Take Action: Stopping Energy Vampires

In Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle, we’re exploring Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences, which summarizes the most important principles and concepts of climate science. In addition to the seven essential principles, the document also includes the Guiding Principle for Informed Climate Decision. It states:

Humans can take actions to reduce climate change and its impacts.

How can elementary teachers incorporate this guiding principle into their classroom? An emerging best practice from climate research is that teachers are better able to avoid overwhelming students, transcend boredom, and engage students by weaving science content with solutions. In this column, we help you and your students make the connection between knowledge and action.

In this issue, we focus on Essential Principle 6: Human activities are impacting the climate system. Of course, the largest impact comes from the burning of fossil fuels, including coal, which is used across the country to generate electricity. While elementary students can’t directly reduce the amount of fossil fuel emissions, they can help indirectly by reducing the amount of energy used at their home and school. In Take Action: Energy Independence and Renewable Energy Sources, we provide ideas to help students increase their use of renewable energy and think about energy efficiency. In this column, we’ll focus on one specific action: reducing the amount of energy lost to “energy vampires.”

Outlet Vampire 1. Photo courtesy of PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Flickr.com.

Energy vampires are appliances and devices that continue to draw electrical current even when turned off. These types of appliances cannot be switched off completely unless unplugged. They use electricity while in “standby mode,” costing billions of dollars and sending billions of pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. While the amount of energy used for standby power is a small percentage of our overall usage, it is growing because of the increased use of cell phones, mp3 players, and other personal electronic devices.

Not all devices and appliances are equally guilty of sucking up electricity. Some of the biggest offenders include digital video recorders (DVRs), cable and satellite boxes, televisions (especially plasma and LCD TVs), microwaves, video games, cell phone and mp3 chargers, power tools, and home audio equipment.

Unplugging devices and their chargers is an obvious solution. But this isn’t always practical. Power strips with on/off switches are a good alternative. Simply plug devices into the strip. When the devices are not in use, turn the power strip off. It is important to remember that unless it is turned off, the strip itself will continue to draw power even if the appliances or devices are turned off!

Spotting and combating energy vampires can be an educational and fun activity for students. Begin by reading Energy Vampires, an overview written in student-friendly language. Energy Vampires & CO2 is an introductory lesson plan appropriate for students in Grades 3-6.

Students could also go on a scavenger hunt to identify energy vampires in the classroom and school and at home. They could develop a plan to reduce the amount of standby power used in these situations by talking to the principal or their parents. Finally, students could create posters or brochures to encourage others to spot and stop energy vampires in their tracks.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. Jessica is an education resource specialist at The Ohio State University and project director of Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle and Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. She has taught in elementary and middle school settings. Email Jessica at beyondweather@msteacher.org.

Copyright December 2011 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1034922. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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