A Smart Grid for Schools program conducted by Illinois State University is helping area teachers and students learn about new smart grid technology being implemented across the state.

Smart grid technology includes smart meters that show how much electricity is being used and when it’s being used, which translates to lower prices for off-peak use. The program is free to schools thanks to a $450,000 grant to ISU from the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation.

“The ISEIF funds several projects around the state with the primary goal of promoting the conservation of energy and safe use of energy and the latest technology of energy,” said Brad Christensen, coordinator for the Integrated Mathematics, Science and Technology program at the Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology housed at ISU.

“We’re on our fourth year of funding from them, and in those four years we’ve trained over 600 teachers and probably over 16,000 students so far,” Christensen added.

Over the next five years, Illinois electricity producers and distributors will be deploying smart grid technology across the state. The process began in the Chicago area and should reach central Illinois within the next few years.

The electric grid is a network of transmission lines, substations, transformers and more that delivers electricity from the power plant to homes and businesses.

“Like the internet, the smart grid will consist of controls, computers, automation and new technologies and equipment working together, but in this case, these technologies will work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to our quickly changing electric demands,” according to the Smart Grid for Schools webpage at www.smart
gridforschools.org.

“Most people know electricity gets to the outlet, but that’s about it. In order to help them understand smart grid and energy conservation, we needed to help them understand how energy gets to their house and how it’s used in their house,” Christensen said.

To give students hands-on learning opportunities, the program built transportable replications of different rooms in a house, similar to a dollhouse, that feature smart home technology.

“These rooms fit into big plywood boxes, and we roll those into a school,” Christensen said. “They come with a tablet computer, and the students control their house with that tablet. So they can set the lights, monitor the energy use, monitor the smart meter and the security system, and they can program the thermostat and the solar panel, electric car charger, all that stuff.”

Christensen said the students learn how to operate the smart technology quickly.

“For these kids it will be the norm for them when they grow up and have their own houses. To us, checking to see if our garage door is up or down by looking at our cellphone is still rather odd. But to them, that won’t be a big deal,” he said.

Jennifer Miller, a chemistry teacher at Washington Community High School, has used the Smart Grid for Schools program several times in her classes.

“The goal is for students to see how the generation of electricity has evolved and why it is important to keep searching for better, more efficient, cost effective, cleaner ways to produce energy,” she said.

The program has real-life applications since it gives students knowledge about the type of technology that will be available when they move into their own homes after high school, she noted.

Teachers are required to take three hours of training before using the program for which they are given a stipend. They also receive a stipend when they take delivery of the program.

For more information about the Smart Grid for Schools program and how to schedule a visit to a school, visit the website www.smartgridforschools.org.