How Consumption, Competition, and Creativity Inspired The Energy Challenge

Energy poster


Guest post by Tyler Valdes, Nonprofit Leadership Fellow for Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI) and member of the Innovation in K-12 working group.


As the world came to a halt and schools began to shut down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team at SEI sheltered in our homes along with others including teachers, students, school staff, and their families. Many of us turned on lights and appliances, turned up the air conditioning or heating, plugged in our devices, and made meals with the stove and microwave. From telecommuting to online classes, we are home now more than ever and we are consuming more energy than ever! Remember that oven you didn’t touch in months? Well were you one of many (including myself) that made banana bread in the first few months of shelter-in-place? Among baking, we all continued or took on activities that use energy in some shape or form. As students develop energy consuming behaviors during stay-at-home orders, it is critical that they practice conservation and become aware of energy efficient technologies as they will carry on these behaviors and attitudes when they return to school and eventually to their own homes or places of work.


At SEI, we are building leaders for a resilient world, both online and offline. Back in 2014, we set out to inspire high school students to become energy conservation and efficiency leaders in their homes, schools, and communities by participating in our annual Energy Conservation Competition. Over the past few years and across the state of California, high schools competed against each other for the best campaign that educated students and staff on energy-saving actions on campus which have resulted in a total of 916,628 kWh of energy saved, $129,473 saved in energy bill costs, and 370,363 pounds of carbon dioxide avoided from being released into the atmosphere! Students would form teams and deliver outreach campaigns that included putting up flyers, making school announcements, and creating educational videos. However, with most schools still closed as we enter the 2020-21 academic year, our team innovated and transformed the competition into an accessible, online platform. 



Through creativity and collaboration, we designed The Energy Challenge, a month-long virtual competition for high school students with hands-on activities that are adaptable for distance, hybrid, or in-person learning.  Students are now encouraged to conserve energy at home and educate their community using online tools such as social media. As we strive to increase accessibility to our resources and programs, we designed The Energy Challenge to be completely bilingual in English and Spanish! Starting October 5th, we are excited to launch weekly challenges that range from home energy audits to leading conservation campaigns - all of which can be either synchronous or asynchronous with class time. As an incentive, we are giving away $3,000 in prizes to student participants. Through this program, we hope to empower students with the knowledge and skills to save energy, money, and the planet!

Looking to energize your classroom? Visit SEI’s The Energy Challenge page to learn more!