very often and they’re using energy,” he said. “Every little bit counts, and I think that’s what the students are going to see.”

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